Twilight: Pro-chastity? Pro-life?
BARRY’S BAY, Ontario, January 24, 2011 (LifeSiteNews.com) - Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series has become a major cultural phenomenon, rivaling in popularity even J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series.
Meyer has sold more than 100 million copies of the books since the first installment appeared in 2005, and the three films have taken in over $1.7 billion worldwide. They’ve also met critical acclaim, with the fourth book Breaking Dawn winning the 2008 British Book Award for “Children’s Book of the Year.”
But the massively popular series is also controversial, not least because the central couple - Bella and Edward - do not have sex before marriage. This fact, sadly unusual within popular culture, has brought Meyer both praise and scorn.
A writer at The Bulletin: Philadelphia’s Family Newspaper, for example, praised Meyer for “mainstreaming ... the chastity message,” and “introduc[ing] a generation of young women to the sexiness of deferred gratification.” On the other hand, columnist Kaila Hale-Stern has dismissed the books as a “thinly-veiled religious screed against teen sex.”
But does the simple fact that Bella and Edward abstained before marriage warrant labeling the books pro-chastity?
Dr. Christine Schintgen says no. Schintgen, who serves as Assistant Professor of Literature at Our Lady Seat of Wisdom Academy in Barry’s Bay, Ontario, argues the series actually presents a contraceptive, anti-life view of sexuality that celebrates lustful and purely recreational intercourse.
“It’s disturbing that these books continue to be marketed for young adults and even children,” commented Schintgen, who laid out her argument in an article this month for the Canadian magazine Catholic Insight. “It really makes you wonder what limits if any we’re drawing for our children when it comes to what we expose them to.”
Abstinent, but not chaste
Those who suggest Twilight is “pro-chastity” are relying on a superficial definition of chastity that amounts simply to abstinence, she told LifeSiteNews.
“Abstinence is just strictly, technically not having sexual intercourse before marriage,” she explained. “Chastity is a whole way of life, a whole mentality, and it has a spiritual dimension. It involves recognizing the other person as a creature of God deserving of respect. It also involves recognizing the gift of sexuality as a gift from God that has a right to be treated properly.”
“When you look at the Twilight series and scratch beneath the surface, you find that although this couple is basically abstinent before marriage, they don’t have a chaste mentality,” she said.
Schintgen pointed out, for example, that Edward would sneak into Bella’s bedroom every night, and when she eventually discovers him doing it, they often make out and lie on top of each other.
In her Catholic Insight article, she quotes the following passage from New Moon:
“The kiss began much the same as usual - Edward was as careful as ever, and my heart began to overreact like it always did. And then something seemed to change. Suddenly his lips became much more urgent, his free hand twisted into my hair and held my face securely to his. And, though my hands tangled in his hair, too, and though I was clearly beginning to cross his cautious lines, for once he didn’t stop me. His body was cold through the thin quilt, but I crushed myself against him eagerly. [...]
‘Which is tempting you more, my blood or my body?’
‘It’s a tie.’”
“Bella is constantly pushing the boundaries that Edward has set up,” said Schintgen. “They’re stimulating each other to this wild sexual excitement, and yet just managing somehow to stay on the inside of that line.”
“A truly chaste relationship involves loving the other person and appreciating the proper limits that allow the other person to feel comfortable and safe and free,” she said, “and part of that is just not actually exciting each other.”
“The body has a logic of its own, and once it’s started it’s really hard to stop,” she added. “And rightly so. That’s the way the body’s made. That’s how sex works.”
In her article, Schintgen also argues that the couple’s romantic obsession is itself unchaste. “With great insight, [the late Pope] John Paul II writes that the pleasure men and women sometimes use each other for may not be explicitly sexual,” she writes. “For some people - and women are particularly prone to this weakness - the emotional high associated with romance can be pursued as an end in itself, with a member of the opposite sex as the means to this end.”
Married, but still not chaste
The Twilight characters’ affronts to chastity continue even after they are married in the fourth book Breaking Dawn, argues Schintgen, saying that then “sex is reveled in for its own sake and detached from its purpose of procreation.”
Because vampires don’t bear children, the two believe they are incapable of conceiving, and family members joke about them going “at it all the time.”
Initially their sexual relationship is actually brutally violent. Bella wakes up the morning after their wedding night black and blue, the headboard is broken, and pillow feathers are spread across the room.
“This is a relationship that’s being celebrated. This is something children are supposed to admire,” said Schintgen, commenting on the passage. “It’s not like a true documentary about abused women, that we can sympathize with and say ‘Gosh, we have to avoid that’. This is part of the fantasy.”
To their shock, the couple does indeed conceive a child, half-human and half-vampire, and his size and strength in the womb end up posing a grave danger to Bella. After reaching the brink of death during labor, Edward grants Bella’s long-held wish and turns her into a vampire.
Schintgen says the two are overjoyed that “they can then have sex without ‘fear’ of conception for the rest of eternity.” “There are pages in which [Bella] goes on and on about how this is great and she just thinks it’s wonderful that they never really have any reason to stop,” she said.
Is Twilight pro-life?
The series does have “a certain pro-life twist to it,” acknowledges Schintgen. Despite Edward’s desire to kill ‘it’ - their baby that is - after they discover she’s pregnant, Bella insists they keep the child.
But Schintgen argues that the books are nevertheless largely anti-life. “Yes, she chooses to keep the baby and that’s a good pro-life point. But it’s a pro-life point in a sea of anti-life messages,” she explains.
In the article, she explains that Bella’s “choice to become a vampire and be done with the messiness of being human once and for all is hardly an embracing of the Culture of Life.”
“In becoming a vampire Bella turns her back not only on her own human nature but also on the ability to give life,” Schintgen writes. “She shuns any future act of procreation that is the natural and logical end of sexual activity.”
“When you go against chastity, you’re also by extension going against life,” Schintgen told LifeSiteNews. “If you’re creating a culture that is contraceptive, which this book is in celebrating non-reproductive sex, ... it’s going to lead to a disrespect for the normal, the natural result of sex, which is children.”
Schintgen also noted that the over-the-top gory depiction of Bella’s labor and delivery could serve to put women off of bearing children. “The book made giving birth sound horrific,” she said. “[Girls] have a hard enough time accepting the idea of having children and being pregnant and going through all of that.”
The danger of the ‘anything but’ mentality
Schintgen said the reduction of chastity to abstinence in the Twilight series exposes a major problem in our culture, including much of contemporary Christianity.
“We think we’re being radical and counter-cultural by saying ‘Hey, we’re waiting to have sex.’ But there isn’t necessarily that deeper understanding about what that entails,” she said. “You get what I call the ‘anything but’ mentality, [which] says that as long we’re not actually having full sexual intercourse, we’re being chaste and we’re saving ourselves until marriage.”
Many young Christians have simply not had a proper formation in wholesome, integrated, and chaste human sexuality, she explained. While there were once established limits, “now we have no boundaries except for ‘don’t have sex before marriage’.”
Many want to remain chaste, or at least abstinent, while also enjoying a certain amount of sexual excitement, she explained. “The sad reality is, for most people, it’s just going to tragically fail with all of the repercussions. ... Really, if we don’t want to have sex, the easiest thing is not to excite each other sexually.
“If we can look at the Twilight books critically and have this discussion and use them as a talking point for what true chastity is, then in a way they will have served a good purpose,” she suggested.
But she also said that because it appears to many to present a moral, and even Christian, message of chastity, the series dangerously creates a “false sense of security.”
“I think in a way that’s more dangerous than a series or book that would just be candidly unchaste, and just present a normal run-of-the-mill immoral relationship,” she said. “Because then people would see that for what it is.”
See Dr. Schintgen’s ‘The Twilight Series: Pro-Chastity or Not?’ in Catholic Insight.