How Should We Promote Abstinence?


This week something drastic happened to a dear friend of mine. She is one of those amazing women who have great peace at being LDS AND feminist. Her ideas and her ways of looking at things always impress me and make for some fine thinking and reflecting on my part. I love how much she loves the church and how much peace she finds in participating. So, it shocked me when I received an email from her this week that said she had entered faith crisis mode. For the first time in a long while she was asking my advice how to deal with an institution that has hurt her on a deep, deep level.

It seems that her daughter’s bishop secretly married her 19 year old daughter to an older and horrible man. This man has come into her daughter’s life bringing drugs, havoc, ruin, and destruction. She has been working hard at trying to empower her daughter to leave the relationship, but so far, to no avail. So, to receive the news that they had been married, without ANYONE trying to contact her to discuss it at all, was devastating to her and her family. This week, her and her husband are trying to figure out why the priesthood leaders would have performed this marriage without even contacting them (the man has a police record and a long list of trouble within the church).

They received their answer. The three priesthood leaders involved believed it was far better to marry the couple than to continue to let them have sex outside of marriage. Since her daughter was already “tainted” by this man, it was better for her spirituality to MARRY him, than to remain single because she has lost her virginity.

I don’t really want to receive comments on my friend’s story. It is her story and I don’t think we need to speculate about it. The thing she is dealing with this week was that members of her church saw her daughter’s sexuality on a higher level than her daughter’s health and well-being. This marriage is NOT a good thing. And at 19, to be yoked to someone so awful because they were TRYING to protect her virtue, is simple wrong.

However, I tell it because the response of the priesthood got me thinking about very real problems facing our young women. It also got me reflecting about recent studies I have done on Abstinence-Only education throughout the Christian-based United States. The ways in which teenagers are being taught about protecting and preserving virginity should cause alarm for all of us. Here are a few examples of how abstinence is being taught in schools and marketed in the malls.

EXAMPLE ONE: “Your body is a wrapped lollipop. When you have sex with a man, he unwraps your lollipop and sucks on it. It may feel great at the time, but, unfortunately, when he’s done with you, all you have left for your next partner is a poorly wrapped, saliva-fouled sucker.”  Darren Washington an abstinence educator at the Eighth Annual Abstinence Clearninghouse Conference (Jessica Valenti, 41).

EXAMPLE TWO: One popular classroom exercise employs Scotch Tape to demonstrate how premarital sex can make girls dirty. A teacher holds up a clear strip of tape, meant to represent a girl, in front of the class. The teacher then puts the strip of tape, adhesive side down, on the arm of a boy in the class, to symbolize his sexual relationship with the girl. The teacher rips off the tape (signifying the breakup, apparently) and holds it up again for the class to look at. Students are meant to see that the strip of tape—the girl—has picked up all kinds of dirt and hair from the boy’s arm and is no longer clean. Then, when the teacher tries to stick the same strip of tape to another boy’s arm, he or she notes that it doesn’t stick—they can’t bond! To end things with a bang, the abstinence educator makes a remark about the girl’s being “used” and therefore unable to have strong future relationships (Valenti, 33).

EXAMPLE THREE: A popular abstinence product is a gold rose pin handed out in schools and at Christian youth events. The pin is attached to small card that reads, “You are like a beautiful rose. Each time you engage in pre-marital sex, a precious petal is stripped away. Don’t leave your future husband holding a bare stem. Abstain.”


I am NOT an advocate for teenage sex, but do we really want to teach our daughters that without their virginity, they’re nothing but a “bare stem”? And more than this, the consequences that are told to the young girls, that they will be dirty, tainted, damaged goods, or bare stems—none of these things relates to the girls inner sense of self, but are mainly words used to describe how MEN will view and treat women who have been sexual.

The fact that these examples nearly always focus on girls is no coincidence. After all, our bodies are the ones that get objectified, and it’s our morality that’s supposedly in jeopardy.

What is going on here? I am a complete advocate for teenage abstinence, but how can we teach it in less demeaning and more empowering ways? Aren’t we tired of fear tactics and anti-feminism when we teach our daughters to love and care for their physical and spiritual well being? When I have given lectures about the current holes in the mainstream abstinence-only education, I am ALWAYS amazed at the people who come up to me afterwards and tell me what a problem it is. Many are teachers who say that some of their girls believe that spraying lemon juice on themselves prevents STDs. Some of them are mother’s who say that their daughters will do just about ANYTHING else OTHER than sex so that they are still “technically a virgin.” I have women approach me who told me that in seminary they were taught that it would be better for them to DIE than to lose their virtue. Seriously? The list goes on and on and on.

I know it’s not like this throughout the church. I know this is ONLY one side of the situation, but it’s a scary side. I’d LOVE to hear about methods that WORK. I’d like to hear about methods that are real and valuable and not based out of fear.

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46 Responses

  1. Geoff J says:

    The three priesthood leaders involved believed it was far better to marry the couple than to continue to let them have sex outside of marriage


    I sincerely hope there is a lot more to this story than that. Sounds like an awful situation all around.

  2. Alisa says:

    While I know some teenage girls have a more mature sexual drive, I believe many are still interacting in relationships to receive validation and attention rather than being driven toward a burning desire to reach physical climax. I think that this generalized difference between teenage men and women should be addressed in sex education.

    Sex education that further tears down a young woman’s self-esteeem or makes her position seem irredeemable will only fuel the fire of self-doubt that leads her to let boys do things that are not as mutually physically fulfilling. The recent high trends of teenage girls who regularly perform oral sex on their male peers seems to suggest that it’s more important for them to feel popular and accepted than to experience their own physical fulfillment with young men. (It’s also a convenient loophole from sex education that says sex leaves them used/tained – young women increasingly see oral sex as less risky – AND it makes them more popular for a few moments than those teenagers who only engage in traditional sexual intercourse. It gives young men more of what they want in pleasure and novelty, and young women more of what they want in terms of popularity and attention once they’re known as the girls who will do that at a party.)

    While I think talking about STDs and pregancy is very useful/essential, I would focus on not how “dirty” sex is, nor would I focus so much on restraining physical desires (although for some this may be an appropriate piece young women seek guidance on). Across the board, I would focus on what would aid and assist a young woman in developing self-esteem, her ability to judge for herself whether or not she wants to engage in sexual acts with a particular person, how to say no (both in friendly and more pressured environments), and how to develop strong friendships with peers without comprimising herself too much. Also, I would address how to deal with feelings of inadequacy that are so universal to teenagers and hopefully will pass away as they mature.

    I recently read the essay “Lies We Tell Kids,” by Paul Graham ( I agree with him that the reason we don’t want teenagers having sex is that it’s easy to get burned by it – adults still get burned by it. To me, giving young women tools that will assist in their development of good judgment and self-assurance is what will help them not only as young women, but as adult women as well.

  3. Beatrice says:

    I think one of the most powerful things we could do would be to get away from the virgin vs. non-virgin dichotomy. Someone who has had sex in a committed relationship and has been faithful to their partner is way different then someone who has had dozens of sexual partners that they felt no emotional connection to. It is crazy that having vaginal sex once puts you in this vastly different category forever and somehow marks you as “damaged goods.” I think that this promotes the idea that if you do it once there is no harm doing it a lot more times. Instead, we need to teach people to make responsible, thoughtful decisions about whether or not they are going to engage in sexual activity throughout their life.

  4. Kaimi says:

    Gah. I’ve known more than one person who took just that route. “I slipped up with my boyfriend/girlfriend, I’d better marry them.”

    The fact that you had sex with someone is a terrible reason to marry them. Teens are hormonal and pretty much want to sleep with everyone they know.

    It is a really bad idea to take a one-time mistake of sleeping with someone too soon, and turn it into a lifetime mistake of being married to them.

    The only thing worse is the couples who then try to fix that mistake by having kids with the their absolutely-wrong-for-them spouse. That just leads to nasty divorce and ugly custody fights and scarred children.

  5. D'Arcy says:

    Geoff J: Stories, of course, always have more to them. I’m stating the simple backbone, but I am also quoting my friend directly in the reasoning behind the priesthood leaders. It is disturbing. I know it’s not the norm, by any means, but it is upsetting when it happens.

    Alisa: Great suggestions. I think our teenagers are capable of being so much more receptive and responsible than we give them credit for.

    Beatrice: I agree. I think those TWO categories should be done away with. I really don’t think they hold much value or merit and the term “virgin” is practically synonymous with “woman” there is RARELY a time when a virgin is referred to as male. It’s damaging to women.

    Kaimi: It’s true. Many rush into marriage so they don’t “mess up” in regards to the law of chastity. Some have “messed up” and thus rush in too. There has to be a more responsible way of teaching teens and young adults how to handle these situations. I’m sure there is, I’m just curious as to what it is. I think Alisa and others have hit upon it.

  6. So what are we teaching the boys about abstinence? That its not their problem? To be on the look out for tainted girls?

    Seriously, why is their not equal emphasis on the boy’s virtue, being clean, etc? What are the young men taught in church?

  7. Carol says:

    Whenever we speak about abstinence, we need to remember that some of the young men and women we speak to have been sexually abused. With 1/4 of young women and 1/7 of young men being sexually molested or raped, it is critical that we empower them to feel virtuous and beloved of God even though they have been violated.

    When I speak to youth groups in the Church and in community groups, I teach them that sex is sacredand beautiful and brings great joy in a marriage setting. I also share statistics that indicate those who choose to engage in premarital sex have a greater rate of unhappiness in marriage and divorce.

    I ALWAYS include a disclaimer that gently reminds anyone who have been sexually abused that it is NEVER their fault and that they can recover from the abuse, but that they may need the help of a carying clergyman (bishop) and a value-based counselor.

    I always end my presentations with the power of repentance (change)–that we can turn away from past self-defeating choices and decide to live empowered, virtuous lives. In Church groups, I refer to Joseph (of Egypt) and Alma the Younger in my presentations. In community groups, I use an object lesson using a powerful flashlight, showing the group that when we choose virtuous living, we experience greater light and joy in our lives.

    I’ve also spoken at juvenile detention and alternative high school settings, but that’s another post.

  8. Craig says:

    I honestly don’t think that either abstinence or virginity have much usefulness at all. We’re sexual animals and need physical intimacy. I think it’s perfectly healthy for young adults to have safe, educated sex with their peers. We need to stop focusing on sex being a SIN or DIRTY or WRONG and admit that the reality is, people will have sex, do have sex, and it’s silly to pretend they’re not going to have sex. Educate children and teenagers on how to have sex safely, why they should, and provide them with resources. If individual parents want to tell their children that they expect them to not have sex for whatever reason, that’s their prerogative, but it’s completely irresponsible for any parent to not ensure their child is fully educated child about sex and sexuality.

    The fact is, I don’t see any reality/science based, non-religious/dogmatic reason for telling teenagers they ought to be abstinent. I’m not sure there is any way to tell adolescents to not experiment and explore their sexuality without making it demeaning or causing problems in the way they will learn to think about it. So long as there is any shame or taboo about having sex and experiencing healthy sexuality, I think the problems will continue to exist. I’m not advocating that kids have sex willy-nilly, but that we be realistic and let them make their own, informed decisions about how and when and with whom to have sex, and let them learn from their experiences rather than protecting them from reality.

  9. Kimberly says:

    Ugh. Ugh. Ugh.

    I’ve had enough of church leaders that think they can make judgements on individual’s behavior (outside of that person seeking repentance, which has its own set of issues).

    If a young man talks to a priesthood leader about his sexual behavior he is told to repent (and often sent on a mission). If a young woman does the same, she is pressured to marry and made to feel like damaged goods.

    This double standard is hurting all of us in the church.

  10. Kimberly says:

    I forgot to mention that biggest issue I see with the examples you’ve cited is that they are all male focused. Most of the teaching is based in these type of fears: “If you behave sexual in this or that way, future men won’t want you. You won’t deserve a good man. Think of what men want.”

    None of the examples are empowerment or about how a girl views herself or her own actions. It should be about our own choices, including rational consequences and, when appropriate, spiritual consequences.

  11. Emily U says:

    D’Arcy, your post made me think about why I decided to stay a virgin until I got married. I definitely had the lessons including some of those horrible analogies when I was a teenager, but even at the time I knew they were wrong. They deny the power of repentance and grace, and that is reason enough for them to be horrible (not to mention sexist, unproductive, & emotionally damaging).

    I think part of it was that I wanted to protect myself. I didn’t want to get used, hurt, or infected. Those were the “stick” reasons. Maybe they’re based on fear, but not unreasonable or baseless fears, in my opinion. I wanted to get married in the temple, and that was the “carrot.”

    I’ve heard Jennifer Finlayson-Fife (she’s a psychotherapist who studies sexuality, and who I think has presented at the Exponent retreat) talk about chastity in terms of a woman owning her sexuality. I’m going to paraphrase and I hope I get Jennifer’s ideas right, but basically she says our sexuality as women is something we should enjoy and own, and we’ll be able to express and enjoy it most fully with a committed loving partner – basically, in marriage. Of course, you can be in a relationship with those same qualities and not have it be marriage, but that need not be emphasized to youth 🙂 Anyway, telling them sex will be a lot better once they get some practice at it with their husbands might be motivating, if a teacher could find the right way to say that.

  12. symphonyofdissent says:

    I echo previous comments and say that the dichotomy of virgin vs. non-virgin is rather foolish. Someone is not either pure or impure and one action that makes one impure does not mean that one has no worth. That is an utterly degrading way to look at human nature and utterly contrary to the fact that the atonement is available to us.

  13. Phannie says:

    I have been thinking about this a lot lately, especially since I’m prego with my 1st (girl). I’ve been trying to figure out just how I was going to teach her about sex.

    It made me reflect on why I didn’t have sex until after I was married. And I don’t really have an outstanding answer. I should have been one of those stories. My mom and dad sure thought so. I was asked all the time if I had sex.

    I grew up with parents and extended family that spoke openly about sex. I attended sex-ed classes in 4th grade (I don’t mean maturation- those are a joke). The human body was a topic that was common in my house. The gospel was highly stressed, but never in a fear based way. So, the only reason I can figure that I didn’t have sex before I was married is because I had been properly educated by the people that really cared about me and then I had decided what was really important to ME. That’s what kids want most isn’t it? To know they can make decisions for themselves.

    Although I don’t KNOW what will work or what doesn’t, this is what my husband and I are focusing on. And we will do it beginning at the age she starts asking. The sexually active age is getting younger and younger every year and I wont wait until I think it’s best. It’s going to be best when she needs it.

  14. Caroline says:

    This is a bit of a tangent in reference to your friend’s story, D’Arcy.

    I also find it disturbing that church leaders encouraged this girl to marry a bad man, rather than just repent and move on. But I’m going to play devil’s advocate here. Should we expect the priesthood leaders to contact a 19 year old woman’s family with notification of such a decision?

    I absolutely understand the desire for that on this mother’s part. She could probably have stopped this tragic marriage from occurring. But… this young woman was an adult, and I worry that there is something infantilizing about informing the family behind the young woman’s back (and possibly in opposition to expected discretion from clergy.)

    To me this brings up a tension – should church leaders privilege the parent’s desire to know or should they privilege the agency of an adult (albeit a young one)?

    Even though this situation ended tragically, I think I favor the side of privileging the 19 year old’s agency (which in this case was a desire for secrecy, evidently). She should have been the one to tell her mom, IMO, not church leaders. What do you think, D’ARcy? Am I off base?

  15. sam says:

    My daughters are young yet, but if they come home telling me that they are being taught this stuff in YW, I will confront the teacher. If she cannot see it my way, I’ll give my daughters the choice whether or not they wish to continue to attend until that leader is released.

  16. D'Arcy says:

    Wow, so much good stuff to respond to. Caroline, I thought about that side of the story before I posted this, it’s been on my mind a lot. I think I would agree with you about the daughter having her privacy now that she is of age. The mother, in fact, agrees as well. What she is most upset about is the fact that the church leaders knew how much trouble the man was in, how dishonest he has been and even about his jail time in breaking laws and other things.

    In talking with her, she understands that her daughter is of age, and it wasn’t so much the secrecy of the marriage as it was that she didn’t feel her daughter ever had an advocate. She felt like all of the men believed that her daughter was GOOD for him, but no one has seemed to take her daughter’s future into the same account. They have also made too many references to her daughter as needing to get married because of the k”sinful” way in which the two were living together.

    I think she feels more betrayed by the attitude than the actual non-consultation.

  17. D'Arcy says:


    I agree, but don’t you sort of wish it didn’t have to get that far? That we didn’t even NEED to worry about these things being taught because they simply AREN’T part of the belief system. I find it troublesome to stop going to church because one teacher is teaching things you don’t agree with. Shouldn’t there be more harmony in the gospel?

    I think by slowly and consistently standing against these things and deeming them unacceptable lessons, then we will see things change where we don’t have to worry about it in the same way.

  18. D'Arcy says:

    Douglas, what ARE we teaching the boys? The more I find about how things are taught, the more I see that women are expected to be the gatekeepers of chastity and the boys are a bit more off the hook. And that boys get less harsh consequences because they can’t help it as much as the girls.

    Also, as Kimberly mentioned, so many women are simply regarded as how they relate to men, then as how they are individuals with wants and needs themselves. It’s wrong.

  19. hcl says:

    A couple of things:

    I understand the mother’s anger, and I get why some of this anger is directed at these church leaders. But, we are acting like the church leader held a gun to their head and said, “GET MARRIED!” There is still free agency, and this 19 year old made the choice to get married. Clearly the mother thinks that this man is bad for her daughter, but just as clearly is that the daughter feels differently. She clearly does not think that she is making a bad choice.

    And…I think it’s too convenient to blame the church for this one.

    On to those terrible analogies/lessons: The only one I have ever liked and that i use often in YMs:
    I take a clean $20 bill. I ask how many in the room would want that $20. I then crumble the bill, step on it, make it a BIG mess. I then hold it up and ask, “Who still wants the $20.” When people raise their hand, I ask them “Why?” Invariably someone will say something like, “because I can still buy stuff with it…” And, I will clarify and say, “Right. It still is worth JUST AS much and still has the SAME value.” So it is with us, regardless of our past mistakes or regardless as to what has happened to us, “the worth of souls is great in the sight of the Lord.”

    I have found that it is a simple, but effective object lesson.

  20. kmillecam says:

    I find the double standard of teaching abstinence with all the burden on young women to be extremely troubling. Some excellent points have been made. What about sexually abused kids? What about seeing sexuality as solely a woman’s responsibility?

    I almost always find it revealing to switch the genders and think about the assumptions made about “how women are” and “how men are”. What if I was telling men that they would be an empty stem, that women wouldn’t want them, that they need to stay pure to secure a wife?

    Just asking that question reveals many things. It tells me that we put too much responsibility on young women to be keepers of their virginity, but not nearly enough responsibility on young men. What about their virginity? What about seeing women as PEOPLE not as “their virginity”, and object to be consumed? We would do well to teach both young men and women that they are equally responsible for maintaining their virginity, being aware of birth control methods, preventing STDs, and respecting their bodies and the bodies of others they may want to become intimate with.

  21. James says:

    Just because you aren’t present for the discussions doesn’t mean they don’t happen among men. We are most definitely not off the hook (although maybe they are in terms of ill-conceived object lessons that clumsily dance around the issue).

    There is often at least one good sledgehammer talk (or at least reference) about sexual issues in the priesthood session general conference. While the majority of these are targeting pornography specifically, the underlying message is clear enough. I also remember getting at least one chastity lesson in YM – no silly object lessons, just pretty direct as I remember it. The basic message was pretty clear: no premarital sex, boys.

  22. Mindy says:

    I understand that the message to YM is that they are expected to stay chaste, but these creepy object lessons seem to be focused primarily on YW. I vaguely recall some sort of story about a girl letting a toad touch her and breaking out in warts. I know. Ewww.

    Also, James mentioned he remembers at least on direct lesson on chastity. YW get these ALL the time. Almost monthly, and they aren’t very direct.

  23. CatherineWO says:

    When I was a teenager and young adult back in the 60s, I was told by both a seminary teacher and at a fireside at BYU that (sexual) virtue was more important than life itself. I always ignored such statements.
    I believe that all of your examples of object lessons are ineffective for the resons you give and also because they rely on fear of the future. My experience with teenagers has been that most of them are much more concerned with the here-and-now than with the future.
    I believe that the most effective methods teach young women to be strong and self-determined and strengthen their personal sense of self-worth. I agree with Emily U, that all women need to feel personal ownership of their own sexuality. This does not go along with the traditional concept that fathers protect their daughters’ virtue and then hand over the job to husbands at the altar.

  24. D'Arcy says:

    hlc–I don’t know if blame is the right word, and I’m sorry if I painted my friend as blaming the church. Of course it comes down to free agency and that’s not really the debate here.

    I just used this story to bring up the topic of just HOW men and women are taught about sex and chastity. As James pointed out, while the men get the lessons, they are TOTALLY different than they way women get them. Men don’t get the emphasis on “virginity” and bare stem. And while I think your object lesson is good, I just wish there was a way to have real discussions with the kids with out needing object lessons.

    Often times we use object lessons because we’re afraid or unsure of how to say obvious things about sex. I am sure if we could be more open in talking about sex it might make things better. But I don’t know, as I have rarely seen settings that do it.

    Again, that’s why I love this forum and I love hearing everyone’s ideas. I think the more we as adults understand healthy ways of dealing with abstinence, then hopefully we can pass those on to the next generation, instead of the guilt and bare stem talks that I received in church.

  25. Debra says:

    Wow! Great comments, all.

    I would just mention here, that fathers do not pass on the responsibility for their daughter’s virtue to a husband, in the age-old custom; they are passing on their daughters as PROPERTY from the family of origin to the husband and his family! What is really happening in this traditional world view is that a daughter/woman/wife is violated as a man’s property, when her “virtue” is given, taken, or lost. You can read more about such outrageous subconscious beliefs in “Who Cooked the Last Supper? The Women’s History of the World”.

    I worked in Title V Abstinence Only Education some years ago, and was appalled by the prolific and repeated messages shaming young women that were taught, and such as have been described here.

    I was also angered that most of the (highly favored, “evidence-based”) content WAS directed toward young women, without the same focus and responsibility directed toward young men.

    We perpetuate gender stereotyping and the sexual double standard by such messages, many of which (such as analogies, object lessons, etc.) sink deep within the psyche of receptive and suggestible young students, such as those students in classes and youth groups with trusted teachers and mentors. These are the kinds of teachers that are sought after to teach these programs. This is one of the reasons that such teaching methods are used – to have a lasting impact.

    I believe this alone is a subtle abuse of power and could even be considered emotional abuse.

    The tragic fact is, though, that SHAME, and the related sequelae, are some of the most telling and potent “risk factors” promoting a young person’s vulnerability to pre-marital sex, along with other “high risk behaviors”.

    I left Title V Abstinence-only education in large part for these reasons, much to the surprise of friends and colleagues.

    How to really, effectively, teach virtue and purity, including abstinence before marriage, instead?

    Teach BOTH young men and young women their priceless value to Heavenly Parents. Help them internalize it so they really believe it. This is largely the result of the mirror of family relationships, including the qualities of the relationship between parents (which include their own personal virtue), and then between parents and children.

    Teach them they are powerful creators of their life experiences and the Universal Law of Cause and Effect, and that they are empowered, self-governing efficacious individuals who can choose and deserve to choose good things that take care of themselves.

    Teach them to honor and respect others from their earliest childhood, because all are equally beloved of God and deserving of respect for NO OTHER REASON.

    Above all, teach them to find and listen to and TRUST the Spirit, the voice of God within them, and to follow the Light within. Parents do this by trusting their children when they say they have received guidance, and trusting and empowering their children to take increasing responsibility for their own lives, as they grow, and allow and support them in learning from their choices and life experiences.

    “Abstinence education” effectively done, is NOT a 2 hour or a six week “special program” that we put kids into. It IS a loving, respectful family environment, climate and culture, which distills this virtue drop by drop, day by day, through the ordinary magic of effective family life.

    The BEST instruction bar none, IMHO, of the light and truth of WHY to stay morally pure, is Elder Holland’s original BYU devotional, entitled, “Of Fire and Ice”. He gave this in 1987-88 while he was still president of BYU. It is absolutely moving, and teaches this truth in his loving, clear, non-blaming and non-gender-stereotyping style. I was finishing my MFT graduate degree at the time, and the entire BYU Comprehensive Clinic community came to a stand-still as we listened to him.

    He later gave a shortened version at General Conference a few years ago. I highly recommend either, but the original is better, if you can find it.

  26. Caroline says:

    I think hcl’s object lesson is a step up from what our youth often get. But I am left with some lingering discomfort, even so. Does it bother anyone else that these lessons communicate to our youth that if they’ve made a sexual mistake, they are dirty, disgusting, and torn up (though still valuable)? Wouldn’t the appropriate object lesson be that with repentance, they return to being that beautifully crisp new bill?

  27. D'Arcy says:

    Yes, since my studies into this, it seems that we rely TOO much on object lessons to teach this most important of subjects. I don’t think there are MORE object lessons in existence than those dealing with chastity.

    I think object lessons should maybe be done away with? What do you guys think.

    I LOVED Debra’s comments about what to teach and I really think kids can get that, can’t they?

  28. CatherineWO says:

    Thank you, Debra. You said just what I was thinking.

  29. Starfoxy says:

    My thoughts are that virginity is exactly the wrong thing to be teaching.

    For one it has very strong female connotations. We can’t just say that everyone should save their virginity for marriage because that implicitly leaves out men and boys. Instead we have to actively assert that men are expected to be virgins too.

    For two the behaviors that make one ‘not a virgin anymore’ aren’t exactly clear, and are very male centric. For example when trying to define what sex is, most often it boils down to whether or not the man orgasmed. If he did, it was sex, if he didn’t it wasn’t. So for a young woman her ‘virginity’ is wrapped up in her partner’s physical response to the event.

    Third, for as blurry as the line between sex and not sex is, virginity is strictly a binary concept. Either you are or you aren’t. Furthermore the change is permanent, virginity once lost is gone. That distinction puts a heavy weight on those attempting to repent, and teaching youth to value virginity denies the power of the atonement. It also leaves victims of abuse out in the cold. I have heard (hearsay I admit) of men who refuse to marry rape victims because they are no longer virgins.

    Coming from the other side of is just as bad (I’m still a virgin therefore I’m not bad), and allows many people to commit serious sexual sins while believing they retain their virginity and thus are not committing sin.

    What I would teach instead is *chastity.* While ‘chastity’ still has feminine connotations it isn’t nearly as bad as ‘virgin.’ As such I think more young men would believe that lessons on chastity apply to them personally in a way they won’t for lessons on virginity. Also, chastity is a principle, not a physical state, and it isn’t an on/off thing either. You can break the law of chastity in severe ways, or less severe ways. You can live chastely after having not lived chastely. Also you can commit to living more chastely.

    The other thing I would teach instead, especially for girls is that they have options, things that they would miss out on if they jump the gun. So much of what we encourage young women to do hinges on things their body can get for them. We stress that wife and mother are the most important things a woman can do, often to the point of making it sound like those are the only things women can or should be doing. I also don’t think it is a stretch to point out that their bodies, and their sexuality are young women’s strongest assets in attaining wife and motherhood (especially since ‘physically attractive’ was #1 or 2 on the list of “qualities I look for in a wife” for practically every LDS boy I knew). I don’t think we should be at all surprised when some girls take a shortcut to what can appear to be the same end- a relationship with a man and babies.

    I think that we can afford to spend a little bit of time teaching young girls about a wide variety of ways they can improve the world and themselves that are completely separate from their sexuality. This could really go a long way in putting sex into a more healthy perspective for them. Besides fixating on what girls aren’t doing in bed is just as sexualizing and objectifying as fixating on what girls are doing in bed.

  30. thisisthe says:

    I think that the methods of protection from STD ought to be taught in abstinence only education. Condoms, barriers, and disease transmission is useful knowledge whether you plan to have multiple partners or not. So is knowing where to get this information. In high school chemistry you are taught about wearing goggles and gloves when dealing with potentially hazardous chemicals. You may have no interest in entering another laboratory in your life, but if you are in a situation involving chemicals, you may pause for a moment and think “wait a sec, I remember in highschool that…” Knowledge helps a person make a more informed decision on what to do next when a situation presents itself. Why is it a problem to know about the tools available to help protect me?

  31. rlk says:

    I think the problem here is that the focus is on the wrong thing. Sex in and of itself is a beautiful, special expression of love between a husband and wife. That is what should be being taught. When we delve into the issue of whether some is a virgin or not we are playing the part of judge – which is not ours to play. We need to teach our youth (notice I saw youth and not young men or young women exclusively) the importance of remaining chaste and the high importance that Heavenly Father places on this. I’m thinking of Alma speaking to his son, Corianton. When we focus on the negative we are ignoring Christ’s Atonement and the way that it works in our lives. I believe strongly in teaching the youth the importance of abstinence, but in a way that makes it a positive thing. Otherwise, the worldly view of having sex with whomever, whenever will win out.
    As far as your friend is concerned, I feel for her and her situation, but when the rest of us generalize the situation as “the Priesthood” then we are playing into Satan’s game. We don’t know the entire situation and what the daughter’s role was in the situation. So once again we can’t judge. The men in this situation are that – men. Hopefully prayer and counsel with the couple was used. But regardless, we need to still support the priesthood leaders and holders in our lives.

  32. ECS says:

    Most of the parents in my neighborhood expect their teen-aged children to have sex – if not in high school, then definitely in college. In fact, the parents with older children are quite matter of fact about sex, and think it’s strange if their children _aren’t_ having sex with their boyfriends or girlfriends. From what I hear from the parents, they teach their younger kids that sex is an adult behavior, and tell them that they should wait until they are older and in a committed relationship. Then they talk to their kids about how to protect themselves emotionally and physically from the potential dangers of sex.

    I have to admit I’m envious of these children, because they don’t seem to be scarred from same kinds of lessons about chastity discussed here. They’re doing well and seem to be well adjusted and rational about sex and its consequences – whether sexually active or not.

  33. ECS says:

    So I guess the answer to “how should we promote abstinence” to me is “why”?

  34. I get frustrated as a teacher in church when I’m told to stick to the lesson material because I am a creative and good teacher, but I think one of the reason we are warned to keep to the lesson is people are still using these horrible object lessons to make analogies that harm our young people. I have also used the $20.00 bill analogy–I know still an object lesson, but it’s a good one that drives that nothing can diminish our self-worth. (and I so agree that marrying an abusive awful man just because you’re having sex with that person is a terrible compilation of mistakes.)

  35. Meg says:

    When I was a YW, I remember my leaders handing out a poem to us about how every kiss was special and the more we gave away, the less special they were. As ridiculous as this seems, it had a big effect on me and the way I viewed kissing someone. I used to keep count of the men I had kissed and set a limit for myself – that I would only kiss 10 men before my husband. This standard rapidly became ridiculous as I got into my mid-20s and continued to date and still hadn’t met my husband. For me, a kiss can be very telling about how I feel about someone, but I felt anxious about kissing men I was dating for fear of continuing to increase my number. My life was infinitely better when I finally rejected that notion and decided that any man I would want to marry wouldn’t care if I’d kissed 2 men or 100.

    I have since left the church (over Prop 8), and am now in the position of making choices about whether I want to continue living church doctrine. In many ways, I have continued, because it is so ingrained in me. I have put sex on hold because I can’t yet separate out my feelings about premarital sex – how I feel about it (beyond my hormones), what I think God feels about it, and what is related to the shame and anxiety the church instilled in me about “losing my virtue.” I am now focused on being sure of my choice, whatever that is, and not making that choice out of pressure. I think that’s what we should teach our young women and men – that the choice shouldn’t be made based on hormones or pressure from someone or expectations about how that will change or improve a relationship. It should be a reflection of love and trust – and marriage is (hopefully) the ultimate embodiment of that love and trust. I think the emphasis should be on making that choice for the right reasons with the right person. I’m agnostic about whether that is one’s spouse, but certainly I believe it should be in a loving, committed relationship.

  36. Craig says:

    To just add my experience as a male growing up in the church, I know that I was made to feel ashamed of my sexuality, and see it as something dirty and to be controlled. While my experience was significantly different from straight males in the church, I know that as males we were taught to 1) respect women by not robbing them of their virginity and 2) seek after women who had been “pure” and “chaste” and had saved themselves for us – and while that’s incredibly sexist, we were also taught that we should do the same, though I completely agree that practically, (straight) males in the church are given a lot more leeway with their sexuality than women or gays are.

    Even assuming that one wants to promote abstinence, there are much better ways to go about doing it than making adolescents feel guilty for having sexual thoughts or for masturbating. I’m of the opinion that it’s just cruel and practically impossible to expect adolescents to never masturbate, or to approach masturbation as a sin, even if a sin of not being able to control yourself. Not only is masturbation completely normal and healthy, it’s necessary in a lot of ways, and being able to have safe outlets for the incredibly intense sexual feelings and hormones of adolescence and adulthood seems to me to be a good thing if you’re wanting to promote abstinence. \

    The idea that I was brought up with from Packer that if you start masturbating you’ll never be able to stop because you’ve started up your “factory” is completely non-nonsensical and is not based in science at all – and I think the church really needs to get away from the idea that all sex and sexuality is wrong unless you’re heterosexually married and having missionary-position vaginal intercourse – though thankfully that idea is losing ground in recent years. It’s just silly and limiting and damaging to promote that idea or expectation. There are ways to keep “chaste” in the Mormon sense and still have a practical, science-based and positive approach to sexuality.

  37. css says:

    I’ve found that the BEST way to teach about sexuality while encouraging abstinence is by understanding and teaching basic biology. Here are some examples that turn an awkward conversation full of euphemism into an understandable conversation full of clarity:

    a) Children should be taught according to their current developmental level. I.e. A great time to teach about male and female anatomy, sexual abuse and molestation, and pornography is from ages 4-6 when children are still in the black/white rigid thinking stage. Obviously, these conversations would be age appropriate, such as, “Private parts belong only to you and so if you someone tries to talk about, show you, or touch yours they are breaking the rules and should get into trouble. Likewise, seeing pictures of someone else’s private parts is not fair to them and you shouldn’t do it.” Children at this stage will be able to understand these concepts and be aware of them without becoming curious and seeking out more exposure, which can happen if the first time you talk to a kid about these things is during pre-pubescence or puberty.

    b) It is difficult and confusing to explain how sex is bad before marriage and then good afterwards. We need to think about the health of our kid’s sexuality throughout their lives rather than just trying to prevent it for the first 20 yrs or so. Biology helps there too! When children are beginning to notice changes in their bodies it’s a good time to talk about what is physically happening to them. Be sure to include what is also happening in the other sex (many cases of sexual abuse begin because people are completely unaware of the physiology of the opposite sex.) This is a great time to talk about the fact that bodies are designed to give pleasure. That is what makes sex desirable (It is good for women to know and expect that they can and should receive pleasure and to remove some of the guilt from both sexes who think that they are “bad” because of their sexual desires). You should teach your kids about pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, and prevention.

    c) Here is where the abstinence part comes in. Once they are aware and understand what is happening and why, you can then teach them why the church or you as parents encourages them to wait until marriage to have sex. The biological explanation is also helpful. During sex your body releases a hormone called oxytocin which is a bonding chemical and creates a feeling of attachment to the person with whom you are having sex with. If you are married, that attachment continues to grow and grow and is a beautiful thing. If you are not, it is very painful, emotionally confusing, and difficult face a break-up, have multiple partners, or to make clear decisions about relationships when you are becoming physiologically attached to someone that is not a lifelong commitment. Also, this is why masturbating is discouraged because releasing these chemicals alone can result in feelings of loneliness, depression, and even addiction.

    In the end, a biological explanation removes much of the confusion and awkwardness associated with these talks as well as many of the harmful consequences of guilt and shame.

  38. a wanderer says:

    i don’t know if someone has already responded to this, but I can’t let it go unanswered. hcl wrote:

    “But, we are acting like the church leader held a gun to their head and said, “GET MARRIED!” There is still free agency, and this 19 year old made the choice to get married. Clearly the mother thinks that this man is bad for her daughter, but just as clearly is that the daughter feels differently. She clearly does not think that she is making a bad choice.

    And…I think it’s too convenient to blame the church for this one.”

    The church leaders *did* hold a gun to that girl’s head–a gun called eternal salvation. It’s beyond naive to believe that when someone goes into a meeting regarding discipline for perceived sin that their agency is equal to the power wielded by the men in authority. The agency wielded by this girl is puny in comparison to the power of damnation wielded by the men in authority. If this girl believes in the gospel as taught by the church (which is a completely different thing than the gospel of Christ), she’s not going to refuse to do what she’s told she needs to do in order to secure her salvation. And let’s not forget that we’re talking about a young girl (she can hardly be called an adult, even if she technically is one) who is susceptible enough to be in a relationship with such a man in the first place; it’s unlikely she would have the strength to stand up for herself in the face of three men wielding authority. She’s not old enough to have developed enough strength of character to oppose what was clearly such a bad choice that she knew better than to tell her own parents about it; not when it was likely presented as an only option.

    Just another reason I think members should have advocates present when they meet with their leaders. Especially female members meeting with all male leadership. And especially young members who don’t have enough experience to adequately assess the advice given them in such meetings. Any adult with a head on their shoulders could have told this girl that she should not follow through on that advice simply on the basis that she’d had sex with the man already.

  39. Craig says:

    @a wanderer,
    I couldn’t agree more.

  40. D'Arcy says:

    me too. absolutely. thank you for saying that.

  41. djinn says:

    After much internal dissonance, I’ve decided to respond to cwc’s sweet and well-meaning post. Unfortunately, it’s wrong. Oxytocin, if released duing sex is also released during crushes and infatuation, which are difficult to avoid, no matter how far away you stand from the object of your desire.

    Plus, the internally embedded idea that there can only be one true love in one’s life (all that presumed oxytocin release complicating things) gets really disturbingly complicated as we all age and lose partners to divorce or death.

    What does science actually know about oxytocin? It makes women go into labor, and it causes the let-down reflex. All associated with babies. For what it’s worth.

  42. silly, djinn, that is css, not me, cwc. i’m not an abstinence until marriage girl. i’m a whatever good there is to get, get it and feel good girl. well, that is an exaggeration too. i would be lying if i didn’t acknowledge that promiscuity worked very well for me, letting me know what i wanted and what i did not want, in ways that allowed my amazing relationship with my husband to happen.

  43. anon says:

    Craig- you went from saying young adults to children to teenagers. Which age group are you actually talking about? Because its a bit disconcerting to teach children that they *should* be having sex as teenagers. What if they don’t WANT to???

    There is nothing wrong with wanting to wait to have sex until marriage. And there is nothing wrong with encouraging children and teenagers to wait until adulthood and/or marriage either. Everyone is entitled to their own beliefs.

    The point of this discussion is how to encourage this in a healthy and loving manner, that is equal between boys and girls.

  44. Craig says:

    I clearly said that it’s natural and normal and healthy for teenagers to be sexually active with their peers, and that children and young adults (i.e. teenagers and older) need comprehensive sex education.

    I never once said anyone *should* be having sex, ever. It’s always a personal decision, and my point was simply that it needs to be made with as much reality-based (scientific) information as possible.

    My point was that I don’t think abstinence is something we should be preaching or advocating overmuch. But I also don’t think we should tell anyone to have sex either. I think we need to equip people with information and let them make their own decisions.

    Depending on how it’s encouraged, why, and for what reasons, I do think it can be damaging to tell kids they should wait until marriage or even adulthood to have sex – we create a culture of shame and furtiveness when we do that, and decrease the chances that our children will make informed decisions that they inform us about. As long as we’re teaching children to be ashamed of their bodies, their sex drives, and the fact that they are sexual animals, we’re teaching them to lie, hide, and have completely unhealthy ideas about sex.

    Yes, everyone is entitled to their opinion, I’ve not ever said otherwise. I understand the religious reasons for telling kids/teenagers/adults to not have sex until marriage, but when those reasons contradict science, and when advocating abstinence results in not allowing people access to information, I have a problem with it. A religion that cannot reconcile science and reality with its teachings and world-view is a broken religion.

  45. Paul says:

    While the $20 bill object lesson is an improvement over the licked lollipop or chewed gum ones, I prefer the baseball glove lesson. A new baseball glove is nearly worthless for playing baseball. It is more useful after it has been thoroughly broken in. Sex gets better with practice.

  46. Lin says:

    I know this thread was opendend a long time ago, but maybe there are people out there like me that read those old threads and make their own thoughts to it….
    I just would like to say something to Craig. It seems that you put science above everything even above God: “…but when those reasons contradict science, and when advocating abstinence results in not allowing people access to information, I have a problem with it. A religion that cannot reconcile science and reality with its teachings and world-view is a broken religion.” Hopefully you have in mind how often science changes. But God knows more about us and our sexuality and our needs. I learned in my life to trust God. It doesn´t mean not thinking and yousing your own brain, making up your own thoughts, but God is wiser than all of us, and it´s better to keep that in mind. Maybe some leaders in the church use wrong words to explain what is the best for us, but God let this happen maybe to prove our faith…. until science finds out the truth.

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