I've forgotten when I last wrote about this, but it doesn't matter because I probably should write about it once a month. This topic is of enormous importance, bringing together female psychology, male psychology, sin, forgiveness, reticence, modesty and heaven knows what else. If I remember correctly, the last time I wrote on this, a priest emailed to say "Good job." So here I go again.
Men and women commit sexual sins. Some are venial (not as serious, but still sins). Some are mortal (serious). Some sexual sins are committed alone, and some with others. Many of the serious one are committed with a good helping of such rationalizations as "we're probably getting married, anyway." If you don't believe in the concept of sin, stop reading now and go here.
Anyway, if you commit a serious sexual sin, it is important for your ultimate happiness that you feel sorry, that you confess it, and that you do penance. You confess your sin to God through, Catholics maintain, a priest in the confessional. And then you keep your mouth shut.
Men, I read the other day, process pain and stress by hiding away in a cave. Women, I know very well, process pain and stress by talking it out. Having committed sexual sins can be extraordinarily stressful for women in particular, not only because/if they have well-tuned consciences, but because the consequences can be extremely serious. As this is not a chastity lecture, I will not list them. You know what they are. The point I am making is that even if you are longing to talk about your sexual sins with your sympathetic new suitor, you absolutely must not do it.
For about six thousand years, the fewer men she slept with, the more honoured a woman was. Polygamy is not unknown, whereas polyandry is almost unheard of. In the early Christian era, widows were discouraged from marrying again, and although widows remarry without shame, many widows have prided themselves on being one-man women. And although there has almost always been some tolerance for the sexual sins of men, tolerance for the sexual sins of women is brand spanking new and hardly universal.
Is this fair? No, it is not. Human society is, was and will probably always be unfair until the end of time. Nature is unfair, too. In her Woman: An Intimate Geography, biologist Natalie Angiers is perturbed by the fact that the more men a woman has sex with, the more likely she is to get cervical cancer, even if she always uses condoms.
So if women feel deeply, deeply guilty over our sexual sins, even long after we have confessed them in the confessional, done our penance, and pulled up our moral socks, it is little wonder that some of us feel permanently damaged. We might even be haunted by the thought, "Would they/he still love me if he knew...?"
I am not a man, so I can't tell you firsthand what it is like to be a man hearing firsthand how a woman he loves or admires has been with another man or other men. But I believe that, in general, a mature, honest man born between 1940 and 1980 doesn't like it that much and doesn't really want to hear about it, but accepts that these things happen. If he is a humble man, he might remember that he has blotted his copybook himself, with himself if not with another person.
But many young religious laymen, I'm told, freak out. And goodness knows, anyone who wants to know what laymen think about women telling them their sexual sins can find out quickly by finding a chastity blog, or reading Jeff McL's comment in the "Reticence is Golden" combox below.
Many young religious men (I'm not talking about Jeff McL, here) are obsessed with virginity and terrified of sexually experienced women, and haven't a clue what goes through women's heads. To them we are either sexual angels or depraved demons, pure as the snow or base as the mud. Fortunately, most young men grow up and realize that women are human beings, much like themselves, only usually less inclined to self-abuse and looking at porn.
That reminds me, men are very visual about sex, which it is another reason not to confess your sexual sins to laymen (or to confessors in technicolour detail). They will immediately picture them in their heads. They can't help it, and it will make them feel terrible. Really, you should never tell your male friend, boyfriend or fiance these things, unless it is absolutely necessary to his health or your health that he knows (e.g. if you have herpes, your fiance needs to know).
You might also think twice before telling a female friend, unless she is the enviable kind of woman who can keep your secrets and other women's secrets, even from her boyfriend or husband. Otherwise, heaven knows who will find out. And these things stick in the mind.
On this blog, Single women occasionally make direct reference to their own sexual sins (e.g. losing their virginity to their last boyfriend, thinking they would get married anyway) in the combox under their habitual pseudonym. I think this is a terrible idea and never allow them to appear. The internet is forever.
In short, if you need to discuss such personal things after you have gone to confession, go to spiritual direction, a therapist, or a medical doctor.
Are women's sexual sins worse than those of men? No. I'm inclined to believe that men's are often worse and certainly more frequent. However, men are much less likely to go around telling people in the hope of obtaining absolution (or blessings) from all and sundry. They shut their mouths, and the good ones pray that the women they love never find out. They leave it in the confessional.
We should all leave it in the confessional.
Update: I had a sudden horrible memory of an article about sex discussion workshops in some American university or other. I fear it was one of those universities that stress how Catholic they are in the brochure, and then you get there and find something completely different. Anyway, I've long been haunted by quote by a nice Catholic girl at this workshop who confessed shame over "having inhibitions."
"You don't have inhibitions," I shrieked at the paper. "You have natural, healthy modesty!"