MY FRIENDS CAN READ IT FOR FREE (Excerpt 22 from THE HARVEST of REASON) Monday morning John was in early, to make up for having lost half of Sunday due to a hangover. He had been in the cubicle in the back of Dan Gates’ lab most of the morning…READ MORE

(if you’re here for the first time look at excerpts 1-21 in earlier Blogs )

Monday morning John was in early, to make up for having lost half of Sunday due to a hangover. He had been in the cubicle in the back of Dan Gates’ lab most of the morning using the analytical balance to weigh dried, ground up plant samples. The door into the outer lab was almost shut, though not latched, and he had neglected to turn on the radio, seeing as he was not in the mood for noise. This could account for someone walking into the outer lab and mistakenly assuming that no one was in the room. But it would not account for the eavesdropping that took place. Only the fact that John was thinking slowly that morning, and his extreme curiosity about the subject under discussion could explain his not identifying  himself immediately when Maddie and Lisa burst into the outer room in the middle of a conversation.

“Wait, wait, Maddie, you can’t drop a bombshell like that and walk out of my office.” Lisa was saying. “Now, wait. Let me get this straight. Are you serious, Maddie? You mean to tell me you’ve never, ever slept with a guy in your life?”

John’s ears pricked up immediately.

“No, Lisa, I haven’t,” Maddie said, quiet but matter-of-fact.

“But, wait, are you telling me that you haven’t had any, uh, opportunities? Because Maddie, that I can’t believe. With your looks, girl, you could have any guy. What about Craig, now he’s hot,” Lisa said.

“No, Lis, it’s not for lack of opportunities.”

“Oh.” She paused for a moment, then asked slowly, “Maddie, are you gay?”

John’s heart nearly stopped.

Maddie uttered a high-pitched squeal of laughter. “No, Lisa I’m not gay.”

John heard himself exhale and thought it was so loud it must have been heard in the outer room. Now it was definitely too late to identify himself.

“Well, then, would you care to explain this to me?” Lisa said.

“Well, okay, Lisa, but just so you understand. This is not a judgment of somebody else’s life style okay? It’s just a choice I’ve made for my life.”

“Uh-hum. Spill it.”

John forgot what he was doing.


Maddie took a deep breath and started speaking, measuring her words. “In my faith we practice, well, it’s called ‘chastity before marriage.’ We believe sex is a beautiful thing, and the attraction between men and women is a powerful force but the physical expression of that love is reserved for marriage.”

Lisa started laughing. “Physical expression of love! C’mom, Maddie, you can say sex can’t you?”

“Okay, sex! Anyhow, by choice, and it’s not always easy, believe me, but by choice, I will not sleep, have sex, with a man until we’re married.”

“Gosh,” Maddie stopped, “this must sound crazy to you. But it’s the way I was raised, and it’s the way I truly believe I have to live.” She knew she had dropped a heavy load and the last thing she wanted was for Lisa to think she was trying to preach to her.

Lisa seemed to be trying to swallow a big lump of peanut butter because her words came out slowly. “Yeah,  but wouldn’t you want to know that about a guy before you married him?”

“You mean, is he good in bed? No.” She shrugged. “Whether he was or he wasn’t, I think we would have to work it out together. What I really would have a much greater interest in knowing before I married a guy is, what his true character is.”

“Like what, for instance?”

“Like, is he kind? Is he hard working? Is he just out for himself or does he have an interest in helping others? Does he believe men and women should have equal rights? Is he honest? Gosh, Lisa, there’s a long list of things I’d like to know about a guy besides his sex life! And if I slept with him before I got those straight, I think my judgment would be totally clouded. Ouch!”

“What happened, did you burn yourself?”

“Yeah, I forgot this water runs so hot!” She shook her hand then turned on the cold water and ran it over the red fingers.

“Anyhow, Lis, the way I see it, the logical sequence of events is to meet someone I’m attracted to, to investigate his character through working together on something, not just through dating, you know. If I find he’s the one I want to build a life with then marry him. Quickly, not have a long dragged-out engagement where you just get tempted and sexually frustrated. Then, I’ll have all the sex I want!”

“But, Maddie, getting married is complicated, and it costs a lot.”

“No, it’s not complicated! People make it complicated. You can get married very simply. You don’t need to have graduated college or have a lot of money to set up with. You can work toward all those goals together. All you need to know is that you do have the same goals as the other person and then take off from there. And you certainly don’t need to bankrupt your parents or go into tremendous debt to have a wedding. Whatever happened to backyard weddings where you cook the food yourself and all your best friends are invited?”

“That actually sounds romantic,” Lisa said, “except for the part about doing the cooking yourself.”

“Well, I didn’t mean that literally, but friends and family can help with that. I’ve seen it several times. And sometimes the bride and groom are real young. They just go off to college together. And it seems that because they found each other early in life, they just bypass a lot of trouble and heartache.”

“Okay, okay, you’ve got me all confused now. Okay, so you say you don’t want to have sex with a guy before you get married, because it’ll just confuse the issue of what you’re looking for in a marriage partner. In some kind of twisted way that makes sense, I guess.” She made a strange face.

“Yeah, like people think that by just hopping from one bed to another they’re gonna find a lasting partner. What’s the matter?”

“I was just thinking about Ernie.”

Maddie didn’t want to say anything but she wondered what Lisa saw in the guy. They seemed so incompatible. “What about Ernie?”

“It’s just that, you know, I kind of tumbled into bed with him ‘cause he was cute. I didn’t really know him. I think I had one beer too many that night. And then it seems that ever since then we’ve been trying to build this relationship.”

“So, do you like the guy?”

“We have good sex,” Lisa said, flippantly.

“Lisa, do you like the guy?”

“Eh! He’s got a lot of problems. But who doesn’t. I’m not perfect either.”

Alarm bells were going off in Maddie’s head. Lisa seemed to suffer from very low expectations. “So, but what don’t you like about your relationship?”

“Well, he drinks a little, you know. And he doesn’t like to be around people. And I’m not like that. Sometimes I’m happy he lives out of town, ‘cause if he were around all the time my life would be really difficult.”

Maddie was bitting her tongue. There was no other way except to be direct. “Does he try to control you?”

Lisa looked uncomfortable. “Well, no. He’s just moody. Gets kind of sullen when I, when we don’t do things his way.”

Maddie lost her control. “Lisa, that’s awful. How could you settle for that? That’s like emotional blackmail or something.”

Lisa looked at Maddie long and hard. “Well, I guess I always knew it wasn’t gonna go anywhere.” She sighed.

Then she did a one-eighty and picked up where she’d left off before she started talking about Ernie. “But a lot of people aren’t looking to get married. They’re just looking to have some sex for fun. What about fun? Who’s it gonna hurt?” she argued.

“Lisa,” Maddie countered, “if what I want is recreation, there’s a million other things I can do! Really, our society’s excessive preoccupation with sex is more than a little bit out of whack.”

Lisa eyed her skeptically, “As a virgin my dear, you really don’t know what you’re missing out on if you can compare sex to “any other form of recreation.” Bungee jumping doesn’t even come close.”

Maddie looked stumped for a minute, then began to blush. “Well, forget that. You asked who’s it gonna hurt? Let’s look at the larger picture; from society’s standpoint instead of just the personal. Do you know how many teenage pregnancies there are in this country every year? I could quote you the stats on that. God! These are children having children!” She was warming up to her discourse. “With no preparation for parenting. Does that hurt them? Oh, okay so do we really think that sex is the proper focus for teenage life? What about their studies? What about their professional and emotional preparation for living a responsible life? Shouldn’t they be focusing on that instead? Because of teen pregnancy, people who might have made great contributions to society never get to go on and fulfill that potential. And I’m talking mostly about girls here, ‘cause they’re the ones that pay the price and bear the burden.

“And then what about the children born out of marriage in this country. Does that hurt them? All of social and psychological science still maintains that the most ideal place for a child to grow up healthy is with a mother and a father under the same roof. Nobody has been able to find anything better than marriage. So whom do we hurt when we slip up on the birth control in our quest for a little fun? Huh?”

“Gee, Maddie, sounds like you’re writing a paper,” Lisa said.

“I did,” Maddie smiled, “For a sociology class back in my undergrad.”

“Okay,” she went on, “next unpleasant topic. What about the epidemic of sexually transmitted diseases? Is that even remotely related to the fact that whether one is serially monogamous or way out promiscuous, multiple sex partners bring with them their whole sexual history to mingle with ours?” She was making global gestures with her hands. “I mean, think about it, we’re scientists, right? Aren’t the probabilities increased a million-fold by this type of random exchange as opposed to a closed system where you have, one;” she counted off on her fingers, “chastity before marriage, and two; no extramarital sex?”

“Ha! But what are you gonna do? Legislate it?” Lisa jumped in.

“No. That’s just it, Lisa. It can’t be legislated, it can only happen by choice, one by one. And I gotta tell you quite frankly that the only thing that gives me strength to live this way is that I believe it is a spiritual law, provided by an all-loving Creator for my personal protection as well as for the health and order of society.”

“A spiritual law?”

“You know, if we break a law of nature, like gravity, for instance, we suffer the consequences. I think it’s the same with spiritual laws. And our current messed up society is just a reflection of the spiritual laws we’ve broken.”

Lisa was shaking her head. “I don’t know. I don’t know. Is this chastity thing for both sexes?”

“Darn right it is! I’m not talking about some double standard, where it’s used as a…a tool for the oppression of women. To curtail their freedom or enforce some horrific cultural customs, or keep them barefoot, pregnant and in the kitchen, while men go off and sow their wild oats with “the other kind of women!” I’m talking about enlightened men and women making a conscious choice!”

Lisa, who had leaned up against the lab bench with her arms crossed, wagged her head like the needle on a weight scale. “Well, you just blew me away with all this stuff. I really didn’t know people existed like this. They don’t show them on TV or in the movies.

“Look, there’s a lot of truth in what you say, I admit it,” she said, soberly. “But there’s no way you can turn back the clock on the way our society is right now. Things just don’t work that way.”

“Maybe,” Maddie replied, not totally convinced of the hopelessness of human reform. “But there are things that can be done, like educating kids to the fact that chastity is an option. If unchastity is socially acceptable, why can’t chastity be too?”


When the two women left the lab to go to a class, John came out of the back room. He had received intelligence he did not know quite how to decipher. He was reeling. He was stunned. That beautiful girl, so desirable that men blinked when they passed her, the subject of his involuntary daydreams and obsessive preoccupation, that woman, was a virgin! Pure as the driven snow! She hadn’t ever been sprawled in the back seat of anybody’s car, she hadn’t made any guy’s dreams of paradise come true and she was not now, or ever had been, in Craig Berry’s bed!

A thin sliver of euphoria manifested itself as he sat the rest of the afternoon weighing endless boxes of ground plant samples down to the microgram. Occasional chuckles punctuated his pondering. A new paradigm buoyed and bubbled in the milieu of his thoughts. New breath blew over the hardened morass of his libertine habits and began to melt them like warm water on grime.

But the initial light-heartedness, which had replaced the depression he had been feeling since Saturday began to slowly dissipate, the more he reviewed Maddie’s peculiar philosophy.

She was very deliberate, he thought, in her criteria for selecting a man. What was it she had said about the content of his character? Almost simultaneously, came the realization that the fact that she had never been in Craig Berry’s bed was nothing much to sing about. She could still be very interested in him. In fact, he probably fit the profile of the “ideal man” just perfectly.

On the heels of that, came the realization of what he himself must look like in her eyes. No wonder she had dismissed him almost at the outset. What had she seen to indicate the content of his character? In his mind he reviewed the times he had been at pains to demonstrate (exaggerate, actually) his own sex appeal with numerous women, to avenge her disdain of him. He had always acted the party animal role. And compared to her team mentality he probably did come off as a guy who was totally out for himself. By the end of the afternoon his spirits were back where they had been at the day’s outset. Coupled with the certain knowledge that his own chances with Maddie Hawkins were practically non-existent, a slow dread settled in, that an announcement of a union between Maddie and Craig Berry was somehow imminent.



Hey! I’m really interested in your comments.* Please join this global bookclub discussion by leaving a comment below (in the comments box)

QUESTION 22: Is Lisa right? Is it too late to turn back the clock on chastity?

*(feel free to post your own question for group discussion)

*(you can also post your comment on facebook and start your own discussion with friends)



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About rheaharmsen

Rhea Harmsen is a scientist, novelist and author of Language of the Spirit, a volume of selected poems. She has also released three novels, The Harvest of Reason, Intermarry, and God Created Women. Harmsen was born in a family with a black father and a white mother at a time when interracial marriage was still illegal in some states. Her parents gave her a vision of world citizenship that informs her writing and her lifestyle and has caused her to reject traditional views of race and gender. Harmsen's article "Science in the Hands of Women: Present Barriers, Future Promise" appeared in World Order in 1998 and provides the foundation for the story line for her novel The Harvest of Reason. She co-published the Monroeville Race Unity Forum Bulletin and authored many poems on racial topics, crystallizing the "conversation on race" in the novel Intermarry. Her work with domestic violence survivors in Puerto Rico inspired the novel God Created Women. Harmsen holds a doctorate in Plant Breeding and Plant Genetics from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She currently resides in Puerto Rico. Upcomming projects are described in her web page at
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