Tuesday, March 27, 2007

The sliding scale of abstinence

I wrote:
Your religious or political views or those of your parents or community may strongly encourage you to avoid sex entirely. In the long run this isn't practical or sustainable. At some point abstinence has to end: complete sexual abstinence at age 26 isn't normal and may end up making you be uptight about sex or rush into marriage before you're ready.

...

Bottom line: abstinence works on a sliding scale. The younger you are the better it is for you to abstain from sex. The older you are the less practical or desirable it is for you to abstain. The tipping point is probably around age 21 or 22.

A reader, -L-, offered criticism by restating my view in this way:


So, please don't follow
your religious or political views. Follow mine. And if you don't and are over 26, you are not normal. In fact, you are a freak.

I don't think I quite said this.

Of course, people should follow their own moral compasses and hold to a belief system that makes sense to them. These beliefs may include sexual proscriptions. No problem there.

The point of my post was that while sexual abstinence is workable for younger ages it becomes more problematic for older ages (past the mid-twenties). This isn't a statement about beliefs. It's a statement about human nature as I have observed it.

Sexual experimentation is a part of the process of maturation. If you miss this part of growing up, it can cause inhibition and anxiety. This in no way makes you a "freak," but it may become an issue that must be dealt with later in life. Abstinence at younger ages doesn't play much of a role here; only when it stretches out significantly past the average age of first sexual experience (about 17 in the US) does it seem to matter.

In addition to the developmental issues, abstinence can create pressure to get married just for sexual purposes. This is a bad motivation for marriage, in my experience.

If I tell you that "eating fast food for every meal isn't normal and may eventually affect your health" I am not saying that you are morally deficient or worthy of scorn. Instead, I'm asserting that that there may be undesirable physical side effects to eating too much fast food. My intent is the same here. People who abstain from sex into their late twenties and beyond may face some side effects.

The word may is important. I did not say, but should, that there appears to be a wide variance in sexual drive. A few people are pretty much asexual. A life without sex works just fine for these folks, but they are the exception.

Should I laugh or cry at the fact that you taught this to your kids?

My kids had their first sexual experiences during their freshman year of college. This is a very typical age for sexual experimentation outside of LDS culture. I never had to talk to them about this issue. I did encourage them to be responsible and sensible in their approach to sex, and I think they have done this. They are well adjusted, have dated appropriately and have had longer-term boyfriends and girlfriends. Eventually I expect they will find excellent partners to marry. Their previous sexual experience will help them in selecting a mate. It will give them confidence and perspective.

I've given the advice to other young people that they should abandon abstinence. These young people have been older than my kids by quite a bit, in their mid and late twenties. Graduates of BYU, the young people I'm thinking of had a lot of sexual issues and anxieties. I would characterize them as significantly behind my kids in social and sexual maturity. It was as if the practice of abstinence had delayed their maturation. This is hard to describe but was quite real. I offer it as a data point.

I should also point out that I personally opted for abstinence as a young person. It caused a lot stress. I had the usual religious guilt over masturbation and sexual thoughts. It wasn't fun. I think my kids have it much better than I did. They have a lot less stress and anguish over sex than I did. Maybe I led them astray. I don't see it; in fact, I think the relaxed attitude toward sex helped their academic and social achievement precisely because they were not anxious or guilty about sex. I wish I could have all the hours back that I spent as a young person needlessly worrying about sexual issues. It was a big waste of time and set me back.

I hope I can post this in MoHo space with a reasonable tone. I certainly respect those whose views and life experiences about this differ from my own.

15 comments:

playasinmar said...

Didn't Brigham Young say, "Any young man who is unmarried at the age of twenty one is a menace to the community."

It might be implied that the unmarried menace is a virgin.

Scot said...

"It might be implied that the unmarried menace is a virgin. "

Or gay ;-)

-L- said...

As far as tone goes, I should confess that I first left a comment with the misunderstanding that you had been quoting a pamphlet or something of that nature in your post. I'm usually much less antagonisitic to individuals. But when I realized it was actually what you had personally written, I decided not to temper my criticism because I find what you wrote to be absolutely appalling (and you are welcome to tell me when your assessment of my words is something similar!).

To say someone is abnormal is entirely different than to say they are unusual. The connotation is closer to "freak" and that's certainly what I would anticipate a less "well adjusted" youth to read in to such a statement. I'm not surprised your children were not bothered by your counsel, but what message did it send to them about their peers? What does it teach them about tolerance and diversity? Your bias about the futility and harm of abstinence is based on your own experience and your perceptions of a few young people you've known (that you can't quite put into words). It's fine for you to give your own opinion based on your own experience, but when you make judgments about the validity of others who believe differently than yourself, you become intolerant. I was a virgin past 26 and I managed it quite well, actually.

Chris said...

I'm not surprised your children were not bothered by your counsel, but what message did it send to them about their peers? What does it teach them about tolerance and diversity?

L, presumably what MoHo teaches his children about tolerance and diversity extends beyond what we have read in this post alone.

But it is an interesting question. What do you intend to teach your children about sex and sexuality and the choices we make about them--and what will it teach them about tolerance and diversity?

-L- said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
-L- said...

Chris, this post is all the information I have available to me about what he taught his kids. I have no doubts he supported the idea of tolerance (most gays do), but it is unwittingly supporting intolerance toward conservative folks that I intend to point out and battle whenever I see it (as well as toward gays).

Chris said...

L:

Chris, this post is all the information I have available to me about what he taught his kids.

No, it's not. He's written quite a bit about his family and children, and there are certainly things to be extrapolated from those posts. I think you were more interested in scoring a rhetorical point.

I have no doubts he supported the idea of tolerance (most gays do), but it is unwittingly supporting intolerance toward conservative folks that I intend to point out and battle whenever I see it (as well as toward gays).

I see you point out the intolerance of conservative points of view all the time. I rarely see you challenge the intolerance of gays.

Moreover, when I read MoHo's views, I see one man's opinion based on experience, and not claiming to be anything other than that. The conservative points of view you often protect claim the sanction of God--and posits that gay people are at best defective and at worst, sinful. This tolerance thing cuts both ways.

Why should anyone tolerate intolerant points of view?

MoHoHawaii said...

I need to ask my kids what they think of people who remain abstinent into their mid-twenties and beyond. I'm guessing they will say, "Yeah, whatever floats your boat." My kids grew up with first cousins who were active LDS and who ended up at BYU. My kids definitely know about the law of chastity as understood by active Mormons. I know for a fact that they like their cousins a lot, so I'm guessing there's no ill will or prejudice. (My dastardly plans for indoctrination - foiled again!)

I have heard the sexual histories of many people in my life, and I'm here to tell you that for the people I know long-term abstinence has, except for asexuals, generally caused problems. And unhappiness, let's not forget that one, too. It caused problems for me. You can believe me or not. That's fine. You can compare what I say with your own experience. Fine. We can even disagree. Great, let's go have a beer (or red punch) and be friends.

playasinmar said...

[quietly tiptoes into conversation and sits mildly with hands folded]

I appreciate your activism and idealism, -L-.

I appreciate your honesty and POV, MoHoHawaii.

I think meeting and sharing a beer/red punch is a good way to proceed. Perhaps we can meet halfway in a raft somewhere in the pacific?

Chris said...

We could have Red Hook, which is both beer and red. Cheers!

-L- said...

I'm all for having a... umm, beverage, and being friends. :-) But the issue is still there, if you're still interested in discussing it.

If you believe blacks are pretty universally criminals--just based on personal experience, of course--does that justify such a generalization? Abstinence has enormous public health benefits (that have been measured) and discouraging it by describing an indistinct character deficiency or through a dismissal of an individual's religious or political views as not "practical or sustainable" is just plain bigoted sounding to me. I don't think it's conscious on your part, but no less wrong. So, based on your sliding scale, Mother Teresa would have nearly a century of abstinence's worth of immaturity, dysfunction, and social awkwardness?

Chris, your comment speaks less to the issue and more to your own rage and unresolved issues with having left the church. I didn't bring religion into this at all, and you know well enough from reading my blog that I'm concerned with bigotry toward anybody. The fact that there have been few gay-bashing barbs on these gay-written blogs we have in common shouldn't be such a shocker. I have a conservative slant and I think that's been evident from the start, but my aim has always been promoting greater tolerance and better understanding in all directions. Your off topic barbs underline your partisan (rather than rational) approach. If you want to go ahead and defend bigotry and then turn around and wave your finger at the church to make yourself feel justified... well, you'll just make yourself absurd.

Playa, you crack me up. :-)

Chris said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Chris said...

Chris, your comment speaks less to the issue and more to your own rage and unresolved issues with having left the church.

Wow, you're reading a lot into my comments, L. I didn't mention the LDS Church once in my posts, but your armchair psychoanalysis was interesting.

Though I certainly went through a period of anger, I'm mostly indifferent to LDS Church. It plays almost no role in my life these days. And, actually, if you read what I have written about the LDS Church on my blog lately, it's actually a reflection on the positives of my Mormon experience.

But whatever. While I'm curious to know where I have defended bigotry in this discussion, you and I are way past being able to communicate with each other.

MoHoHawaii said...

Here's the PowerPoint version:

1. There is a thing called socialization. It is a process of human development. It develops skills that allow a person to interact well with others.

2. Adolescent sexual experimentation is a normal part of socialization.

3. If for whatever reason, including but not limited to religious prohibition, a person manages to exit young adulthood without this experience, there may be a negative effect on social function.

4. There are people known as asexuals for whom sexuality is not an important part of life. Items 2 and 3 may not apply to them or apply to a lesser degree than for others.

5. This is what I've observed in myself and in others. Your experience may or may not agree with mine, and I respect that. In particular, I respect your religious belief and the view of the world that may result from those beliefs.

6. I couldn't possibly speculate about Mother Theresa's sexuality. However, Christopher Hitchen's book about her scared the pants off me.

Thank you. Refreshments have been provided in the Cultural Hall.

(I leave the graphics and transition effects of the slides to your imagination.)

Chris said...

So, based on your sliding scale, Mother Teresa would have nearly a century of abstinence's worth of immaturity, dysfunction, and social awkwardness?

I don't know that I'd be pointing to the Catholic Church for examples of how well celibacy works. Just sayin'.