How We Talk To Youth About Abstinence

May 28, 2015

AbstinenceThere’s been an article circulating for the past couple of days that really got my attention. It’s called The Damaging Effects of Shame-Based Sex Education: Lessons From Elizabeth Smart, by Kristen Howerton.

I highly recommend you give it a read, but the gist of it is that a person’s worth is not tied to their status as a virgin or non-virgin, and we need to be so careful about the way we teach abstinence to youth. Shame should not be the driving force behind a teenager’s decision to not have sex.

The article got me thinking a lot. I am LDS (Mormon) and was raised that way. I attended church every week and was taught by my leaders that sex was reserved for after marriage and that I should be careful to keep myself “pure” so that I could get married in the temple and ride off into the sunset to have a thousand babies. I don’t remember ever having one of those horrible “no one wants gum that’s already been chewed” lessons, but chastity was talked about often, albeit in a vague sort of way.

All that was super easy until I was about 15 and my family moved from Salt Lake City, Utah to Florence, Italy. It was like being dropped onto a whole different planet. Gone were the days of nervous hand-holding and pecks. Suddenly my young dating life was full of french kissing and turning down sex on a regular basis. And here’s that part that really surprised me.

I wanted to have sex.

Like really.

And I’d had no idea I’d feel that way. From the way I’d been taught at church, I’d thought it would come down to me having to put my foot down when some nondescript boy tried to pressure me into doing things I didn’t want to do. I was completely unprepared for the fact that maybe I’d actually want to do those things, and that maybe I’d really like said boy, and oh great. Hormones. This was my struggle for the next seven years. I cared about my church’s teachings and I really did want to wait for marriage, but I also wanted to have sex. Now. And I had no idea how to reconcile that.

This was seriously tricky business. I had lots of boyfriends, some Mormon, some not, and in almost every relationship it was a struggle. Whenever I felt like things had gone too far I ended up beating myself up about it. I was stuck in this awful cycle: slip up, feel awful, repent. {Rinse and repeat.} At one point I had a church leader tell me that there may be a limit to the amount of times God will forgive us. (Can I just add that I disagree with that wholeheartedly?)

It was a struggle, to say the least. And when my wedding day arrived I was almost as excited to stop living in that cycle as I was to




So what’s my point with all this (besides some ridiculous oversharing)? My point is, I am really grateful that I didn’t have sex until marriage (I felt strongly about it and I think it saved me from a lot of heartache), but I also wish I’d been a whole lot gentler on myself. I think I was afraid I’d make such a big mistake that I’d never come back from it, and the fact of the matter is–that is never true. Ever.

If adult me could sit down raging teenager me and give her some advice I would say this:

Turns out sex is going to be a big deal to you, and even though it isn’t going to be easy, it is going to be okay. It is a great thing to strive to live up to the things you believe in, but you also need to remember that you’re a human (and a teenage one at that), and you are absolutely going to fall short of your own expectations. But guess what? That’s the whole point of being alive.  You’re here to grown and learn, and no matter what choices you make you are valuable in the sight of God. Also, maybe just choose one guy to make out with on prom night. They might compare notes the next morning, and yikes. That could get embarrassing.

So here’s my big message today. No matter what your stance is on sex outside of marriage, and no matter whether you’ve lived up to that or not, you are valuable, no matter what. You are important, no matter what. Do your best to do what you think is right, and then when you fall short, well, remember that’s the point. We are not the sum total of the things we do or don’t do right.

We are so much more than that.


3 thoughts on “How We Talk To Youth About Abstinence

  1. Lisa

    Read this and the referenced article and totally agree. Loved you thoughts. Guilt is a God-given emotion to help us make good choices, but shame is not. Shame is an emotion that comes from a being who wants us to forget our divine worth and give in to darkness. The key is to learn to recognize the difference and also realize that weakness is not sin–Heavenly Father allowed us to have weaknesses on purpose! We won’t become perfect in this life and no matter how “perfect” we try to be, it won’t be enough to save us anyway. We all need grace. So falling short is not really falling short. It’s right where Heavenly Father expects us to be. We just need to be humble enough to accept Jesus Christ as our Savior and have the determination (and understanding of our worth, like you said) to keep trying! A saint is a sinner who keeps on trying. Love that quote. :)


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