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Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Why “Abstinence Education” Fails: The Solution (Part III)

As I mentioned before I think one of the main problems of abstinence education is how they present it; mostly neglecting how hard it is in the heat of battle, how isolated and lonely you will become at times, and really how unfulfilling it can be. Let me reemphasize these points…these will happen to you if you choose a lifestyle of volitional virginity. You will get very lonely at times, you will feel out of place and ridiculed, and it is hella difficult at times. Sounds appealing right?!?!
In addition to these assurances that are consistently neglected in abstinence education of all kinds (people hate when you don’t tell them the whole story), these same educators/pastors/parents typically fail at making a persuasive argument by giving kids what I think are false pretenses about what life as a volitional virgin will look like (most likely due to the fact that 1] they’re usually restricted to a certain curriculum and 2] they most likely don’t have prior experience). I feel as if these abstinence campaigns, especially within the church and youth groups everywhere, portray the endurance of abstinence as some sort of long-term ‘Lenten’ activity. By this I mean it is often characterized on par of say giving up soda for a couple months. While marginalizing the extreme difficulty of abstinence, there is often this impression given off that waiting till marriage to have sex is not only just only a little hard, like giving up watching TV for a little while, but that it is also temporary and won’t last very long and the end goal is guaranteed happiness and sexual ecstasy. When you introduce themes of ephemeral nature to teens, they just start focusing on how long they just have to “tough it out” (like being grounded) – and neglect focusing on the fundamentals of it all, which of course are devoid of time. So kids will “tough it out” for a period, especially those church-going kids, but after a while they get worn down and give up fighting because they find it too hard. Though the whole idea of “expecting to automatically get married” is a very irksome aspect of abstinence rhetoric for me…spending more time on it goes beyond the scope of this article; rest assured I will tackle them later.
Hopefully I’ve established how difficult the endurance of abstinence is and how I feel abstinence education, in and out of the home/church, mostly neglects these important truths. Now that I have your view on volitional virginity at an all time low, what now? How could I possibly suggest a solution that will make things easier? Well I have one that will make it seem harder…but ultimately easier I think. Let me explain.

The reason kids often don’t listen to parents, educators, and other elders regarding sexual abstinence is because typically these people tell them are either married or have had sex already. And boy do teens hate the whole “Do what I say, not what I do” argument. So when a parent says they know it’s difficult; these words hold little weight to a virgin. Sure the parent was a virgin at one point, but now they aren’t so their perspective on it all has, whether they like it or not, drastically changed. You’d be surprised how quickly we forget our old selves and mentalities. Anyways, what I’m trying to say here is that teens really have been given tepid expositions of how difficult virginity really is or pseudo-voided ones – as is the case of a non-virgin telling a virgin what it’s like to not have sex yet. It’s like trying to explain to someone what you think a movie will be like that you have already seen. You can try your best to recount what you thought it was going to be like before you saw it, but now that you’ve seen it, you can never really genuinely recreate those feelings, anxieties, apprehensions, and speculations. (I have much more to say on this particular topic but that it is also beyond the scope of this article).
Regardless of who is giving the abstinence proposal though (virgins would probably give the most focused audience to one of their own kind – ergo why I’m writing all this), I think the solution here is basically tell it like is. Tell them how hard it really is to remain virginal till marriage. Tell them how easy it is to give up. Tell them how nobody really does it anymore. Tell them how there really is no short-term, quick reward for abstinence (though look for my upcoming article entitled “Never Bought a Condom: Identifying the Absent Rewards of Volitional Virginity”). Tell them that even if they endure the difficulty of chastity, there really is no guarantee everything will turn out peachy keen as they may have expected or desired or where told how it would work out. Tell them that ultimately it is the principle, the purity that should drive them; essences much greater than themselves but that will still benefit themselves, and the people close to them, no matter how things turn out. Let them decide for themselves if principle and integrity are worth more than vapid carnality – rhetorical of course, but at least give them time to reason as to why it is a rhetorical question. Appeal to their pride. Give them ownership of their bodies and minds. Sure some will wilt and fade away. Though some will ponder and consider. But give them all a sober and sentient choice to make instead of them just seeing a big fat finger swinging in front of them saying “Don’t!”, or at least in addition to that big fat finger…as will be the case of parents mostly. Make them respond educators, force them to respond. Make them write about it. Make them talk about it. Make them face this response in the quietness of their own hearts, and definitely away from their peers.

My best tangible analogy to appeal to is to equate the endurance of abstinence to that of seeking to climb to the summit of Mt. Everest. Like many things that have big physical, emotional, and spiritual rewards – the path to get there is very difficult and wrought with danger and toil. Climbing Mt. Everest is no exception.

Base Camp
-The difference between base camp and the summit? Not much. Sure there’s some differences in height, temperature, pressure, and your perspective as a climber, but you’re still the same person whether you’re at base camp or the summit. In the same way, whether you’re a virgin or not, you’re the same person. The common perception that somehow having sex is going to change your life (not talking about physical consequences that could indeed change your life) is B.S. and anyone that has had sex I’m sure could tell you this.

-Like volitional virginity, the climb is extremely difficult. Crags, cliffs, and abominable snowmen lurk at almost your every step – not to mention the elements and physical environment tormenting you and goading you on to quit and turn back. Sound familiar?

-How easy is it to stop climbing and turn back down the mountain? About as easy as it is to have sex. Which is pretty easy (see “Anybody Can Make A Baby So Don’t Think You’re Any Special For Making One”). Many people have tried to reach the peak of Mt. Everest. Only a fraction have made it.

The Summit
-What a grand accomplishment no doubt. What a view! But is it greater than seeing the Grand Canyon? Swimming around spectacular South Pacific coral reefs? Venturing into wondrous Appalachian caverns? My point here is having sex is a great thing/feeling no doubt, but there are many things equal and above it in life. Do not falsely make it the penultimate experience.

The Journey
-This is the key because you know what...everyone’s journey to the peak of Mt. Everest is the different. And you know what, some people get there before others and some people don’t even get there at all because their paths lead to other “peaks” (i.e. those that choose to remain single or take a vow of celibacy) – and that’s ok. The point is there is a goal in mind and trying to be met with much effort, and hopefully each person will journey on towards the summit and not give up and quit. They will power through the hard times, rest when they set up camp, and fight through the cold morning chill. Volitional virginity is a lot like the journey to the top of Mt. Everest. You will constantly be battling the elements, the terrain, and the environment. You will feel cold, tired, and sore most of the time. You will journey with other climbers, some that have been to the top, some on their first climb too, and some that have quit before. But you soldier on together. Getting to the top unscathed and on a clear day is the goal, but it’s ok if that doesn’t happen like you expected because the journey, the refinement, the trails, the getting knocked-down and getting back up again…that’s what made the it worthwhile…that was the true reward. Getting to the top is just the bonus.

True waiting till marriage to have sex isn’t even about the sex or marriage. It’s about the process of character development and refinement; of honing your self control faculties and expanding your ability to be sensitive to others’ needs. Yes it’s about “saving yourself”, but it’s more about living. It’s about climbing with that goal of reaching the top in mind, but being more concerned with that foothold, that pass, that rock or crevice right in front of you. If you’ve done it right, if you’ve climbed with passion and resolve and for the rightness of the principle…one day you may find yourself having no more steps to take, lifting your head up from the path you so arduously treaded, and looking out among the vastness at the tip of the heavens. It is then you’ll realize it really wasn’t about the top in and of itself at all. It is then you’ll realize you’re glad you continued despite all the hardship. It is then you’ll be thankful you decided to set the course again for the summit despite the fact you quit before and gave up early. It is then you’ll realize the journey to reach the summit was much more impactful than reaching the summit itself. It is then you’ll realize this world isn't just about "things" and being happy…but about oh so much more. It is then you’ll realize not having sex is what changed your life…not the other way around…


  1. Love what you're saying! Thanks...this is good stuff...

  2. Thanks for the comment Shara!

  3. I enjoy your writing. You seem to be a clear thinker. I looked at your profile and found it interesting that we seem to have many of the same interests. Here is a link to my blog.

  4. Thanks for the kind words Nathan. Good luck!