I’ve been thinking about abstinence lately. A few days ago, Alan came home and asked me what my attitudes were, and my first response was something like “Well, it’s pretty retarded”. I thought I’d explain my attitudes in detail with lots of glorious links, and throw in all my relevant anecdotes to keep things interesting.
Why would someone choose to not have sex? The desire to have sex and be intimate with other people (or even yourself) is a serious urge, driving most people to do many stupid things in their lifetime, and probably have some fun as well. People fight, struggle and kill each other for sex. It’s also an incredibly complex urge that manages to find its way into all parts of our lives – let’s just say more TV shows are based around sexual tension than food or shelter tension. To deny yourself something so powerful is insane!
…so says the meth addict. Clearly there is more to it than that. Let’s start with the most obvious reason one might abstain: the AIDS.
Young people are getting STDs everywhere. Some are even born with them, and grow up to unwittingly pass it on to others. About 1 in 25 people have some sort of STD. The absolute best way to not get STDs is to (a) not start life with one and (b) not have sex with anyone. Or perhaps wait until the (foolproof?) test results come back for your partner of choice.
Also: the BABY. Adolescents having children is a matter of great shame (for some reason), and I will admit that most teenagers aren’t ideally suited to child rearing. Teen pregnancies are difficult and traumatic, and many people are uncomfortable with abortion and adoption and this one mistake will destroy their lives in an instant. Avoiding getting pregnant while engaging in sex is trying to cheat nature, and most of the time that’s pretty risky. Better to just not have sex, apparently.
Abstaining from sex to avoid getting infected or pregnant is pretty dumb if that’s all there is to it. This attitude is the equivalent of not leaving the house for fear of being struck by lightning – there are adequate steps you can take to manage the risk (safe sex – really important), so you shouldn’t let your fears take away one of the great things about being a person. Just be safe, and if you’re really worried, get tested along with your partner for STDs and take the pill. Everything should be OK.
Not only that, but having sex often is good for you. It might even be bad for you to stop. And not just the guys and their prostate cancer – the ladies get health benefits too from getting their rocks off on a regular basis. Seriously, it even makes you (transitive) smell better!
Post: over? No. You know it’s not over. Many people will tell you that they are abstinent, wear it as a mark of pride and try and make you stop having sex as well. They’ll even try and stop you from having sex, and the health of your body is their last concern. I’m not talking about ascetism, though it won’t have many legs to stand on by the end of this post. I’m talking about the desire to “save yourself” until you are married for religious reasons. And when I say “many people”, I’m going to include the US government as well:
These kinds of restrictions and results are fairly typical. The abstinence only bid is going strong in most countries, especially Africa and America (click that link and read the ‘criticisms’ section if you want more info as well). I seem to recall my school’s sex education being more about anatomy than about safe sexual practises (I certainly never heard the word ‘condom’), so even religious schools in Australia are sticking with it. I’m sure AO programs are better than no information at all in educating people about diseases and pregnancy, but why not educate about condoms? What is the harm in that? There is actually no evidence to suggest that contraceptive education increases the rate of sexual activity. Just ask these guys.
I think the attitude of the abstinence-only advocates is pretty easy to understand – if we give kids the tools to have sex safely, then they’ll have sex. If we don’t tell them there are safe options available, kids will be scared into sexual repression by their ignorance and everyone will be safe. Fear is used as a weapon, and the ends are meant to justify the means. A very narrow path is set, and only one option is available. If you deviate from it, you have no information about what to do and how to proceed safely. It is a gross misrepresentation of reality in order to fit a moral agenda. Just ask the wartime propaganda machine:
Note that it’s the woman doing the spreading of the disease, and the great tragedy is that you can’t kill for your country anymore. I’m glad someone was telling men about STDs, but they just couldn’t help but slip the patriotism in, could they?
It’s been around for centuries with masturbation too. Attempts to stop children from masturbating have ranged from the cruel:
(This thing has spikes, an alarm bell and electric shocking power. Yeah.)
to the superstitious:
(did you know it also causes you to lose your eyesight, get STDs, acne and impotence?)
to the absurd:
(Seriously, it was used by XxxChurch in 2005 to try and stop kids masturbating (“Ask your buds if they killed any kittens this week,”), even though it was released online as a joke in 2002)
Why are people so invested in preventing sex and sexual expression, to the point where they will inflict pain, lie to and traumatise young people to make them see their moral correctness? This is instead of helping to encourage safer methods and reducing the incidence. There is a moral, religious or philosophical agenda in the background. It tries to hide, but it really is rather blatant in its wilful ignorance of scientific consensus and attempts to manipulate the media, politics and young people everywhere.
As for the ‘virginity pledges’, there has been some back-and-forth in the academic arena, but most studies point towards their ineffectiveness. This one is the latest I could find, and it essentially says that these pledges don’t work, those who take them are more likely to not use condoms, and most people deny ever taking the pledge to begin with (purity – not the coolest concept in the schoolyard these days).
Remember Bristol Palin? She was forced to marry and have a child with her wonderful boyfriend. I feel so incredibly sorry for this poor girl, who would have felt like a major embarrassment to her mother, her church and basically everyone she ever knew. It was probably one afternoon, she and her boyfriend were bored, and they had awkward, uncomfortable teenage sex and then felt guilty and stressed the whole time. I cannot imagine how horrible it would have been for her to realise her period wasn’t coming, and to know that there was no option of getting rid of it to continue with her life, which was only just beginning.
Don’t use people’s ignorance against them, scaring them into helplessness. Give people the facts and let them make up their own minds. And don’t even get me started about homosexual abstinence in these programs. Just like sex before marriage, underage sex is *demonised*. And it’s accomplished by grouping “immoral” things together, as a big gateway to more sin. Here’s a great example:
It makes me so angry that a confused and miserable gay teenager might watch this, or even be shown it at school. No matter how you feel about sex, whether you want it or think you can do it safely or if you love the person you’re with, it is a sin and you must avoid it. If you don’t, then you will (and should be) ostracised and treated like a criminal junkie. Who are these people, to take something that can be fun, beautiful and meaningful, responsible and safe, and try and turn it into this?
When Tabitha and I were growing up, we had no clear idea what was ‘allowed’ and what wasn’t. The extremes were clear, but there really is an expansive grey area in the middle. We weren’t that sure about safe sex, and we really, really didn’t want to have a baby. Our anxiety was incredible – always worried that one wrong move would set everything off. And in some respects it’s good that we were anxious enough to be careful, but we didn’t know how to be careful, and knew that if anything went wrong we would ruin our entire lives. The psychological strain is something we’re still working through today.
Ultimately, I think sexual education should aim to liberate and empower children, not make them conform to the older generation’s expectations of them. Encouraging repression is disgusting, especially when there are better alternatives.
Enough about abstinence education, though. What if you get taught about abstinence, condoms and every preventative measure. Why would people still choose to be abstinent? Are there any virtues in that? Why do people want others to be abstinent in the first place?
Catholic priests remain abstinent (well, some) to show others their devotion to their religion and to be an example to others who might be struggling with urges of their own. I can see why this might serve as a good example, but I personally feel that the tradeoff really isn’t worth it. Show that you can manage your own desires responsibly, rather than going to the extreme and saying “no” to everything, and you’ll be a much more approachable and effective role model – people who drink responsibly are better at telling other people how to drink responsibly than teetotallers, and the same principle applies here.
Teenagers sometimes stick to their virginity pledge and save themselves for marriage, and believe that they’re doing the right thing. Here are some moral reasons that are often voiced:
This one goes out to the boys. Men are very concerned about who women have sex with, and want to ensure that the baby the girl says is theirs is actually theirs. If women remain abstinent until they marry you, and they have sex with no-one else, then the baby they have is definitely yours. My personal opinion is that most of the biblical prohibitions against sex are more to do with making sure your kid is your own than about some metaphysical morality. Needless to say, this is a pretty stupid reason not to have sex, especially if you take precautions against having children. Furthermore, whilst I do acknowledge the importance some people place in having your genetic material passed on (myself included), this problem is adequately solved by open and honest communication with your partner. Trapping them with archaic social norms is not cool.
-“Before you there was no other” and the symbol of the wedding night
Jealousy is a powerful force. No-one wants to feel like a second rate lover, or that they compare unfavourably to some other person. I was told at church that being able to say this on your wedding night was both awesome and essential for a happy marriage. The wedding night was the consumation of God’s love, where the man enacts the part of God, and the woman the part of Israel (or God’s people, or whatever). Just read Song of Songs, that’s the message there.
The reality is far from the truth. Most people’s first times are embarrassing and stressful and short. Christian or abstaining couples have gone through years and years of believing that sex was evil. Sexual impulses are dangerous, to be controlled and supressed. Suddenly, you have to turn this conditioning off and have a great time with someone you don’t know at all in a sexual way. Instead of a wedding night being a celebration of your relationship, it’s an exercise in disappointment and managing expectations.
The bottom line is that you are committing your life to someone else without any experience or any point of comparison. Some people think this is a virtue, but again this comes from a place of insecurity – if they don’t know any better, then there is no chance they’ll think you’re garbage. This does not guarantee happiness for either party, and is probably a recipe for disaster.
Many polyamorous couples report that their experiences with others gives them more ideas for the bedroom with their chosen partner, and it’s a mark of respect that you want to continue to improve by exposure to new ideas. Even if you’re uncomfortable with polyamory, being with other people beforehand, learning how your body works and what you want, and finding someone you can share those things with is so important. Trying to figure all of this out with someone else all at once will likely create more bad experiences than good, which will lead into a vicious cycle of unhappiness.
The argument that abstaining from sex is respecting the person you’re with, in that you don’t want to try and take the ‘goods’ before you’ve committed your life to them, is rather prevalent. If you don’t end up with person X, then future person Y will be mad at you because you haven’t saved yourself.
This is quite ridiculous. Firstly, sex is not a disrespectful act, to your partner or anyone who knows them or is related to them. The emphasis should be on informed, good choices rather than assuming we can’t make our own and providing us with a prepackaged answer. Religious attitudes towards sex and respect reach their most extreme in the form of honour killings (like this one – and they were trying to do it by the book, too). Whilst governments are starting to crack down, the attitude comes from the same emotional place.
Secondly, if you’ve had sex before and know some tricks and have some skill, then the other person will end up enjoying things more. You want to be with them now, and that’s what is important. Why carry on about the past unless you’re horribly insecure? Doing things because you’re insecure is kinda dumb.
–Because God said so
Much of the Christianity I’ve been exposed to is very cult like in its insistence that the bible is true. I remember being presented a proof that witchcraft existed that went along these lines:
“God warns us about witchcraft. He wouldn’t have warned us if it wasn’t real and dangerous. Therefore it is real and dangerous.”
It’s a position where the bible is correct, and you cannot try and rationalise why God wants us to do things. Even if you tear down the ‘logical’ reasoning, God still told us to be abstinent, so we should.
The attitude of shutting up and not questioning anyone in authority and assuming they’re right is one that should never be encouraged. If you can’t think of a good reason why you should be abstinent, then don’t bother. Go and have some fun, I’m sure God will forgive you. Especially if it’s with someone you love and respect with the aim of becoming closer. Who could hate that? Who would punish you for that?
Finally, let me emphasise the worst part of abstinence again – it leaves no room for those who are not abstinent. If you’ve had a previous marriage, how does respect, lineage and the symbol of the wedding night all fit in? The short answer is that they don’t. You have failed as a human being and will now miss out on the best thing ever, possibly through no fault of your own. If you get an STD, get pregnant earlier than you want, or go through a divorce, there is suddenly no answers. It seems that providing them will make others more licentious because they might follow your horrid example. One size does not fit all, and trying to make it so is doomed to failure. Celebration of homogeneity is something I’ve never liked, or trusted, or engaged in.
Abstinence is a dangerous social construct. It makes people unsafe, unhappy and ultimately unfulfilled. I’m sure there are many success stories out there, but at the very least give everyone all the information before you ask them to choose. Stop fucking with kids’ brains and telling them that they’ll have it all, when in reality they’ll probably fuck up and have no guidelines, or follow your insrtuctions and become very unhappy.
Seriously, just listen to “Dr Paul”, who seems to lecture on all sorts of matters while ensconsed on a couch in his smoking jacket with a dry martini (man the internet is weird):
Well, maybe that wasn’t the clearest advice, but you get the idea. Go have safe sex, kids. It’s awesome, and it’ll make you happier now and in the future.
If you have some argument that I haven’t appropriately strawmanned in defence of this unfortunate lifestyle choice, please comment. I’ll also add that those who are asexual, antisexual or whatever are of course exempt – if you don’t want to, then don’t. Just don’t fool yourself into thinking some imaginary control freak will love you more if you deny yourself things you do want.