Unification News for
Abstinence and Personal Development
by Matthew Jones-Albany, NY
Adapted from his paper Abstinence: Creating a New Family Culture for the 21st Century submitted to the Hyundai World Student Essay Contest.
Sexual Abstinence before marriage is crucial for personal maturation. The following character traits are basic in the make up of any individual. The degree to which we can create high levels of these positive traits in ourselves will determine our likelihood of success in marriage. In my view, it is indispensable to practice abstinence in order to develop these character traits.
Developing a high self-esteem is one of the most vital traits for a developing human being. It is important not only for personal development, but also for developing relationships with others. The reason is that, as Brian Tracy says, "it is impossible to like or love anybody else if we do not like ourselves." The importance of developing a high self-esteem before marriage is obvious; it will allow one to love one's spouse more and create a deeper relationship.
Many young people who are sexually experienced, however, suffer a loss of self-esteem, particularly when they contract a sexually transmitted disease. According to the Medical Institute for Sexual Health, more than 80% of people with herpes say they feel "less confident" and "less desirable sexually."
Even if one escapes a sexually transmitted disease, casual sex alone can lower self-esteem. A twenty year old college male who had a one night stand with a girl he met at a party, writes "You feel pretty crummy when you get drunk at a party and have sex with some girl, and then the next morning you can't even remember who she was."
Teenagers who become absorbed in an intense sexual relationship are turning inward at the very time in their lives when they should be reaching out, forming new friendships, joining clubs and teams, developing their interests and skills, and taking on bigger social responsibilities. All of these are important nutrients for a teenager's self-esteem. Along these lines, the psychiatrist Samuel Kaufman writes:
"A girl who enters into a serious relationship with a boy very early in life may find out later that her individuality was thwarted. She became part of him and failed to develop her own interests, her sense of independent identity. Such an occurrence leads to lower self-esteem and can be avoided by abstaining from sex until marriage."
From my early teenage years, I decided that I would save sex until marriage. Looking back on my time as a teenager, I have to say that this time was precious, knowing that it did give me a sense of accomplishment and thus built my self-esteem.
Learning to discipline one's self is vital to personal development. In order to be successful in anything, we need to practice self-control and self-discipline. In fact, discipline is so important because we derive self-esteem from it. An example of this is the feeling I receive when I get my homework done instead of watching television. I feel good about myself. This feeling comes from what Tracy calls the "law of control":
"The law of control says that we feel good about ourselves to the exact degree to which we feel we are in control of our own lives... We feel bad about ourselves or out of harmony with ourselves to the degree to which we are controlled by outer circumstances."
Sexual abstinence before marriage is a form of control over our bodies and lives. The human body naturally desires sexual fulfillment. The discipline is learning to control or channel that sexual energy into something productive.
Casual sex, on the other hand, breeds lack of discipline. It encourages one to follow bodily instincts, rather than controlling them. The attitude that promotes this lifestyle perhaps comes from what social scientist James Q. Wilson posits as a prevailing characteristic of American life: "American people have embraced an ethos that values self-expression over self-control."
We know the importance of self-control by looking at the effects of a lack of it. As Thomas Lickona writes:
"The breakdown of self-control is a big factor in many of the sex- related problems that plague American society: rape, promiscuity, pornography, addiction to sex, sexual harassment, sexual abuse of children and sexual infidelity in marriage. Knowing the power of sex, it is no wonder that Freud once said sexual self-control is essential for civilization."
While trying to control one's sexual desire is important, I do not think the sexual desire can be completely controlled (as to simply overcoming it). Rather, the key is to have enough self-control to channel one's sexual energy into other areas. The notion of channeling one's sexual energy is written about by Napoleon Hill in his book Think and Grow Rich. Hill says that "sexual transmutation", as he calls it, is practiced by all highly successful people whether they are aware of it or not.
"Sex transmutation is...the switching of the mind from thoughts of physical expression, to thoughts of some other nature."
Sexual desire is the most powerful of human desires. When driven by this desire, men develop keenness of imagination, courage, will power, persistence and creative ability unknown to them at other times.
The transmutation of sex energy calls for the exercise of will-power, to be sure, but the reward is worth the effort. The desire for sexual expression is inborn and natural. The desire cannot, and should not be submerged or eliminated. But it should be given an outlet through forms of expression which enrich the body, mind and spirit of man. If not given this form of outlet, through transmutation, it will seek outlets through purely physical channels.
This philosophy is consistent with my experience. Growing up, I believe I channeled my energy and desire into sports.
Goal-Oriented Way of Thinking
Learning to set goals is crucial to personal development. As Tracy explains:
"The human being is built as a goal-seeking mechanism. Unless we have goals we go around in circles and drift with the tide and end up no where. When we set goals, we go straight and true, we develop direction, we develop focused and channeled energy."
Sexual abstinence before marriage, if one has a clear purpose for it, develops a goal-oriented frame of mind. My purpose of abstinence from sex until marriage was ultimately to achieve a lasting and loving marriage with my wife, and together with her create a beautiful family. Having this goal gave me clarity and direction in my teenage years. An abstinent life style has helped me to develop the habit I have now of being a constant goal-setter and developing the ability to envision my ideal outcome.
One hallmark of good character is the ability to delay gratification, making short term sacrifices for long-term, greater gain. Many teenagers have sex so early because they do not see the value of delaying gratification. This ability is closely related to self-control and having goals, still it is a distinct positive character trait in itself. When one delays gratification, one can appreciate life so much more.
Let me offer a simple example. When we were growing up, my parents used to go out a few weeks before Christmas-buy us toys, and then put them in the basement until Christmas. Being the immature boy I was, I used to go up to my brothers and whisper, "Wanna go look at the presents?" We would then tip-toe downstairs and quietly go through all the presents. Although we had a blast discovering what new presents we would get, when Christmas came, we had nothing to look forward to. The excitement was gone and Christmas was dull. If I could have controlled myself and waited till Christmas day, I would have appreciated the presents so much more.
This phenomenon of delaying gratification, as it is related to premarital sex, is also discussed by educator Allen Bloom:
"The most interesting students are those who have not settled the sexual problem and who are still...fresh and naive, excited by the mysteries to which they have not yet been fully initiated. There are some who are men and women at the age of sixteen, who have nothing more to learn about the erotic. They may become competent specialists, but they are flat-souled...unadorned by imagination and devoid of ideals."
All successful people in some way make sacrifices in the present for greater gain in the long run. Waiting for sex until marriage is one of the ultimate forms of this discipline.
Peace of Mind
Having peace of mind is one of the key ingredients to personal happiness and development. One thing that disrupts one's peace of mind is fear and worry, which often comes about from being sexually active. Every year, one of every ten teenage girls in the United States becomes pregnant and twelve million people are infected with a sexually transmitted disease with 63% being under the age of twenty-five. Knowing these statistics, it is no wonder that one high school girl told a nurse, "I see some of my friends buying home pregnancy tests, and they are so worried and so distracted every month, afraid that they might be pregnant." Another health education coordinator says, "I see kids going to the nurse, crying a day after their first sexual experience, and wanting to be tested for AIDS."
Remaining sexually abstinent before marriage gave me complete freedom from these worries. Sexually abstinent people can enjoy relatively much higher levels of peace of mind because they do not have to worry about pregnancy or STD's.
The single most important factor in my personal growth was receiving love from my parents. Children need love like roses need rain. Without love, children do not grow as human beings. Who wants to give that love and support more than a parent? It is a sad reality of today that so many relationships between parents and children are distant, especially in the teenage years.
One reason this distance develops is that children begin to develop different values from their parents. For example, a child knows that his parents would not approve of his smoking, experimenting with drugs, or having sex before marriage. Therefore, if a child does any of these, he naturally would want to distance himself from fear of punishment or disapproval.
In my case, the first impetus to practice abstinence before marriage came from my parents. Through their love and encouragement, I adopted this value as my own. I knew my parents were proud of me for that. Further, I did not feel I had anything to be ashamed of in front of them. As a result, I became very close to my parents.
Although parents may be too afraid to say it (perhaps because they were sexually active before marriage), it is likely that many fully support sexual abstinence before marriage, particularly in this age of AIDS and other STDs. If young people live by this ethic, I believe their relationship with their parents can only be enhanced. This will allow them more fully to receive the love they need to grow.
In sum, sexual abstinence helps to promote desirable character traits in the individual. By developing self-esteem, self-control, peace of mind, a goal-oriented way of thinking, the ability to delay gratification and by building good relationships with our parents, we are on the road to becoming fully developed human beings. The more our personalities and characters are developed before marriage, the higher chance we have of succeeding in marriage.
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