In my last post about the importance of setting boundaries, I discussed what happens when we know all the information we need to make a good ethical decision and don’t set healthy boundaries to keep us from making unethical decisions in a moment of weakness. As we all know, sometimes we do the right thing by apologizing for our behavior and correcting our behavior going forward.
But more often, we rationalize our behavior, presenting it as a perfectly ethical thing to do shortly after having condemned it. Or perhaps making the case that the circumstances were so exceptional that it was justified to engage in the behavior. And generally, we are very confident that we did the right thing despite having come to that conclusion shortly after engaging in the behavior we previously believed to be unethical.
An example of this is to be found in an article making the case that abundant sexual experience before settling down with a long-term partner is a good thing. The author makes some very good points: that a woman’s value is not solely dependent on her sexual history or lack thereof, that our culture tends to spend too much time shaming women for their sexual choices (though lately it seems to shame them for being virgins as well), and that we shouldn’t view sex as “the end-all be-all” of relationships.
She makes the central claim of her case that because she is very far from a virgin, she was able to grow into a confident woman who could have honest conversations with her partners, experiment in the bedroom, and understand her various social roles as part of a complex tapestry of her identity. This is a very confidently made claim, and I’m sure her experience was that choosing to do the opposite of what her strict religious family told her to do about her sexual decisions led to many benefits.
This is of course a confusion of correlation with causation. As we grow older and gain life experience, we often become more confident in navigating life simply because it is constituted of situations we have encountered before and we have learned how to handle them. I’ve known virgins and promiscuous folks to both grow more confident as they gain life experience.
I’ve also known virgins and promiscuous folks to get better at navigating their various social roles and incorporating them into their identity as they gained life experience. And I’ve known both virgins and promiscuous folks to have the ability to have honest conversations on sensitive topics, including sexual ones. Honesty is a habit available to pretty much everyone, after all.
I’m glad that the author is able to confidently navigate life; that’s very important. At the same time, I’m not so glad that she is confidently proposing that taking serious risks with her sexual health by having sex with lots of men was a good thing. It’s important to be confident that we can navigate life (including sexual activity), but it’s dangerous to be confident that we have made the right decision simply because it was the decision we made.
The consequences could be as small as having to write an article rationalizing our choice in retrospect while focusing solely on the benefits of the decision or as large as something like AIDS or syphilis.