There we are, chilling with the “Chicago” soundtrack flirting around in the background as we munch on Co-op’s delectable cheddar bites. And like the culmination of any double-digit nighttime having sprawled-all-over-the-bed sorts of talks, the giggly topic of innocence is inevitably brought up — more as a passing defiant comment, I mention the Rice Purity Test.
This popular test was originally published in 1924 by Thresher, Rice University’s official campus newspaper. Historically, kids would complete the Purity Test as during O-week (read: Fresher’s week, if you’re not from across the pond); the more you tick off, the more you’ve done – or, in line with the test name, the less ‘pure’ you are. Not only a light-hearted activity meant to bond students, the score is meant to gauge your maturity throughout freshmen year. Read more about the historical context of this test on, well, Thresher itself.
I’ve done the Rice Purity Test before (yeah, go give them more traffic – you know you want to). An excited “You’ve never done it before?” “Right, I’ve got to try this out!” exchange later, my friends and I are squeezed around a laptop reading each item off the list, occasionally stopping to justify a tick with an embarrassingly hilarious story. The questions range from the relatively more demure “Kissed for more than two hours consecutively?” to “Used a drug stronger than marijuana?”, and to the extremely eyebrow-raising “Engaged in bestiality?” Note that once you get into a relationship, your score will basically drop from 90 to 70 like an anchor to a seabed.
My score is unapologetically high. My friends’ scores are unapologetically low. Is anybody more promiscuous or inherently immoral relative to the other? Is anybody more of a conservative prude, eliciting a high-pitched “Ew, yucky!” outcry when sex is brought up in conversation? A gigantic, slap-in-the-face no, no, and no. The test was such a good laugh, and reminded us how we’ve all come into university with vastly different life experiences. It’s harmless, but think any more of the score than it is, and the test transforms into a long tightrope across a valley of heckling, slut-shaming, and off-limits interrogation. The view isn’t ever worth that sort of assault, and quite frankly, is offensive to be distilling experiences down to a simple number.
Nonetheless, the large number of questions involving intimacy did get me wondering about my own reservations with physical touch.
I’ve never been a hugger. It’s evolved from petty “Ugh, don’t hug me because I’m not clingy and am playing hard to get” teen rebellion facade, into now near-instinctive hugging whenever I believe it suits social customs; but underneath it all was simply my timeless inability to make intimacy feel natural. Resting your head on someone’s shoulder, lying on someone’s lap, linking arms with a friend — to me, it’s like being Cameron Diaz’s character desperately trying to cry in “The Holiday”. Don’t get me wrong, it’d sure be lovely to get cosy with Noah Centineo in a hot-tub (yes please), but I’m a big fan of compartmentalisation. Partner dances, patient examinations, massaging – I’ll give it my all; strictly professional. But as soon as weird, fuzzy emotions intertwine with the intentions of intimacy [~that lull in conversation as the night draws to an end when his gaze lingers on your lips~] a foreboding “Oh no no no no” Titanic-sinking moment vividly plays in my head.
A plethora of reasons pops up as to why some people may find physical intimacy harder than others: you’ve grown up with parents who avoided or evaded intimacy; perhaps the fear of intimacy stems from childhood abuse, and such experiences make it hard to trust anybody. Apart from the familial side, you could simply be an unending workaholic, feel it to be unexplored territory, experience anxiety, or could even just be down to plain immaturity. Maybe the lack of touch doesn’t mean that somebody isn’t comfortable with you, but quite simply, that physical intimacy is not their primary method of showing affection. Words are. Making time to see you. Actively listening to you. The lack of touching itself, I’d even argue, is a form of respect that speaks volumes.
And of course, we cannot forget culture. Oh boy. You’ve seen the endless memes and YouTube videos (“No dating until marriage!”), which are obviously dramatised parodies, but dramatised off of a very real ideology nonetheless. Coming from an Asian background, there is no denying the enormous influence tradition plays in the reservations when approaching intimacy.
Mate selection itself is a process heavily determined by cultural and social factors, differing between an individualistic and collectivist culture (my my, nothing more sexy than cross-cultural psychology and anthropology research). Here’s a crude rundown: individualistic cultures embody that revised plotline where the main protagonist (i.e. you) dramatically assumes the Thinker position and profoundly contemplates, “I need to figure out who I am”; it emphasises a more autonomous exploration of relationships, to gain more experience in love and sexuality, cultivating love upon this intrinsic desire for passion.
Conversely, the collectivist culture attitude towards mate selection can be summarised quite simply: “If you date her, you date her family.” The process of finding a partner is a tricky business that your entire family unquestionably embarks on, too; in these cultures, only until marriage does physical intimacy and sex become acceptable with a romantic partner. Rather than focusing on the ‘sparks flying’ connection between individuals (every single 12% Rotten Tomatoes rom-com movie), its encouraged to focus on the more pragmatic qualities like economic assets, social status, but most importantly, a positive relationship between the two families.
Of course, these ideologies are inevitably dynamic and fluid when applied in the real world – social attitudes are always so political. But there is no denying the cultural influence on behaviours towards physical intimacy, and the unimaginable weight of importance placed on family in all life matters when it comes to those of Asian descent. It’s a tad different in my case, as my siblings and I have grown up in a Westernised household in Asian countries – we’d enjoy watching Little Britain when I was a kid (and all innuendos were understood…), I grew up watching Disney Channel religiously where the shows set my expectation of dating to always involve lovey-dovey hand-holding and kissing at the end of the night (PG touching at its finest), and thirst tweets about Ryan Gosling or Mark Ruffalo don’t make me uncomfortable in the slightest. Despite this, despite intimacy making so much sense in my mind as a natural thing to do, actually carrying it out in my own life simply hasn’t ever been. Maybe it was that discrepancy between the individualistic exposure and collectivist real-life.
So, yes – love can be the hopeless, blissful kind, a passionate fervour that makes you pen a thousand songs to never let the world stop knowing. But love is also putting food on the table, working abroad to earn family income, or giving your first ever earnings in a new job to your parents as a thank you. Love is much more than just Versace on the floor; love is also practical.
With love, a 90+ Rice Purity Test scorer. Always aiming high.