by COSMY PELLIS
A friend recently reached out to me with some very kind words and insight about this column. That friend was Molly Avery, a senior English major with a creative writing concentration, who I am lucky to know from creative writing classes.
“I think your sex column is amazing, and I’m so glad it exists. Like other people have said in [practicum journalism] class, my education was basically abstinence (they actually wouldn’t let us leave to go to lunch one day until we signed an abstinence pledge promising to remain abstinent which is super f*cked up when I look back on it), and I had to learn a lot from the Internet. I’m really glad there’s this resource now though for others who need to learn.”
I want to thank Molly and all readers for your trust and vulnerability this semester. I also wanted to explore the topic that is raised in her message: abstinence.
In my opinion, forcing children to comply to abstinence—before they even fully know what sex is—is not ethical. It fosters a fear of one’s own body and creates a notion of purity that has more negative effects for women than it does for men.
Like all other personal decisions, abstinence should be a choice. However, in order for it to be a choice, it can’t be taught to children in accordance with their sex education. An educational approach makes it difficult for children to separate the two concepts of sex and abstinence. They automatically think that sex is “bad” without even having the tools to understand what it is, its implications or the emotional aspects of sex.
Molly said her experience was in seventh grade at a public school in Fauquier County.
“I think I was 12 at the time,” she said.
Looking back, I’m not too surprised. When I learned about periods along with the other girls in my fifth grade class, the boys in our grade got to go play dodgeball. The Virginia public school system’s approach to sex education is deeply flawed—it teaches young girls about sexual topics before boys, and it avoids the fact that some students will have sex despite being told to be abstinent. These students need actual information in order to have safe sex, and this information shouldn’t be taught differently based on students’ gender. One of the reasons that teaching abstinence is problematic is the separation of genders for these sex education discussions. This educational approach also doesn’t acknowledge any gender identities or sexualities that are not cis or straight.
All of this being said, I find that abstinence can be really powerful and healthy when it’s a personal choice, rather than something someone feels pressured into. Some Christians remain abstinent until marriage in accordance with their religion and to honor their future spouse. I think this is beautiful, and I think it’s a great choice for people who prioritize their religion as a main part of their life.
Abstinence is also not just for people who are waiting for marriage. You can choose to be abstinent at any time, for any reason and for any amount of time. It’s all about what works for you and what you think is best for yourself.
Let’s talk about some reasons why abstinence might be right for you. If you feel like sex is distracting you and you need some time to truly focus on yourself and school, maybe celibacy could be something to consider. It can also be a smart decision if you feel like your mental health is suffering due to a toxic sexual partner or sex that’s unhealthy in any way. If sex is not making you feel good, taking a break could give you time to clear your head and evaluate what you want from your sex life.
Another reason some people choose to be abstinent is because they’re healing from trauma or working through grief. Many people experience a lower libido during times like this, and being celibate allows time to process and heal with your support system. If you find yourself in this type of mental space, taking time to focus on your emotional health could be a beneficial choice.
Abstinence can also be smart if you’re looking for a romantic relationship and want to reserve sex for one particular person. This isn’t to say that casual sexual partners can’t turn into romantic ones, but if you don’t see that happening, celibacy could make sense. Additionally, if casual sex just isn’t what you want any more, is hurting your mental health or you think you want more of a romantic connection, abstaining from sex can help you switch your mindset. Focusing on yourself is crucial to being in a healthy, independent mental space, especially if you do meet someone who you want to pursue romantically. Your mental health is especially vital when entering a relationship.
Whether you choose abstinence until marriage, a period of celibacy, sex within a romantic relationship or more casual sex, what’s most important is how your sex life makes you feel. Finally, try to recognize and evaluate pressures to abstain or engage in sex. Both are valid choices, and they can be healthy and fulfilling for you if you pursue them in a mentally, physically and emotionally safe way.
The choice to have sex or not is deeply complicated and personal. Thank you for allowing me to open up a bit this past semester and give some advice about a topic that I didn’t originally realize could still be so taboo. This column started from a personal desire to share my ideas, which was backed up by a series of vulnerable conversations with my fellow editors, and it ultimately came to fruition because I felt like the students on this campus needed access to a more open dialogue about sex. As students started to feel comfortable asking questions—as well as thinking about their bodies and sexualities —“The Talk” evolved into something I felt compelled to write. Thank you so much for your trust; writing this column has been a transformative, inspirational experience.