I Was Chastity When Chastity Wasn’t Cool

An old video demonstrates that the times really have changed. For the better.

We took an interesting little stroll down memory lane at my house Easter Sunday.
A few of my friends dropped by that evening with a request. They wanted to see the videotape of my first TV appearance. That show, A.M. San Francisco, aired in October of 1987, and featured a very young, enthusiastic, fresh-faced chastity speaker named Mary Beth Bonacci debating a very world-weary “sexologist.”
It has become a camp classic.

Honestly, it’s a little embarrassing to watch now. I wasn’t exactly media savvy. My wardrobe, makeup and big hair all screamed “80’s Fashion Disaster.” I said “you know” at least 27 times during the first segment. At several points during the show I could be seen staring off into space while the other guests conversed. The show was airing “live” on monitors all over the studio, and apparently I was watching the action on those monitors instead of on the stage. But, despite all of that, my friends concluded that it was a good performance. I walked in at a tremendous disadvantage – a kid fresh out of college up against a “professional” expert, and yet in the end I got the best of her. I recall watching her storm off the stage after the final credits rolled. She was not a happy sexologist.

It wasn’t hard, of course. These 1980’s sex-ed-establishment types were long on opinions and short on facts. This woman didn’t want to accept that the ‘60’s were over and that free love came with a price tag. She all but ignored teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. She kept droning on about how sex was ignored in the schools and teenagers were left ignorant. I remember thinking that she must’ve seen a lot of poodle skirts and greased hair the last time she darkened the door of a public high school. She certainly wasn’t describing any schools I’d seen in my lifetime.

In fact, the most difficult aspect of the whole experience was the sheer ludicrousness of her arguments. In the face of twin epidemics – AIDS and teen pregnancy -- the problem that concerned her most was the fact that teenagers “don’t see their parents as sexual.” It disturbed her greatly that sex wasn’t treated as a “legitimate academic subject” within families. She believed that any person – of any age – should engage in sexual activity as long as they have “encountered their sensation of readiness.”

Let me tell you – arguing with someone like that is like trying to fight smog with a crowbar. There’s nothing to grab onto. 

Looking back, what strikes me about the show is the demographics. I was 24. I brought two college-student friends to appear with me (both were guys, and both were consistently identified on the show as “virgins.”) The audience was full of college students, all of whom were enthusiastically supportive of our position. The “sexologist” was obviously middle-aged – and years had most decidedly not been good to her. The show’s hosts were likewise older, and obviously sympathetic to the sexologist’s point of view. (The male host, in particular, was concerned that by not having frequent sex, we would be “missing out on an important part of [our] development.”) The callers likewise fell in line. The young callers were all pro-chastity. The older callers were all “pro-promiscuity.”

I considered that day to be a good learning experience, but not an effective forum for my message. The producers weren’t interested in making a point. They were interested in generating a fight. I had no time to make my case. I could speak only in “sound bites” before I was interrupted. They brought us on because they considered us freaks.

In the years following that show, I received a lot of invitations to appear on other talk shows. I think I probably received invitations from most of the major daytime talk shows of the era. And I turned them all down. I remember watching how those shows dealt with the chastity issue. It was all the same. We were freaks to put on alongside the lesbian stripper accountants. I remember watching Oprah Winfrey actually berate a young girl appearing on her show to promote chastity.
But times change.

I don’t know where that sexologist or those talk show hosts are today. But now I’m middle-aged (well, sort of), and the generation of students that filled the audience that day is the generation of adults running the country.

Yes, there is still a Planned Parenthood, and there is still a sex education establishment. But they’re under a lot more scrutiny than they were 15 years ago. There are still questionable daytime talk shows, but they’re much more marginalized than they used to be. 

And the pro-chastity advocates no longer considered freaks. Dr. Laura Schlessinger reaches over 22 million listeners every day with her unapologetically pro-abstinence message. One of the most popular daytime talk shows in history, Dr. Phil, has featured not one but a series of segments on the dangers of teen sex and the importance of abstinence. Abstinence education programs are gaining ground in school districts throughout the nation. Teens proudly carry pledge cards and wear T-shirts proclaiming their commitment to chastity. Teen pregnancy rates and teen sexual activity rates are actually declining across the U.S.

Sometimes, when we’re in the middle of the fray, we don’t see the progress we’ve made. But that little Easter stroll down memory lane reminded me how far I’ve come – and, more importantly, how far the pro-chastity movement has come. It encouraged me.

I hope it encouraged you, too.