Not Until My Wedding Night

Beauty Queen Chooses Abstinence

by Lakita Garth as told to Vanessa Bush

Have I ever been naked in bed with a guy? No. I'm not having sex until I say "I do," which means I do you, you do me, and we don't do anyone else. No ringy, no dingy. I'm 34 years old and a virgin, but not trying to make anyone feel bad, especially the kids I speak to about abstinence.

Lakita Garth

At 34, the former Miss Black America has no plans of surrendering her virginity until her wedding night. She is the author of The Naked Truth, a book about sexual myths.

I grew up in San Bernardino, California, which at one point was dubbed by Money magazine as one of the most dangerous cities to live in the United States. My parents, who are from Alabama, raised me and my four brothers very old-school. They believed in an abstinent lifestyle. By abstinence, I mean mastering the art of self-control and self-discipline, and the delay of self-gratification. I was taught that you cannot master life unless you've mastered those three skills. The message that I always heard from my parents was "Begin with the end in mind."

Sex really wasn't talked about in our house except to say that you shouldn't be having it unless you're married. It was just understood. I also knew my mother would kill me. But I didn't decide to wait to have sex just because my mother told me to. I figured she was supposed to tell me that. What really inspired me to wait was something my grandfather told me when I was 11.

Every summer we used to drive to Alabama to visit my grandfather Walter Long. In the mornings he would disappear for a few hours, and one day I asked him where he went. He said, "I go to talk to my best friend, your grandmother." My grandmother Louise had been dead for four or five years at that point. He was 90 years old and getting up six days a week as the sun was coming up to walk two miles to the cemetery to visit with her. He said he did it because that woman had made him feel as if he could take on the world.

The first time my grandfather ever kissed my grandmother was the day they got married, and they were married more than 60 years and had 12 kids. "I don't know anything else about any other woman," he told me, "and I don't want to. Because Louise, she was the stuff."

I decided that day what I wanted. I had looked around my neighborhood and knew I didn't want to be like the other girls, pregnant and asking, "Where's my baby's daddy?' I wanted what my grandparents had, and I thought about what IT had taken for them to get It.

When I meet a guy, I let him know right away that I teach abstinence education. Ninety percent of the time he'll say, "You know, that's really nice -- it was great meeting you." Or we may have a long conversation, but he's not going to ask me for my phone number. That tells me he was interested in only one thing, so why would I want him? The guys who do stick around either see me as a challenge or are genuinely intrigued with the whole notion of abstinence and want to know more.

I think sisters have to start raising their standards and begin to ask themselves, What is it I really want? Most of us want passion, commitment and intimacy, but we confuse intimacy with intensity. Intimacy is the ability to be completely yourself with another person, to share your hopes and dreams and your biggest fears, and not be afraid that the person will laugh at you or talk about you behind your back.

The reality is that most of us are not getting the intimacy we need, so we're going out there and having sex to find it. Our society expends too much time and energy on sex, and what we see today are the casualties. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, AIDS is the number one killer today of Black women ages 25 to 34. One quarter of new STD cases each year are teens. And a 1997 study found that 45 percent of African-American adults had herpes. These are just the facts.

My biggest opposition doesn't come from the kids. When they hear me talk about abstinence, they realize at once that it's a matter of being practical: Do I really want to get a disease? Do I really want to get pregnant? But adults often think I'm criticizing their morality. Many of them grew up during the sexual revolution, so when they talk to their children they say, "Sex is beautiful; be careful out there."

Sex isn't evil. Sex is wonderful, and we should teach our children to respect it. But we must be consistent. We don't say, "Don't do drugs, but if you do, use a clean needle."

I think we have to model the message. Is everyone going to wait until marriage? No. But that doesn't mean we shouldn't set a standard. It's not that I'm repressed when it comes to sex. I've just trained myself to think differently. My esteem does not come from how desirable a man finds me. I think I'm worth more than that. So I focus my attention on things I value more than sex. I have my work, my friends and my family-my life is full. Sex is just not a priority. For me to be with a guy, he has to share my values. And if he does, then we're not going to put ourselves in a situation in which we're tempted.

There was a guy I could have fallen deeply in love with. We were good friends, and he understood my lifestyle. But I wasn't sure he could be faithful, so I ended the relationship. Later on I found out that I had been right about him. We're still friends today, but I'm glad we didn't stay together romantically.

I do plan to get married, and when I do I'm going to make up for lost time. My husband will be very happy. A talk-show host recently asked me, "How will you know the sex is good'" I told her, "If we don't get it right the first time, guess what? We'll do it again. And we'll just keep doing it again and again until we get it right." If that's the worst consequence of waiting until my wedding night, then I can live with that.

Lakita Garth speaks internationally on abstinence education and is the author of The Naked Truth, a book about sexual myths. Garth, who was Miss Black California in 1995, lives in Los Angeles.

Source: Essence Magazine, "Not Until My Wedding Night," 12/03, p.187.


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