Christian abstinence movements are really fucking weird about masculinity.
(My qualifications for writing this post, as an atheist skeptic who has had quite a lot of sex: I went to Catholic abstinence-only education in high school, I took a class on the abstinence-only movement, and I’ve read a fuckload about it in my free time because it interests me. See! Qualifications! I have them!)
The fundamental problem with the Christian abstinence movement (by which I mean, e.g., Silver Ring Thing, True Love Waits, and their host of slick, glossy imitators) and masculinity is that they’re trying to present abstinence as being cool and abstinence, for men, is really not cool. There are sociological studies showing that, for men, virginity is far more likely to be a source of shame than a “present” they’re saving for their true love. Even worse, they can’t be like “defying gender norms is awesome!” because they’re Christian abstinence movements, their entire thing is holding up gender norms. So they have this interesting problem to solve.
Look at the covers of books directed at men. Every Man’s Battle, which talks about “winning the war” on impurity. (While there is a Every Woman’s Battle, it appears to be a companion volume with the name kept for branding purposes, and apparently women fight battles in order to discover God’s plan instead of to win wars. How does that even work? “Everyone stop fighting now! I’ve figured out whom God wants Muriel to marry!”) Who Moved the Goalpost?, which presents sexual purity as a football game. The Game Plan, which is also about how purity is football. Seriously, guys? This is embarrassing. You’re like four steps away from those Pepsi Ten “no ladies allowed” ads.
A lot of the gendering stuff is like that, actually. For instance, Pure Freedom occasionally does men’s programs that feature urinal etiquette jokes and a super-masculine version of Rock Paper Scissors called Gorilla Man Gun. (I am not making this up.) It is unclear what any of this has to do with abstinence, beyond a faintly hysterical attempt to stay “cool” and “with it” and the combined desire to enforce that all men are masculine and to make male virginity stop being so uncool. There’s also some kind of hilarious stuff where they complain that men aren’t masculine enough anymore and explain that Jesus would approve of men beating bullies up. However, some of the gendering stuff is way more interesting– for instance, the way it plays both sides of the Knight/Beast dichotomy.
The Beast elements are pretty obvious. All men are thought to be lustful. (Sorry, David Jay, you are not real.) In Making Chastity Sexy (which is an excellent ethnography which you should check out if you’re interested in the subject, and also the source of a lot of my material), one of the people quoted says that his lust test is “we strip you down naked, and if you have a penis, you struggle with lust.” The advice directed at men tends to be about how to deal with your lustfulness, while the advice directed at women is almost solely about how to avoid being pressured into sex. Similarly, women are told to be modest so they aren’t a “stumbling block” to boys, while boys are not instructed to avoid, say, taking their shirts off lest they drive women into sin.
But I think the Knight element is the most key– pretty logically, for a movement that’s based around *not* having sex. Christian abstinence movements are really big into fairy tales. They have entire things about how you’re not supposed to kiss frogs to see if they turn into princes. So while the woman is constructed as a princess who guards her purity for her husband, the man is constructed as a knight who nobly battles the sin of lust in order to win the heart of the fair maiden. The prince, of course, gets much more agency in this model than the princess does; he gets to do things, while her job is pretty much limited to picking out her favorite of her suitors.
For men, being pure is framed as a “battle.” Yes, Every Man’s Battle. I mean, literally, The War Within has diagrams of battle plans with memorized Scripture verses as your weapons.You are evilly beset on all sides by temptations– pornography, women in short skirts and tight tops, masturbation, a girlfriend who feels like it wouldn’t be that much of a sin if you just touched her breasts– and it is your job to hoist your sword, load your ammo, and gird your loins (puns entirely intended) to defeat them. However, once you defeat them all, you’re rewarded with a beautiful (and virginal!) princess and a happy marriage for the rest of your life. So that’s good I guess.
It also encourages men to pedestalize women– classic Knight behavior. Again, there’s a person in Making Chastity Sexy literally quoted as saying that they will defeat feminism once men learn how to be chivalrous enough to women. Because women en masse are going to be all “…nah, I don’t need equal pay, I can have a dude open my car door for me!” That totally sounds like a fair deal here. A woman is supposed to find a man who can “treat her like a princess” as a reward for her purity, and men are supposed to learn to do so– partially through staying virginal until marriage, and partially through acts of chivalry and devotion.