In 2003, Gallagher discussed the finding that ninety percent of evangelicals support husband headship of the family and eighty-seven percent also believe marriage should be an equal partnership. This paradoxical finding highlights the struggles taking place among evangelicals to balance gender difference and equality. These struggles can be further explored in discussions about the sexual desires and experiences of men and women. Wilkins' (2008, 2009) examination of the practice of abstinence among evangelical Christian college students exposes the way that evangelical youth seemingly challenge the sexual double standard but leave understandings about gender differences in sexuality intact. Similarly, Christian groups that promote abstinence-until-marriage emphasize the importance of abstinence for young men and young women but grapple with how to deal with gender difference. This paper examines the process of negotiating gender and sexuality within an evangelical abstinence-until-marriage group. The group uses religion to build their argument that men and women both need to abstain from sexual activity until marriage. At the same time, due to their evangelical ideology, they are unwilling to entirely deny differences in the natures of men and women. In public discourse, and in private conversations, group members espouse a contradictory understanding of gender difference, simultaneously challenging and reifying gender differences in the experience of sexuality and desire. Based on ethnographic fieldwork, interviews and archival research I connect the contradictory portrayal of gender within the group to larger struggles with gender difference and equality among evangelical Christians.
|Keywords:||Gender, Sexuality, Abstinence-until-marriage, Evangelical Christians|
Graduate Student, Sociology, University of Massachusetts-Amherst, Northampton, USA