Articles From the April 1995 Unification News
Healthy Love: Questions And Answers on Abstinence, Part Three
By Teri Lester
(This is the third in our series of extracts from Healthy Love: 36 Questions and Answers on Practicing Abstinence)
The argument most often raised in the public debate about abstinence education is that, while abstinence is certainly preferable and does work for some, it is hopelessly naive to expect that the vast majority of teen-agers can be persuaded to practice an abstinent life style in today's society.
Our teen-agers' minds are saturated with sexually charged messages from virtually all aspects of contemporary culture. Moreover, accessibility to numerous contraceptive options, including as a last resort abortion-on-demand, have enabled the most obvious adverse consequence of promiscuity-the birth of unwanted babies-to be eliminated at will. We have entered a downward spiral of depravity in which the very permissiveness of our society increases the pressure on individuals to engage in promiscuous activity.
In order for abstinence to be effective in such a situation, programs need to be implemented that give teenagers both convincing reasons why they should want to practice abstinence and effective techniques that will enable them to practice abstinence successfully within an environment that is at best indifferent and at worst hostile to abstinence as a life-style choice. Healthy Love seeks to fill this need.
The following questions are from the booklet Healthy Love: 36 Questions and Answers on Practicing Abstinence. This booklet and other Healthy Love materials are available for purchase; ordering information is at the end.
1. Doesn't abstinence mean just saying no?
Absolutely not! You don't teach someone to play football by tossing them a ball and saying "Just do it." You give them equipment, instructions, a coach, and lots of friends who are doing the same thing, so that they have tools, instruction and reinforcement. Abstinence works the same way.
2. Isn't abstinence just for religious fanatics?
No, it's not. You don't have to be religious to abstain from sex, you just have to be sensible. It's about health and it's about relationships. Abstinence is simply the healthiest way to go, and we want to give everyone the opportunity, regardless of their beliefs or cultural background. In fact, all major religions - Hinduism, Judaism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Christianity, Islam, Sikhism, Jainism, Taoism - have supported the ideal of abstinence prior to marriage. Even communist societies have actively discouraged premarital sex.
3. How do we learn to practice abstinence?
When you want to encourage someone to play the flute, do you say, "Wouldn't you like to spend the next several years practicing scales alone every day, and having your friends laugh at you because you sound funny?" Do you then proceed to hand them a flute and wish them luck? No, you would say, "Wouldn't you like to learn to play this beautiful instrument and have fun making music with your friends in the band?" Then you would give them the flute, a fingering chart, an exercise book, weekly lessons, and have them join a lot of other people who are doing the same thing. You would do this because experience has shown that this is the best way for someone to successfully learn to play the flute. This is also the best way to teach abstinence. Provide tools, instruction and reinforcement. In the context of a thoughtful, structured, supported program, abstinence is completely practical, normal, and reliable.
4. Are most young people sexually active?
It's human nature to want to be part of the crowd, and these days, unfortunately, healthy love and high ideals are under attack. The popular cliche is that most young people frequently engage in sexual activity. However, a 1992 report from the Centers for Disease Control indicates that 46% of all high school students have never had premarital intercourse. The same survey indicates that only 21% of high school students are currently "sexually active." The other 33%, although not virgins, were abstinent - sexually inactive - during the three months before the interview. That means that 79% - a clear majority - were practicing abstinence. It's just not true that "Everybody's doing it."
5. Is abstinence difficult?
It depends on your approach. If you only rely on saying no, then you may frequently be confronted with uncomfortable situations, where there is a conflict between your physical desire and your long-term goals and aspirations. However, with Healthy Love, you develop a clear understanding of why you choose to abstain from inappropriate sexual activity. You learn to recognize the steps that lead to sexual activity, and you learn how to adjust your habits in ways that maintain your decision to practice abstinence. Because you choose to bypass situations where sexual activity occurs, abstinence becomes normal for you, and therefore, no more difficult than any other routine you practice - brushing your teeth, getting dressed, or eating dinner.
6. What are the challenges to people who want to abstain?
Peer pressure is a common challenge to people who want to be abstinent. People always want to be around others who they have something in common with. That's why we join groups, why we like to visit relatives and family reunions, why we look for a mate who is "compatible." If many people do the same things we do, then we feel like it must be okay - everyone's doing it. We can either find people who are already like us, or we can try to encourage them to become like us. This can be positive, if we try to encourage people to become better than they are, by getting them to recycle, volunteer, or work harder at home or at school.
Peer pressure becomes negative when we try to get someone to stop a good behavior. Negative peer pressure is what happens when someone tries to get you to steal, take drugs, or have sex. So, use positive peer pressure: hang out with friends who support your decision to be abstinent and friends who have made the same decision.
Confusion of values is another serious problem. Some people say that, since there is disagreement over value systems, we shouldn't teach them. Unfortunately, as a result, instead of freedom we have anarchy. How do we know what to believe anymore? All cultures, however, agree on basic values and standards for behavior; it's mostly in the details that we differ. All agree, for instance, that you shouldn't murder people, you shouldn't steal things, and you should take care of children. All cultures have rules and customs governing the ways that people relate to each other. Emotional Desires can make it difficult to abstain. We all have a desire for closeness, for intimacy. It's important to realize, though, that sex doesn't create closeness; if you weren't close before, you won't be any closer afterwards. Intimacy is a form of trust, which comes from developing a pattern of shared experiences and unselfish love.
Physical sexual urges can be very strong. They're meant to be; that's what ensures the survival of humankind. Media Distortion - The entertainment media (TV, movies, advertising) make money by appealing to the broadest number of people.
7. Why doesn't the media promote a healthy, abstinent lifestyle?
People want love, but it's hard to show true love on TV, because the qualities of true love are mostly internal and invisible; how do you show someone being everlasting? How electrifying is it to watch someone being responsible, dependable, stable and trustworthy? It probably won't happen in a 30-second commercial! Most people are excited to think about sex. Lurid sex stories catch our attention - and that's all the advertisers need! They don't care if you agree with them; they make money by drawing your attention to their product. Even those who would never engage in sex outside of marriage will watch sexual situations or at least tolerate them. There is a lopsided emphasis on physical love. It's up to each of us to be aware of the images we allow into our own heads, and to remember that we're in control - there is an off-button, a different channel, another magazine.
8. Will my boyfriend or girlfriend think I don't love them if I don't have sex?
Love isn't just a question of being physically attracted or having a strong "crush" on someone. Love entails respect for the other person, especially for the internal values that person chooses to live his or her life by. If someone doesn't respect your values, your integrity, your decisions, do they really respect you as a person? Do they really love you? A person who is willing to end a relationship just because you won't have sex with them never loved you in any real, mature sense to begin with. And a person who thinks that your unwillingness to have sex means that you don't care about them is certainly insecure emotionally and should obtain some form of counseling.
9. Is it unhealthy to suppress sexual urges?
Well, have you ever heard of anyone dying from lack of sex? Did you ever hear of someone's sexual organs exploding because they didn't have sex? When someone says it's unhealthy to suppress sexual urges, they're usually talking about a psychological condition, and they mean people who want to pretend that they don't have urges. Usually you hear that you must express these urges, or you'll get sick from suppressing them. But it's not only a choice between expressing or suppressing. What if you felt like killing someone? That would be an urge, and you can't express it by killing the person, or you'd be in a lot of trouble yourself. If you suppress the urge, pretend you don't have it, you might have some kind of psychological problem later on.
What's the healthy thing to do? Do something to relieve the urge without acting on it directly. Kick a can. Use the energy of your anger to build something. Take a walk and think about why you're angry; often you'll decide it wasn't so important after all. What you're doing is taking that urge to kill someone and directing it into a healthy activity. You can, and should, do the same thing with sexual urges. Direct all that energy into something creative. Learn to play an instrument. Make a sculpture. Build things. Sew things. Find a hobby you like, and pour all your creative nature into it. You'll be growing, maturing, and learning about yourself. It's the healthy thing to do.
If you want to order Healthy Love materials, the Question/Answer booklets are $1.00 each, or .80 for 10-20 copies, or .75 each for 21 or more copies. The 86-page manual is $8.00, and the original student booklets are $2.00 each, or $1.25 each for 10-20 copies, or $1.00 each for 21 or more copies. There is no extra charge for shipping within the US (if you live in Kansas, please add sales tax). Overseas orders please add 50% for airmail shipping. Mail your order with check payable to RUC Publications, 12736 West 110th Terrace, Overland Park, KS 66210. Or call me, Teri Lester, at (816) 241-1931.
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