I was recently at a Friday night church service and they were mentioning a few upcoming events. One of the upcoming events, aimed at 13-18 year old girls, was called “The Bride Wore White”. I grumbled when I saw it. I must have done this louder than I intended as the friend beside me said “Calm down, T.”
I’d like to take this moment to say I actually don’t go to church very often, so these kind of things stand out to me a lot more than they did when I went regularly. I’d also like to say I have no objection to what you personally choose to do with regard to your own sexual experiences, and do not think any less of anyone who chooses to wait until marriage to have sex.
With that said, this really bothered me. Why? Because I believe pushing abstinence and “wait until marriage” as a message linked to morality is at best ineffective and at worst downright damaging.
I know this because I am one of the many victims of this kind of teaching.
Putting aside for a moment that this kind of thing is targeted at girls and not boys, the thing is many teenagers are going to experiment or people who have been in a relationship for a long time may wish to sleep together. And that’s fine in a safe, consensual, informed environment. And what this kind of teaching does is not take away the desire for teens to experiment, it drives it underground and takes away the “informed” part of the equation. It also drives guilt, and an unhealthy attitude to sex, which may even make it more likely for people to go further than they would if an open, frank conversation with an adult in a position of authority were an option.
Even those who do wait until marriage often then experience sexual dysfunction as they then find it almost impossible to go from “sex and desire is bad” to “sex and desire is now allowed” purely through the exchange of marriage vows. Sure, in theory it’s lovely to wait until marriage and give yourself to one other person and one other person only, but it’s very hard to undo 10-20 odd years of teaching to suppress one’s desires through an exchanging of rings.
Then you get people like me. People who experience massive guilt around sexual desire, and equate it with some kind of moral failing, even though I am a married woman. Who, let’s not beat around the bush, lived with her husband prior to marrying him and therefore did not wait until marriage.
I do believe in teaching young women that sex is something to be taken seriously, something to think about, and something to save for a loving relationship and a safe environment. But I don’t believe phrases like “the bride wears white” do this. I believe they prevent nothing from happening, only drive up guilt and dysfunction when it does.
If you stay abstinent, you run the risk of being left behind as your peers experiment with sex and you don’t. If you start having sex you risk feeling guilt and shame about what you’ve done, or making uninformed choices and ending up with an STI or pregnant. If you wait until marriage you can end up getting married for the wrong reasons far too young, and the divorce rate skyrockets, or can be unable to experience sexual pleasure once you do.
It’s a dangerous game where nobody wins. And our children’s future sex lives are in the firing line.
Of course there are exceptions to this, and I know of people who waited until marriage and have no issues at all. However I believe this is the minority – it’s just that no one wants to admit it.
Linking sexual desire to morality does no one any favours. Open, honest, factual discussion does. Education is the answer, not morality enforced abstinence.
What do you think? Does the push of “No sex before marriage” at young girls bother you?