Let me take you back to May; bear with me, I know it’s painful. Zoom parties were all the rage, #stayathome was trending, and the most exciting thing to appear on my newsfeed was a random builder’s re-design of his garden shed. Perhaps that makes it even more surprising that Justin Bieber’s controversial take on ‘sex before marriage’ went largely unnoticed.
There were a lot of attention-grabbing headlines referencing Bieber and his wife’s Facebook series ‘The Bieber’s on Watch’, including Terry Carter Jr.’s article for buzzfeed.com: ‘Justin And Hailey Bieber Talked About Having Sex Before Marriage And They Have Very Different Takes On It’. However, for the most part, unsurprisingly and disappointingly, they just felt like click-bait. Frankly, I think the mainstream journalists missed a step. Instead of discussing Bieber’s point of view, they transcribed it. This was in spite of the fact that his comments, coming from a self-proclaimed anti-religious popstar, were unprecedented. Was this omission the natural consequence of modern society’s unwillingness to explore ideas that appear to run against its holy-grail: ‘progress’? Especially when, in all probability, there’s a grain of truth to them (they’re devilishly insightful)? Or is it simply saying that we don’t find celebrities interesting when they’re living stable lives and not getting arrested? I’m sure we’d all agree that circa 2014 ‘off-the-rails Bieber’ was a lot more fun. Besides, who even cares what that guy thinks these days? You know, since we’re all so evolved now.
Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. For those of you who missed it, the crux of the matter was Justin claiming that:
‘If I could go back and not have to face some of the bad hurt that I went through I probably would have saved myself for marriage’ because ‘sex can be kind of confusing when you’re being sexually active with anybody’.
Sex before marriage, or outside a serious relationship, can be great. Sometimes it’s the unexpected cherry on top of an already fantastic night out. Sometimes it’s an adventure or the meeting of more than one person in a frantic coital embrace. Besides, single people also deserve to get their kit off whenever they want to, right? Without a doubt, everyone should do It, whenever they want to, with whoever they want to. I’m not trying to tell you guys what to do, or who to shag. I’m just curious whether for once: Does Justin Bieber have a point?
I was born in the same year as Justin, 1994, which means that I’ve always felt kind of connected to him. Don’t worry, only in a ‘we hit the same stages of life at the same time’ sort of way. So I found it deeply surprising that while my friends and I were still messing around, Bieber was proudly declaring to Vogue that he went through a period of celibacy because ‘I really felt it was better for the condition of my soul’. This earlier interview contained a truncated version of his remarks from May. Although for Vogue, he also admitted that:
‘I think sex can cause a lot of pain. Sometimes people have sex because they don’t feel good enough. Because they lack self-worth. Women do that, and guys do that’.
It would be easy to dismiss his words as an attention-grabbing attack on free love or the self-righteous preachings of another know-it-all celebrity. Nevertheless, Bieber’s frank confession is full of the remnants of genuine hurt and barely-overcome trauma. The same kind of hurt that many have experienced and been quick to repress.
Let’s face it, sex and love are undeniably interlinked, however inconvenient that may be. The more you love someone, the more you’re going to want to have sex with them. The more sexually attractive an individual is to you, the more likely it is that you’ll want to be in a romantic relationship with them (whether you identify as demi-sexual or not). Now that doesn’t mean that you’ll decide to date every person you have sex with, or that the two concepts are mutually exclusive. We have sex for all kinds of reasons: there’s an itch we can’t scratch on our own, we want to get back at someone for hurting us, or the influence of alcohol makes our prospective partner look more appealing. It does mean that if two people keep choosing to have sex with each other, there’s a fair chance that at least one of them has unaddressed or suppressed feelings. Which means someone’s gonna get hurt when the arrangement eventually ends. That is when it’s a ‘friends with benefits’ type of situation.
Talking of friends, how many of you have lost one because you hooked up or made out with them? Even if neither of you developed feelings? I’ve lost at least three in the past year alone. I’d always wondered whether the saying ‘you can’t go back’ was really true. Sometimes it can be. Sex can change the way you view someone irreversibly, and the way they view you.
When you’re not friends, sleeping with everyone and anyone can engender desensitisation and apathy. A case in point: Toru Watanabe, the albeit fictional protagonist of Haruki Murakami’s cult novel Norwegian Wood (1987), admits that ‘I had to admire Nagasawa all the more for the way he could continue the ritual [of repeatedly picking up girls for casual sex] without ever getting sick and tired of it’. If it never means anything, lots of sex can get kind of boring.
Casual sex can also lead to ambiguous relationships. The end of a committed relationship is marked by the knowledge that your ex-partner at least wanted you at some point. More importantly, the ‘official’ nature of your relationship left you with something to prove that it happened. Conversely, following an ambiguous relationship you’re left with nothing…minus the frustration of it all. Don’t even get me started on how exasperating trying to read an ‘ambiguous partner’s’ intentions can be. How do you tell if the person you recently hooked up with wants to date you, fuck you, or dump you? Realistically, we’re not all as communicative as we’d like to be.
So does Justin Bieber have a point? To an extent. Perhaps Hailey’s affirmation ‘that we all have guilt and we all have shame for things we’ve done but it doesn’t have to define who we are, and it didn’t have to define me in my relationship’ is the only absolute truth. I would argue that Justin was right when he said that sex makes things complicated without us permitting it to; it can be painful as well as pleasurable, and that’s not always taken into consideration. Instead of embracing celibacy like he did, let’s approach our sex lives, coronavirus permitting, with a new kind of awareness. An awareness of the pitfalls of casual sex as well as the benefits. That being said, the current requirement to stick to ‘established relationships’ could permanently convert us to Bieber’s ways.