Saturday, March 19, 2005

Abstinence: Then and Now

I'm going to cut-n-paste this whole post from Zen Yenta blog, just because it seems light and wise and right. Go over and read the rest of the posts there, there's a lot of good stuff.

Abstinence, then and now

It's all over the web today. An AP article that cites a study stating that many who pledge abstinence substitute risky behavior.
Adolescents who pledge to remain virgins until marriage are more likely to substitute high-risk sexual behaviors that increase the likelihood of transmitting sexually transmitted diseases, according to researchers who studied the sex lives of about 12,000 teens.

The report by Yale and Columbia University researchers could help explain why a study by the same group last year found that despite having fewer sexual partners and getting married earlier, teens who pledge abstinence are just as likely to have STDs as their peers.

Surprised? Neither am I. I do think that some historical perspective is needed. I'm here to offer it before it's too late and everyone who remembers anything about The Way It Used To Be is dead.

It was The Way It Used To Be from the beginning of recorded history up until about 1965 or 66 in the suburbs and earlier in major markets.The way it worked was that girls didn't have sex and boys did. And no, it wasn't a matter of boys having sex with each other at a higher rate than they do now. Boys tried to have sex with pretty much anyone that they happened to meet up with and girls were supposed to say "No", and a lot of the time, they did. There were a lot of side effects to this approach. Among them:

  • The Shotgun Wedding - In my generation this only happened in the case of pregnancy. In earlier ones it could also happen if a "nice girl" got her reputation compromised by a rake and her father could catch him. It wasn't always terrible. Some good marriages and some bad have come of shotgun weddings- just like other weddings. It's not what you're going to be going for, though.
  • The Girl Who Did It - This was a sad thing. There was always at least one girl who was emotionally unstable who got to be the town tramp. That was how the math worked, what with girls not doing and boys doing it. All the boys were doing it with the one girl. It was exploitive and cruel and it wasn't particularly safe sex, either.
  • True Confessions Magazines - Wherein writers pretending to be young women confessed to having had Shotgun Weddings or being The Girl Who Did It. True Confessions still exists, but I'm not sure what acts would be considered confession-worthy today. I don't think I want to know.
  • Myths, lies and other falsehoods - I can't tell you how many kids believed you couldn't get pregnant the first time.

There were other complications, too. Girls learned not to trust boys. Boys learned to lie to girls. And then it got even weirder. A lot of girls who had no intention of "doing it" couldn't quite respect a boy who didn't try to get her to do what she wasn't going to do to begin with. Boys who were in love with a girl would then be embarrassed to be seen with her if she gave him the very thing he sought. It was a dysfunctional system. It was the bad old days.

Unfortunately, sex remains a messy area of life. It always has been and there's really no end in sight. Sex among very young teenagers is problematic. Their bodies are ready but they're not ready in any other way. People can get pregnant or pass around very bad diseases. Sex is risky and kids tend not to take risk seriously enough in so many areas. But I'll tell you one thing. Girls are not going back to where they were when I was one of them. They're not going to believe that they're the only ones responsible for sexual activity in a relationship. They're not going to don a scarlet letter for doing the same thing that their male counterparts are doing.

Sex education that includes information about contraception and prevention of STDs isn't a cure-all, but at the present time it's the best tool that's available and should be used at school and at home. And good luck to you all sorting it out. Sometimes it's good to be over fifty.


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