Abstaining from Abstinence 1

20120904-201231.jpgI met a man recently who was kind and friendly and chatty. As we engaged in small talk, weirdly, pre-marital sex came up. My new friend went on to explain that the way women dressed these days is shameful and that they should save themselves for marriage.

Now, I have been out in public in the recent past, and I am aware of the fact that some girls and women dress in ways that appear to be intentionally provocative. I have been one of those women who wonders if their mothers saw them before they left the house. I have also been the child who knows how to pack a second outfit so that she can change when her mom’s not around. And, as that child, I was not entirely aware of the provocative nature of the female body. Teenagers aren’t stupid, but they can be naive. It’s called youth.

I wondered, though, how my new friend could make such vast assumptions about the people he saw based only on their clothing. And, I wondered why his “saving themselves for marriage” mandate was reserved only for the slutty sluts he was discussing and not the pure and chaste men.

At the end of a family discussion  about school dress codes, one of our teen daughters asked if we could talk about abstinence because, she said, “They just seem like they want to scare me and I would rather have facts.”

Indeed. The mouths of babes.

Abstinence, purity pledges and the like have their roots in good places, and I believe that. To be sure, abstinence is the only 100% effective prevention against pregnancy and STDs. Further, we in faith circles discuss purity as a way of keeping the mind, body and heart protected against things that may harm us. I myself chose abstinence for a good long while. (Or, at least if felt LONG.)

But let me be clear. I chose it. On purpose, with good reasons, and lots and lots of facts.

My daughter raises a good point. Her perspective on the abstinence agenda seems to be part of its demise. When she hears people talk about refraining from sexual activity until marriage, what she hears is a whole lot of horror stories. She hears that if she has sex out of marriage, she will get pregnant (a distinct possibility), be saddled with some grimy kid who eats all her money, that she will be infected with various and sundry diseases to her nether regions (also a real threat), and that she will be impure when she marries, so that her husband (non existent at this point, and maybe/maybe not under the same guidelines) will be getting tarnished goods, as if she is a garage store find that some poor schlubb was moved by pity to try to love. She hears that God honors purity (He does) and she hears that sex is shameful, dirty and produces shameful, dirty things.

She hears sex is bad. It’s ugly. It’s shameful. And you are gross if you even think about it.

That might keep someone from engaging in sexual activity, but is that what makes someone pure? It also might be just the thing that creates a dysfunctional perception of sex that prohibits future enjoyment.

Was it a little uncomfortable to talk to my teenagers about sex? Yes. Am I the poster child for purity, or choice or faith or perfect parenting? That would be a resounding no. In the end, this is what I told her.

I told her the truth about abstinence. and how I had made that choice for myself. I also told her that desire is normal, that sex doesn’t make a relationship or ruin a person forever. I told her that purity is deeper and wider and more lovely than what I may or may not do with certain parts. Purity is about an attitude of the heart.

How do you talk to your kids about sex, purity and faith?