Sunday, 20 March, 2005

Abstinence?

Today's news has an article, Study: Abstinence Pledgers May Risk STDs, the first line of which reads: "Teens who pledge to remain virgins until marriage are more likely to take chances with other kinds of sex that increase the risk of sexually transmitted diseases, a study of 12,000 adolescents suggests." The article goes on to explain that many of these "abstinence pledgers" engage in oral or anal sex.

That's some weird kind of abstinence that I failed to learn about. As far as I can remember, "abstinence" meant refraining from engaging in any kind of sexual activity. There are those who dismiss the study as "bogus," saying that the youths involved must not have really pledged abstinence. Whatever the case, there appears to be some disagreement about what exactly is considered sex. I thought I'd clear that up, and there's no delicate way to do it.

Once researchers, sociologists, government, media, parents, and children can get those definitions straight, then perhaps we can have a real discussion about teenage sex.

Don't take the above to mean that I fall into the "abstinence only" crowd. I don't, but I do believe that people should exercise restraint. I've seen enough of the physical and emotional damage caused by casual and indiscriminate sexual encounters to understand that there is more to sex than just the physical act. There's still some question as to whether that "more" is part of our genetic programming or the product of our social upbringing, and I think that question needs to be answered.

Sex is a natural part of life, and a large part of who we are. Teaching children that sex is evil or dirty is doing them and society a great disservice, and I think actually increases the incidence of underage sex. There's nothing quite as attractive to a teenager as doing something forbidden, especially something that feels so good. For good or ill, sex is pervasive in today's society. Children are naturally curious, and if they don't learn about it from their parents they're going to learn about it from somewhere. It's likely that neither the source nor the lessons learned will be the parents' preference.

Sex education in schools shouldn't be necessary, and in any case can only explain the mechanics of sex, the possible physical consequences, and methods used to avoid those consequences. My parents explained all that to me one evening when I was eight or ten years old. They spent years teaching me, not that sex is dirty or evil, but that it's one of the most wonderful gifts that we have, that giving the gift indiscriminately cheapens it, and that saving it to share with the person we love is priceless.