Shame and the Slut Double Standard

I’m not a big fan of shaming.  In other words, I don’t like the idea of emotionally manipulating people specifically for the purpose of making them feel shame.  On the other hand, I don’t like the idea of emotionally manipulating people so that they don’t feel shame either.  To some extent, all of us know right from wrong–it’s written on our hearts.  As a result, when we’re reminded of such standards and realize we haven’t lived up to them, we feel shame.  This is an entirely authentic and appropriate emotion to feel in the face of guilt.  And so, I therefore object when people try to manipulate others into forgetting the law written on their hearts in order to avoid feelings of shame.  The solution to shame is not abolishing the law–it’s the fulfillment of the law by Christ on our behalf.

But what about shame with respect to chastity?  I do not refer to slut-shaming (which is like any other kind of shaming), but to slut-shame:  the feelings of the unchaste when they are reminded that what is good and what felt good are not synonymous.  In modern America, this sort of shame seems much more liable to trigger attempts by sentimentalists to banish the unpleasant feelings by abolishing the law.  The usual rationalization I hear is that there’s a double standard for chastity:  when women sleep around, they’re sluts, but when men sleep around they’re studs.  This is deemed unfair, and so people want to restore balance by removing a woman’s sense of shame to match what they imagine to be a man’s lack of shame.

To get the obvious affirmations out of the way:

  • Yes it is sinful for men to fornicate.  Whether it’s “just as sinful for men as it is for women,” I neither know nor care.  I do not know because I cannot measure such sinfulness with enough precision to say whether it’s exactly the same.  I do not care because “I’m no worse than you” and “you’re no better than me” tend to be completely useless observations even if they happen to be true.
  • Yes, women are completely forgiven their unchastity through Christ’s atoning death just as men are.

Of course, whenever someone gets obvious affirmations out the way, it’s because there’s a big “however” coming.  This instance is no different.  Effectively dealing with this kind of double standard requires us to understand where it comes from in the first place.  Simply answering “sin” is unhelpful.  It doesn’t just have to do with the fact that humans are corrupted, but the specific nature of our corruption.

Sexual Barbarism

Humans were created to be monogamous.  Furthermore, this monogamy functions through the complementarity of men and women.  As has often been observed the male role in this monogamy is to lead and provide; the female role is to follow & receive (e.g., Ephesians 5).  The divorce rate has jumped ever since we tried to jettison this understanding.  Furthermore, for all the talk of homosexuals pretending they are married, there is also talk of this same pretense “fixing” marriage for heterosexuals by removing monogamy from it.  Monogamy simply isn’t the standard for two men.  It needs male/female complementarity to work.

It is also true that mankind is fallen.  Like everything else about us, our sexuality has spiraled away from what it was created to be.  We do not what we ought and our wickedness needs to be constrained by the law for the sake of relative peace in this life.  When we have not been adequately trained in this law by an enduring civilization, we become sexual barbarians.  This is true for both men and women.  However, because of the original complementarity, men and women tend* to spiral into sexual sin in different ways.  It is important to keep in mind here that human sexuality goes deeper than the urge to insert tab A into slot B.  It also contains the urge to create relationships.  That doesn’t mean that men and women don’t sometimes use each other as prostitutes for hook-ups.  It does mean, however, that relatively few people have or seek a sexual history made up entirely of brief hook-ups.

When able, sexually barbaric men tend to be polygamous.  Because they are made to lead and provide, they seek self-aggrandizement and self-satisfaction by creating harems when their sexuality is turned to selfishness.  The original design of relationships still has some input, for while they want to use their women, they also want to own them.  Kings are still jealous for their harems, nobles are still jealous for their concubines, and aristocrats are still jealous for their mistresses.  However, they do not hold themselves to any such standards for the sake of their women.  What?  Men have roving eyes?  Say it ain’t so!

Sexually barbaric women, on the other hand, tend to be hypergamous–rather than collecting, they trade their men for other men of higher rank and status.  Because they are made to follow and receive, they seek self-aggrandizement and self-satisfaction by trying to hang onto the most confident/alpha men who can maintain them in a desirable lifestyle.  What?  Women are attracted by power and wealth?  Say it ain’t so!

But I hear a faint objection here.  You’re a woman and you don’t want to trade your boyfriend for someone with more money, power, and authority?  You’re a man and you don’t want to create a harem?  Great!  If you’re not just fooling yourself, then that means you’ve been adequately civilized.  You’ve gained the unconscious habit of quashing those urges when they arise.  Unfortunately, we, as a society, are becoming less and less civilized all the time, so we can’t expect everyone to have those habits anymore.

Now, neither polygamy nor hypergamy are good things.  Both of these harm our neighbors and desecrate the image of God.  The end result is that both men and women end up being promiscuous–they just have different patterns for their promiscuity.  And indeed, fallen sexuality has its own insidious complementarity.  Those men whose wealth, fame, and station provide them with the opportunity to sleep with hundreds of women (think rock star or famous athlete) without too much social consequence very often do exactly that.  Of course, this is only possible because hundreds of women very much want to sleep with a man of such wealth, fame, and station.  Of course, not every man can attract hundreds of women, and not every woman can turn a rock star’s head, but even when practical capability is missing, these patterns still remain in the imaginations and behavior of men (e.g., porn) and women (e.g., vampire/werewolf porn).

The Double Standard

So how then does the double-standard come about?  The long and the short of it is this:  Men are usually bothered by promiscuity in long-term relationship prospects (especially promiscuity in excess of their own).  They will try to avoid marrying such women unless there is some strong countervailing factor.  The situation for women is more complicated.  They are likewise bothered by promiscuity (especially promiscuity in excess of their own), but at the same time they usually have a very strong countervailing factor:  they are attracted to precisely the kind of high social status indicated by a man having been promiscuous.

Women have traditionally been the gatekeepers of purity for precisely this reason.  When it comes to future marriage, It is almost always in her own best interest to remain pure.  The situation for men is more complicated.  They often have a conflict of interest.  When coupling decisions rest in the hands of prospective mates, remaining pure is often detrimental to men’s marriage prospects.  Not only could the notches in their bedpost make them more appealing, it is not at all uncommon for women to wonder why they should bother when nobody else has.  Generally speaking, it is not wise to entrust a responsibility entirely to someone who could have a vested interest in neglecting that responsibility.

So how do we deal with this load-bearing double standard?  Trying to emotionally manipulate women into no longer feeling shame at unchastity is just a recipe for sexual anarchy.  If the theory doesn’t convince you of that, the historical record of feminism should.  Shaming men?  As I indicated earlier, I’m not a big fan of emotionally manipulating people into feeling shame, even when “people” includes men.  Perhaps the solution lies in simply proclaiming the law to everyone and letting it do it’s job.  Most men will, to some degree, feel shame when reminded of unchastity because the law is written on their hearts too.  It wouldn’t be the first time that men were trained to reject a seemingly advantageous behavior for the sake of rectitude.  We don’t have to resort to deception and marketing when we can still return to a time-tested option like civilization.  Will this proclamation make women feel more shame than men?  Probably.  Will the double-standard persist?  Probably.  “Civilized” is not the same as “perfect.”  It’s still just restrained sin.  But it wouldn’t be either the first or the last time that either men or women shoulder some burden more than their compliments.  If the family hinges on complementarity, why should we expect civilization to hinge on it any less?

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*This is what we call a generalization.  It helps us spot trends without saying that all men are Y or all women are X.  For this very reason, they are not refuted by statements like “my friend is a woman and she isn’t X.”

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3 Responses to Shame and the Slut Double Standard

  1. Pingback: The Cultivation of Shame

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