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.