Abstinence in Today's World

Deciding to abstain from sex, either until marriage or until you are in a long term, committed relationship, is often easier said than done. While abstinence is still the best way to avoid an unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases (also known as sexually transmitted infections), in today's culture it seems as though sex is everywhere. And this can make it difficult to wait until you are ready to become sexually active.

There are many different social forces at play than can challenge a person who has decided to be abstinent. Recognizing them can help you better decide how to deal with obstacles that you may encounter in the future.

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Sexual Peak
It is perfectly normal for females and males to become sexually curious during their teen years and into their twenties. In the past, though, people married at a much younger age which meant that remaining a virgin until marriage involved putting off sex for only a few years. Today, youth are encouraged to finish high school, go to college or university, start a career and save some money all before they get married. People who have decided to abstain from sex until marriage could be looking at as much as 15 years or more between the onset of puberty (when you become sexually curious) and marriage (when you finally get to fulfill that curiosity). For some, the answer to this problem is marrying young. It can be hard to resist the pull of hormones over personal resolve.

A Long Marriage
In generations past, courtships and engagements generally did not last that long. Of course, that has all changed today since individuals often like to be "established" before they get married. Relationships can last years before an engagement occurs and even then it can still be a year or more before a wedding actually happens. In some cases, couples who had originally planned to wait until marriage may feel that there is no point in waiting once they are engaged and the wedding day draws nearer. If you had originally planned to wait until marriage before you had sex but are considering otherwise now that you are engaged, it is important to consider how you would feel if the wedding were to be called off.

Living Together
Today, many couples decide to move in together before marriage. In some cases, this is for financial reasons as two people splitting the bills is cheaper than one. For others, living together is a natural progression in a committed relationship. One consideration people need to make, though, is what happens if the relationship does not work out; how will you feel if you have had sex but do not stay with this person? Another issue for people who are looking to stay celibate until marriage is how difficult they think it will be to remain abstinent until marriage if they are living with their partner.

No Pregnancy Worries
While fear of pregnancy was once a deterrent from sex for many young people, today's wide availability of contraceptives has made it easier for individuals to prevent a pregnancy from occurring. Although the various birth control methods are not perfect and can fail, many young people have access to abortion or emergency contraception to deal with an unwanted pregnancy. Because of these factors, many do not understand why a person would want to put off having sex. If you have decided to be abstinent, you will need to examine your own feelings on the issue of pregnancy and how it relates to your choice to put off having sex.

Sex Society
It seems as though everywhere you look these days, there is sex: in television advertisements and shows; movies; magazine; billboards; even on the radio. While these mediums present sex as fun and inconsequential, rarely are the realities of sex, like pregnancy, birth control and sexually transmitted diseases, mentioned. In addition to seeing it everywhere, people, especially teens, often seem to be preoccupied with sex. As a result, it can appear as though everybody else is doing it except for you, the person who has decided to remain abstinent. This is often the biggest source of pressure to "just do it". If you feel pressure, remind yourself of why you have chosen abstinence and evaluate how you feel about abstinence in relation to these other pressures. And remember: while teens may talk big, the reality is that only half of all teens have had sex.

Religious Emphasis
Not all religions encourage sex to occur only within marriage. For example, while the Catholic, Evangelical, Baptist and Pentecostal churches believe that sex should be saved for marriage, people who belong to a Unitarian, Buddhist or Jewish faith usually do not have this same emphasis. If your beliefs on abstinence are inline with your religion, it may be easier to draw strength and support from your religious peers and leaders. If your beliefs are not emphasized within your religion, consider finding a role model outside of your religion with whom you can talk to and receive encouragement from.

Been There, Done That
People who have already had sex may think that it is too late to decide to be abstinent. But having sex once (or even many times) before does not mean you have to keep having sex. Whether you thought that you were ready to have sex but now realize that you aren't, don't care to have to worry about pregnancy, birth control and sexually transmitted diseases or had an unwanted sexual experience (i.e. rape), it is perfectly acceptable to decide to be abstinent after you have already had sex.

To learn more, read about the sexual issues teens, singles and married couples face in Responsible Sexual Choices and You.

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