It’s on the rise, influenced by our pals across the pond. But is abstinence ever a good idea?
For most teenagers I know, sex before marriage is a given. Marriage is a distant maybe – lurking somewhere on the horizon, alongside mortgages and council tax – whereas sex is hotly anticipated, the sooner the better (tomorrow, my place?). I’m not saying it’s a total bone-fest every weekend but the general consensus is that if you’re sure you want to sleep with someone, then go for it. Why not? With ample access to sex education and proper contraception it feels like it’s never been easier to spend your teenager years enjoying the most fun you can have without laughing, before you start questioning what it’s all about and if you’ll ever find The One.
But not everyone thinks this is so great. Abstinence groups like American export, The Silver Ring Thing are becoming more popular in the UK, and their supporters are keen to preach the benefits of pre-marital chastity. No sex until you’re married is akin to the tortures of a carb-free diet in my book – why deny yourself something TOTALLY GREAT completely when you could just ration it sensibly? Still, groups like TSRT are growing. Pledges take a vow of abstinence during the group’s high energy gatherings and are given a ring to wear, ideally until it’s traded in for the real deal. Check out #silverringthing on any social media site and you get the idea. “He’ll be worth the wait”, posts one user, hopefully envisioning her future husband.
But is this expansion on pro-abstinence groups a good thing? I’ve got no qualms with those who want to abstain from sex but the thought of an organisation championing anything as the “right” approach to sex is gross. Sex and sexuality should be experimented with within personal boundaries, not those set by a religious group or any other organisation. It’s possible to be pressured into sex, but it’s also easy to be pressured out of it, at an arguarbly equally high emotional cost.
I spoke to one youth pastor, Dan, and he told me he understands that “there is a growing culture that celebrates sexual freedom and promiscuity, and looks down on decisions to abstain from sex until marriage.” I liked Dan and his comments were insightful, but it’s also true in reverse: those abstaining from sex often consider those who don’t as being ‘sinful’, or ‘wrong’. I’m not saying every abstinence movement is a terrible idea, but those advertising themselves as the answer to a healthy sex life are simply creating another massive source of pressure for teenagers.
Nobody, especially young people engaging in their sexuality for the first time, needs to be told that what they like is wrong. There are no wrongs and rights when it comes to sex and it’s archaic to think of sex like this. And speaking of archaic, why do we let religious pressure come into our sex lives at all? Christianity regards homosexuality as an “abomination”, and mainstream culture has only just begun to have a more all inclusive outlook.
Another problem is that abstinence seems to inspire a lot of bizarre beliefs about intercourse. Reddit might not be the most trustworthy source, but there’s a ridiculous number of stories about girls who’ll do only anal, or only blow jobs, in an attempt to remain “pure”. There’s a feminist issue here too: it seems to be the girls who are feeling pressurised from all directions here, which is pretty shitty considering how hard we’ve had to fight to finally gain control of our sexuality.
Being told it’s best to wait for sexy time also instils feelings of guilt in those who don’t/can’t, even when the urges we’re faced with are about as natural as you can get. It’s a lot of pressure to put on a young person. If I have sex with the wrong person and regret it I’m going to be OK, I can reflect back on what happened, learn from it, and move on without worrying about upsetting God or my future hubz. My sex life, and the decisions I make are part of my wider life and decision making process: sometimes its amazing, sometimes it’s crap, but it’s all part of growing up, and exploring what I want (hint: some action).
Sex isn’t just about feeling good and making babies, it teaches you about yourself and other people. It can teach you control, self assurance, vulnerability and a million other traits that bleed over into everyday life. Why miss out on all that, not to mention some serious fun? That said, a couple I know who waited to marry – though they did marry young – just celebrated their second wedding anniversary and are very happy. I’m sure they have no regrets over waiting.
It boils down to two things – choice and respect. Abstinence groups offering support to those who’ve chosen to wait are a great idea. Those trying to champion their opinion as the only way are not. And forgive me for sounding a little bit gospel here, but we need to start respecting each other’s decisions and stop saying what’s wrong and right: it’s just about what’s right for you.
From one extreme to another: Hi, I’m a sex addict
Image: ewedistrict via Flickr, inset image: Wikiemedia Commons, blumrch via Flickr