Turns out, college isn't as hard to pay for as I previously thought. At least, not if you're a woman and willing to get, shall we say, "creative." According to CNBC, there are plenty of rich dirty old men ("Sugar Daddies") willing to put broke young women ("Sugar Babies") through college in return for what SeekingArrangements.com calls—and trademarks!—"Mutually Beneficial Relationships® & Mutually Beneficial Arrangements™."
I should be aghast that there are Sugar Daddies who advertise for this role ("Will educate for sex!) and that there are Sugar Babies willing to take them up on it ("Will **** for education!"). And yes, I'm troubled by the terminology. I'm horrified by prostitution's continual morphing and the never-ending supply of men willing to prey on desperate women. Yet, there's a part of me that wonders if this disgusting trade actually does something meaningful to counter our prevailing views on the worth of sex.
Bear with me.
In a society polarized over sex, we get fed lies from both sides. We either get told that sex means nothing—that it can be tossed around and given away anonymously because sex itself has no value—or that it means everything—that it is the worst sin, that ill-gotten sex means you or your life has no value.
Consider what Elizabeth Smart recently said in a talk at Johns Hopkins University. Smart, who was raised Mormon, told the panel she "felt so worthless after being raped that she felt unfit to return to her society, which had communicated some hard and fast rules about premarital sexual contact."
According to Slate, Smart said:
I had a teacher who was talking about abstinence, and she said, "Imagine you're a stick of gum. When you engage in sex, that's like getting chewed. And if you do that lots of times, you're going to become an old piece of gum, and who is going to want you after that?"
Well, that's terrible. No one should ever say that. But [after being raped] I thought, "I'm that chewed-up piece of gum." Nobody re-chews a piece of gum. You throw it away. And that's how easy it is to feel you no longer have worth. Your life no longer has value.
It's not just Mormons who pass around this message. It's common in evangelical circles, and it's at the heart of the Puritan lie about sex. Although most purveyors of this metaphor would (I hope) object to this teaching being used about rape, Smart's conclusion is understandable. Whether the sex is voluntary or forced, the gum is still chewed, so to speak.
This metaphor serves as one of many shame and scare tactics thrown around in evangelicalism to keep chastity high on moral pedestals and sexuality locked in deep vaults. (Others include presenting sex as the most damaging sin and warning that sexual relations form "soul ties," so having multiple partners fragments the soul.) These lies connect a woman's worth to her sexual purity—something totally at odds with how God sees us. Smart and others are wise and brave to call them out.
Which brings us back to the Sugar Babies. In attempting to "price" sex at the value of a college education, in some ways, these women are calling out our culture's lies about sex. While their agreement is ultimately as off-base as any willing modern-day prostitution, even from within that depraved exchange, we see parties affirming a belief so many dismiss: Sex has value. It is worth something. It means something.
Of course it does. Christians realize sex is worth far more than the rush of climax or the thrill of conquest or the moments of physical love. We know that sex is an act set apart. Sex for humans is different from sex for animals; it is where we express love and intimacy and pleasure and desire at once.
"In light of the sacraments," write Elizabeth Myer Boulton and Matthew Myer Boulton, "a much more compelling and rigorous approach to human sexuality becomes possible: a rich, candid, ongoing ecclesial conversation about sex as both an earthly pleasure and a heavenly treasure, a feast and a gift, a delight and an honor and therefore a breathtaking responsibility."
In light of that sense of fullness and worth, it's clear the cost of a college education, or whatever the Sugar Babies may charge, doesn't come close to the covering sex's true value.
Sex is a "feast and a gift, a delight and an honor," so it should be treated as precious and protected. Yet, we cannot let it become so precious that sex alone becomes a woman's worth, nor so protected that we become terrified of it. And because it's a gift, neither sex nor "purity" mark a woman or a girl's worth. In God's eyes, we are never our sexual history. We are beloved and forgiven and worthy.
We should remember and share this sacramental picture of sex, though it requires a bit more truth-telling. God may intend sex for marriage, but when sex happens outside of it, souls do not tie, a woman's worth does not diminish, and lives are not ruined. Sex is not the worst sin. Greed and gossip have been known to cause more damage.
Christians would do well to teach that sex is a grace, and it needs to be treated with such.