"Remember, Jimmy. Just say no."

I’ve wanted to write about abstinence vs. abstinence only education for awhile now. I’m also a fan of xtraNormal videos. So this the perfect jumping off point for today’s post. Take it away, bears!

Pressumably prompting students to sip each others spit is one of the more extreme abstinence-only teaching methods. While it’s true that abstaining from partnered sex eliminates the risk of sexually transmitted infection, downing a saliva cocktail increases the chances of contracting amy number of illnesses including mono, viral meningitis and hepititis.

It also increases the chance that I’m going to throw up.

I suspect even most chasity pundits would call Cup-O-Spit excessive.  But the underlying shaming and sex-negativity of abstinence-only education is not. Which is unfortunately, because despite being a pro-choice, sex-positive proponent of comprehensive sex education, I do think there’s a case for abstinence.

Abstaining from sex or certain types of sex can be a very healthy descision and not only for the under-18 crowd.  There are valid reasons physically, emotionally, pyschologically and spiritually to just say no.  I just don’t think fear of being perceived as a damaged flower or regurgitated Twizzler is one of them.

The U.S. are big on abstinence-only education. However, studies have shown that approach has affected little to no change on the age of first intercourse or pregnancy rates in youth. I suspect the ineffectiveness of such programs are due, at least in part to the fact that they are based on lies.

I’m tempted to tread more lightly here. It might behoove me to find a gentler word to describe lessons about how sex before marriage is gross, how it devalues women, how the experience is akin to downing a cup or oral fluids.  But I keep coming back to lie. Because that is not the experience of consensual sex.  When most people look into a dixie cup of saliva, the propects of drinking it turns their stomach .  When most people look into the eyes of a person to whom they are sexually attracted, the prospect of touching them turns them on.

Teaching youth that sex is gross and icky is big, fat lie. It does nothing to prepare them for the heady, in-the-moment,reality of surging sexual arousal.  And yes, cultivating fear and shame around sex may prompt some people to delay sex until marriage.  But not everyone. Not most people. Instead people will have sex without talking about it. People will have sex without thinking much about it. without taking measures that could reduce their chances of contracting an illness or becoming pregnant. People will have coercive sex, because if all premarital sex is bad, what’s the difference.

Meanwhile for people, particularly women, who do maintain their chasity until marriage, on the wedding night there’s meant to be an epic psychological switch from “Sex is a scourge that will trash my market value,” to “Sex is a pleasurable experience with my spouse.”

Oh, and let’s not forget the part where saving sex until marriage is uber heternomative, uber exclusive and completely ignores the needs of people who can’t or choose not to marry at all.

So, boo! Boo to lies and shame and spit!

I do think it’s great to talk about abstinence as it relates to sexual readiness. In fact, I wish that happened more. A study of one abstinence program in the States, administered to grade 6 and 7 students showed some influence in delaying first-time intercourse in the following 24 months in relation to the wider population. Although the program was abstinence focused, it did not denounce the use of contraception. Instead of encouraging students to delay sex until marriage, but rather encouraged them to delay sex until ready.

To be clear, I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with chasity. I just don’t think there’s anything inherently right about it either.  I think it’s every person’s right to determine how, when and with whom they want to have sex.  And abstinence is part of that.

Sex educator and Pinnacle Of Awesome, Charlie Glickman wrote in a recent post:

I think that the only relevant criteria for assessing a sexual act or practice is the consent, pleasure, and well-being of the people involved.

He then goes on to explain why these simple criteria are actually a whole complicated can of worms. I won’t rehash it all here, just go read the post for yourself. Then read the rest of the blog, because seriously…Pinnacle of Awesome!

But if good sex is about consent, pleasure and well-being, I think it’s worth learning how to determine where and how those three component come together. It’s going to be different for different people.  But if any of those elements aren’t present that seems like a pretty good reason not to have sex.  For example, someone who’s spiritual or religious beliefs prohibit premarital sex, may choose chastity as way to ensure their own well-being. Despite my early ranting, I don’t have a problem with that choice. I would simply hope that people came to that choice honestly, rather than as the result of dishonest, shaming tactics.

But abstinence isn’t just for religious people.  As much as I’m willing to jaw ad nauseum with anyone about having sex, I don’t talk as much about when I don’t or won’t have sex. Even as a married, sexually active person, there are times when I don’t consent to sexual activity, because in that moment it either won’t bring me pleasure and/or doesn’t serve my well being. I want to talk about it more.  I want to think about it more . I want to discuss it and teach it in a way that’s not about imposing moral sanctions or repulsing anyone, but having honest, forthright conversations about when not-sex is the best option.

If you have any thoughts on asbtinence, I’d love to chat more in the comments section.  Meanwhile let’s see what else those xNormal cubs have learned about abstinence. Brings us home, bears!

Comments

  1. Dana K says:

    Our youth group had a program on abstinence. It wasn’t degrading or shameful, thankfully. We openly discussed sex & sexuality in a mixed gender group. It was definitely abstinence only but I felt like it was a good experience.

    I did choose to wait an extremely long time to have sex compared to my peers. I don’t give full credit to participating in an abstinence-only program. I also don’t support abstinence-only sex “education” in public schools. I knew the facts & risks as well as the potential pleasures of sex. I waited until I felt I was old enough to handle every possible outcome of sex (e.g. A baby).

    Knowledge is power, as cliche as that sounds.

    • nadinethornhill says:

      Hi Dana,

      I agree with you completely, knowledge is power. Raging hormones without the benefit of comprehensive eductation are mistakes, regrets and bad decisions just waiting to happen.

  2. Brian Cano says:

    I always used to challenge my religion students that they should figure out what sex means first. And the wrong time to figure this out is when you are alone with your boy/girlfriend in a house with the parents away and the liquor cabinet available. I suggested to them that fear of STD orpregnancy is not the same as understanding what sex is. I especially challenged the boys to figure out what sex means before they started a relationship, then be honest with the girl so she could decide if this was what she wanted. If they both admitted they wanted the same thing or different things, then they could keep each other honest.

    • nadinethornhill says:

      Hi Brian,

      Thank you very much for taking the time to comment.

      I think your example is interesting, because so often people assume that youth with religious beliefs don’t need to understand sex if they are abstinent. But even a person who waits for sex until marriage will benefit from thinking about what sex means to them, how to express that and how to have those honest conversations and negotiations with their spouse. So regardless of when your students became partner-active, it sounds like you taught them some valuable lessons.

  3. Nat says:

    Apparently, it’s not about bring your milkshake to the yard but about cooking the meat slowly while wearing a burqa… who knew?

    I’m so so so so confused, what does drinking spit have to do with losing your virginity… is because they assume they’ll be drunk and fighting off an urge to hurl during the act? Dunno. It’s all so terribly odd.

    I come from a very religious upbringing. Every thing to do with sex, other than reproduction, was coated in shame. My father actually told me that “boys wouldn’t buy the cow if they could get the milk for free.” True story. It takes a while to get over a lot of that sort of talk. (There is actually journal fodder here for me, I’ve just realized.)

    I really hope I’m teaching The Boy to be ok with what he’s feeling, and to be respectful of what others feel as well. I like the idea of consent, well-being and pleasure on all involved since it allows for movement depending on situation. And if you don’t want to have sex (no matter how you define it) then you don’t have to.

    I do think as a society we tend to send mixed message about what gender roles are and what is acceptable. Still work to be done on that front… and as I’m learning as the boy gets older, some ideas sure as hell aren’t coming from me.

    • nadinethornhill says:

      I agree that mixed messages still exist.

      Recently I was leading a discussion with some high school age youth. I was a little disheartened to learn that most of them still held a double standard around promiscuity, where girls were “sluts”, while guys were just doing what comes naturally.

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