Abstinence Isn’t Enough

We’ve come to day 4.

From comments like “keep your legs closed” to “keep yourself pure” to “this is a moral standard,” I get a clear sense that we don’t talk about abstinence in enough detail. The first comment suggests that you’re able to simply shut off hormones, desires, thoughts… The second comment suggests that purity is something you can achieve on your own. The third, often used in organizational contexts, suggests policy over people. And I’m sure there are various other conclusions you can also draw from these and other words that we seem to toss over our shoulder in passing or yell out from a position of power expecting that folks will just get it.

But it’s not enough to say, “do this” or “don’t do this” and it has never been enough. Fortunately, so to speak, there was a time when more people questioned authority less. My parents told me what to do and I did it. I didn’t often ask why. That way of being is now antiquated. We need to answer, properly answer, the question, “Why?”

Why isn’t it enough to say that we should abstain from sexual activity? It’s not enough because the consequences aren’t simple. We’ve talked about some of those in the last two days, the good and the bad results of having sex. You can read those here and here.

Part of the “more” we should be saying has to do with viewing ourselves holistically. Everything I do impacts everything I do which impacts how I am with others and even how I am with the earth. That’s not some strange idea. The peppermint tea I’m currently drinking is positively impacting the yucky way my throat felt from getting up very early this morning. This has, in turn, helped my yucky frustrations dissipate and I’m in a better frame of mind to write and to interact with others–true story. And as I go on with my day, I’m sure I’ll be able to talk more about how all these various dots connect for better…and for worse.

So if my life is filled with these sorts of ripple effects, shouldn’t I be thinking carefully about the various things I’m doing? I suppose that matters most if I’m thinking beyond this moment and beyond myself, part of what’s lacking from discussions on sexuality.

Here and Now
I just heard about an app geared toward gay, bisexual and bi-curious men and enabling them to find each other via GPS. This app makes it easier for men to find other men who fit their profile and they can quickly connect wherever they are. It’s known as a hookup app. There’s a related app by the same creator that’s geared toward people who are straight. It functions in a similar manner to the first and helps men and women meet. It’s a way to make friends, hangout, etc.

Both apps speak, in part, to our desire to have things as quickly as possible. My parents used to talk about the benefits of group dating at church social events, taking time to check people out and see how they interact with others before spending time alone. In 2013 this takes a whole lot more effort than it did in 1963 and church culture isn’t quite what it used to be. In addition, not everyone ascribes to church culture anyway. So we want and need new ways of connecting and we want ways that don’t take so long even if we don’t want to have sex right away. But the bottom line is that we’re very easily more focused on here and now than on there and later, the time when a lot of what we’ve done here and now may kick us in the rear.

But that all depends on what the present time involves. Are we willing to wrestle with the fact that we may live for a while and that it’ll be really great to be old and healthy and that some of the things we’re doing now don’t have “old and healthy” in mind? Healthy refers not just to physical health but emotional health. Look around. Some of the crazy norms we possess and our friends posses are the result of what our parents and grandparents did. Our norms are part of the ripple effect.

Beyond Me
And that’s a perfect segway to talking about how what I do impacts other people. Family is an easy space within which to see good and bad thought patterns and behaviors passed along from generation to generation. It’s also interesting to look at how “chick flicks” develop various expectations in women regarding how men should treat them.

Now, to think about how everything we say and do is received by other people can be a bit overwhelming. “How will person X respond to my consumption of peppermint tea? What if they know I haven’t yet had breakfast, how will that impact their feelings about food?” Yeah, it’s not the most practical approach to life all the time. I’m actually not trying to suggest that we become ridiculous but that we honor each other by not knowingly saying and doing things that taint another person’s future.

And maybe that’s part of the problem Maybe we don’t know that what we’re doing sexually will negatively impact someone else. Maybe we’ve been modeled “what’s in it for me?” so much that our first thought is “me” all the time and to think of “you” first would not be natural. Maybe that’s so.

But the sex we have, whatever kind it is, will always impact someone else and sometimes the impact will be bad because we’ve been selfish. The sex we have helps form our ideas about ourselves which, in turn, affects how we relate to others. If the sex we have causes us to think of ourselves as conquerors in sex then we will think of the person we’re having sex with as the conquered and we will potentially pursue them as prey. No one who has been preyed upon feels like a champion after they’ve been captured. No one. I know that sounds like a dramatic scenario but it’s not uncommon especially in a hookup culture and it reveals a bit more of the ripple effect.

Conclusions?
It’s not enough to just tell people to practice abstinence and it’s not enough to celebrate your virgin status. We have to think longterm and we have to think about others. You can close your legs for a lifetime and become the most self-centered person who’s of no use to the community around you if you don’t get out of your navel. And sorry, having sex won’t automatically heal and free you.

***

WWPD–What Would Paul Do? That’s our next topic in this 7-day series titled, “Sex–Respect It.”

 

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