Abstinence in real life

I'm the first to pounce on stories making fun of people advocating abstinence before marriage. And there have been many examples of such stories over the years. So I had to highlight -- and praise -- this Washington Post article that looks at the nuptials of one couple that abstained from premarital relations. What makes this story sing is that it treats this couple like humans, instead of anthropological specimens to be poked and prodded to see how they respond. Somehow when abstinence is attached to the romance of real people, respectable people, all of a sudden the ideas aren't as easily mocked. Reporter Ellen McCarthy does a great job of simply telling their story. Here's how it begins:

Gareth Warren didn't know what to think in the summer of 2008 when the grandmother of his godson handed him a book titled "The Best Sex of My Life."

Then he read the subtitle: "A Guide to Purity."

"She just said, 'I want to give this to you,' " says Warren, who wasn't exactly focused on sexual purification at that point.

In his dating life, the 26-year-old assistant vice president at GE Capital had always gravitated toward models and cheerleaders. His relationships were usually fun, but ultimately unfulfilling.

"It'd feel great when you're out with people, but when you come to a certain point after you had sex, it's like the conversation ended because you don't have a friendship," he says. "There's no substance to it. It's surface."

Over the next few months he occasionally picked up the book, reading a chapter at a time. Author Lindsay Marsh describes her Shaker Heights, Ohio, upbringing in a home where virginity was valued but not explicitly discussed. During high school her sexual interactions with a boyfriend were quickly escalating when she found out he was sleeping with another girl. Dejected, she turned to her faith for solace. In the years that followed, Marsh's virginity became increasingly important to her, eventually inspiring her to write the book and launch an organization, Worth the Wait Revolution, which encourages others to reserve sex for marriage.

The book "guided me in the right direction," says Warren, who stopped listening to music with hyper-sexualized lyrics and cut ties with a woman whose values didn't match up with what he now believed.

You can probably figure out that Warren and Marsh end up dating. They were married on Oct. 30. So often when I read stories about people who embrace traditional morality, it seems distant, like the reporter was never able to understand what the sources are trying to say. In this case, the sentiments of the couple come through loud and clear.

After many details about their courtship and how it progressed, we learn:

Holding off, she says, "became as important to him as it was to me."

The relationship felt like a revelation to Warren. "Lindsay and I have gone far deeper than I have gone with any other woman," he says, despite the fact that they had never been physically intimate. ...

Throughout their engagement, Warren became Marsh's partner in Worth the Wait, speaking on panels and helping to tailor the message in an effort to reach more men. Together, she says, they hope to expand the organization to promote "purity in marriage" by discouraging adultery and the use of pornography.

Marsh, now 34, suspects that many people thought she would end up with a virgin or a pastor's son. "But I never wanted to marry a virgin," she says. "I wanted to marry somebody that would be a virgin in their heart toward me and toward God."

It's amazing how revolutionary this approach seems when you're reading it in the newspaper. But major kudos to the reporter, who simply told the story of one couple without adding unnecessary analysis, editorial baggage or snark. But don't read the comments to the article unless you want to become majorly depressed about the state of humanity. Even for WashPost commenters, I think the comments reached a new low. It's funny how even a story like this -- where the abstinence is presented as a private morality choice, a personal truth, people can react very defensively. Anyway, the accompanying photo gallery is worth a gander.

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