Nowadays, abstinence is almost out of the question
Abstinence is not out of the question; many times it’s simply pushed out of the discussion.
The big question we have to ask here is what questions are we asking? When it comes to our sexual and relational health there are many questions we should be contemplating and abstinence should be a topic of consideration in many of them. I will discuss a few such questions in this article.
What is abstinence?
Abstinence seems like a simple term but there are a range of definitions. The clinical definition is refraining from all forms of sexual activity and contact. This is straightforward but leads us to further questions such as- how long do we refrain? And what is classified as sexual activity? Some people are waiting to have sex until marriage, others until they are in a loving relationship. Some others until they get over a past relationship or trauma. Additionally, what is considered sexual activity is varied with some persons abstaining from intercourse but still engaging in other forms of sexual contact (Hock, 2016). For this reason, it is important to clarify what you and your significant other mean by abstinence so that both of you pursue the same goal in your relationship.
How do I protect myself from pregnancy and STIs?
This is one of the main questions asked by modern sexual health education and abstinence plays an important role in this discussion. Rightfully so as half of the 20 million new STIs each year are among young people (CDC, 2020). Both the U. S. Department of Health and Human Services (2020) and the Center for Disease Control (2020) state that abstinence and mutual monogamy is the only 100% effective way to prevent STI’s and unintended pregnancies. The addition of mutual monogamy is important because it clarifies that all forms of abstinence are not equal as far as risk. Sexual contact that does not include intercourse can still present a risk of transferring certain STIs and the addition of multiple partners increases this risk. Abstaining from all sexual contact until you are in a mutual relationship where both people are free of STIs is the only surefire way to protect yourself and your partner.
How do I maintain a healthy relationship?
Being free from infirmity or disease is part of one’s sexual health but not all. We must consider sex in the emotional context of the relationships in which it most often occurs for sex is a physical and emotional activity. Research has demonstrated that, “the most physically and emotionally satisfying sexual interactions occur in the context of a long-term, committed romantic relationship, especially when communication between partners is open, honest, and intimate” (Hock, 2016). Abstinence is a useful tool in both waiting for such a relationship and maintaining that relationship until the proper time. It allows for communication and intimacy to grow between partners progressively without the added pressures of sex and worries of pregnancy or STIs that a relationship may not be ready to handle. This emotional connection forms the foundation of a satisfying physical connection. The issue is that many young relationships are ill-equipped for what sex brings because they lack the commitment, communication, intimacy, and long-standing connection required for a healthy sexual experience. For this reason, RealEd encourages delaying sexual activity until marriage which signifies the strongest commitment that two people can make and therefore provides a safe context in which strong emotional and physical bonds can be made.
Why is abstinence so often out of the discussion?
Despite the importance and utility of abstinence discussed above, there is a prevalent belief among students and educators that abstinence is unattainable or impractical. That students cannot be expected to abstain and that many of them will be sexually active anyways. The truth is that the majority of high school students, 60%, do not report having had sexual intercourse and over 65% of people say they would not have sex with someone unless they were in love with that person (CDC, 2020; Hill, 2002). Most people want a more meaningful emotional context in their sexual lives and abstinence is an important tool in fostering that context (Hill, 2002). Abstinence allows the individual to stay completely safe from STIs and unplanned pregnancies while developing the communication, self-control, intimacy and commitment needed to maintain a healthy sexual relationship in marriage. For this reason, RealEd encourages students to rise above the low bar set for them and make use of this powerful tool. A tool that will allow them to build the healthy and lasting relationships that they truly desire.
Center for Disease Control. (2020). Adolecent and School Health: Sexual Risk Behaviors. Retrieved from Center for Disease Control and Prevention: https://www.cdc.gov/healthyyouth/sexualbehaviors/index.htm
Center for Disease Control. (2020). The lowdown on how to prevent sexually transmitted diseases. Retrieved from CDC.gov: https://www.cdc.gov/std/prevention/lowdown/index.html
Hill, C. (2002). Gender, Relationship Stage, and Sexual Behavior: The importance of a partner emotional investment within specific situations. Journal of Sex Research, 228-240.
Hock, R. R. (2016). Human Sexuality (Fourth Edition). Roanoke, VA: Pearson.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2020). Abstinence. Retrieved from HHS.gov: https://www.hhs.gov/opa/pregnancy-prevention/birth-control-methods/abstinence/index.html