Traditional norms of feminine behavior encourage women to pledge sexual abstinence before marriage, instilling values of female sexual innocence and purity. In contrast, these norms suggest male sexual activity before marriage legitimizes their masculinity. Men who choose to abstain from sexual activity until marriage remain largely unexamined. In 2008, Ph.D. sociology candidate Sarah Diefendorf studied a male abstinence support group called The River to explore male beliefs about sexuality and masculinity in relation to sexual abstinence. Diefendorf discussed her findings in a recent Huffington Post article.
Men within The River used the group as a support network to resist various forms of sexual temptation, including masturbation, pornography, and same-sex attraction. While the resistance of sexual desires often proved difficult, these men believed that by waiting for sex, an act they believed God deemed sacred, they would enjoy fulfilling sex lives as married men. And by sharing their struggles with sexuality, the men in the group still “reinforce the norm that they are highly sexual men, even in the absence of sexual activity.”
During interviews conducted three years later, Diefendorf discovered that most of the men were still wrestling with their sexual urges even now that they were married. They no longer had a peer support network holding them accountable and did not feel comfortable speaking to their female spouses, since their group as taught that women are nonsexual.
Diefendorf explained, “After 25 years of being told that sex is something dangerous that needs to be controlled, the transition to married (and sexual) life is difficult, at best, while leaving men without the support they need. Women, meanwhile, are often left out of the conversation entirely.”