I saw a documentary on TV last night (ABC at 9:45pm for any other Aussies out there) called Saving Sex and as the title implies, it was about people who have decided to be celibate until marriage in spite of the fact that we (ie, Western cultures, but specifically Australia) currently view sex outside of marriage to be acceptable. One of the commentators on the show referred to the growing number of young people choosing this path as the counter-sexual revolution.
I personally think that any consensual safe sex is just fine, whether within a marriage or not, but it is always interesting to see why some people feel differently. As one would expect, given that non-heterosexual couples are unable to wed legally, the show was heterosexist- no mention of bi or homosexuality was made. However, there were some views of sex that did not simply revolve around coitus. Part of the documentary was a discussion between young people as to what celibacy meant to them- one woman was saying that she actually wanted to keep from kissing until marriage, because to her, it has some kind of sexual intimacy. Another girl said that hand-holding for her was very significant. She wouldn't wait until marriage, but it was definitely something she'd save for a committed relationship- but another of her peers made a point about how it is all relative. While hand holding may have some sort of sexual/emotional significance for one person, it may not have the same for another.
Nonetheless, while I have no objection to people choosing not to engage in sex outside of marriage, I did find some views expressed in the documentary to be somewhat disturbing.
One of the women said that she was celibate because she wanted to be a gift for her husband, and she wanted him to know that she was unbroken and had never been unwrapped. I have to confess, I'm not comfortable with a human referring to themself in the same way that you'd refer to a Christmas gift from Target or something. I don't like the idea that having consensual sex could make someone less valuable, or "broken". I also had a thought about the gift metaphor that she used- while, certainly people like to get bright and shiny gifts new from the box, the gifts that we tend to value most dearly are things that represent experience- the gift of a photograph, or the gift of a grandmother's jewellery- etc. These things are valuable because they stem from experience, not because they have been held back from it. Not that I am saying, mind you, that I believe partnered sex is less valuable if one chooses only to have it within marriage- just saying that it is a metaphor that definitely goes both ways.
Another thing that bothered me was a minister who said he was glad he did not engage in sex before marriage due to the fact that it would have defiled not only himself, but his partner, his future wife, and his partner's future husband. Now, I have no problem with someone saying "I feel it would be a defilement of me and my beliefs to have pre-martial sex", but I do think it's unfair to say that someone has been defiled by the act of another- it seems somehow to take away an element of choice in the whole matter.
Something else I would have liked to have seen was people choosing celibacy (whether until marriage, or simply for the time being) for reasons that were non-religious. All the people interviewed were celibate because they believed that is what their scriptures taught them, and as a non-religious person, I can't really relate. Furthermore, it would have provided a different perspective on what the impact of celibacy is on a relationship. The people interviewed seemed to have the view that refraining from sex before marriage would make their marriage stronger for various reasons- they all seemed pretty certain that it guaranteed some kind of magical happiness that could never be attained otherwise. One of the commentators said (and I agree) that this is a very naive view- celibacy will not guarantee a problem free marriage or a problem free sex life. Marriages between practicing Christians do have a high success rate (at least, they are less likely to end in divorce- what one might term as a "success" is subjective), and I have to wonder if this is because of celibacy, or because practicing Christians tend to have a community of people, and of course their own beliefs, encouraging them NOT to get divorced, quite aside from the whole celibacy issue. Perspective from a non-religious person would have been interesting for that reason alone.
The documentary was interesting even as it was, however. It did a good job of conveying the views of those who believe that one should be celebate before marriage, and while some of the commentators came from that perspective, not all did, making it a balanced production.