Chastity pledges, purity rings, abstinence-only education — those are things more common in the US, sure, but a watered-down version does exist here in Canada. And I see a number of very big problems with these things, and the attitudes they spring from, especially since I’m in close contact with the people most affected by them — youth.
Problem 1: It’s Impractical
The first problem with chastity pledges is that they are massively impractical. It’s easy to promise you’ll never do something when you have no concept of what it is you’re giving up. Also? Sex is a biological drive, and in evolutionary terms, we’ve been having sex in our teen years since forever. In the Victorian era, marriageable age was 12 for girls and 14 for boys. Societal standards have only changed in the last hundred years or so, which means that we’ve only recently become prudes. When you consider how hard it is to stay a virgin until you’re married at 15 versus getting married at 25 or 30, well. The problem there is that one societal standard shifted (age at which it is considered normal to marry), but the corresponding expectation (staying virginal until marriage) didn’t.
Problem 2: The Prohibition Principle
By making sex “forbidden”, you’re actually increasing it’s appeal, and thereby the temptation to say “screw it” and break your promise. And those kinds of decisions? Tend to be made in the heat of the moment and result in unsafe sex.
Problem 3: It’s a Lose-Lose System
By setting up sex as something sacred within marriage and forbidden outside of it, those who break their promise get saddled with huge amounts of guilt and shame, which they then feel compelled to deal with on their own rather than risk further stigma by talking to someone who can guide them. This becomes a rather nasty catch-22 when the sex in question results in STIs or unwanted pregnancy. Of course, even on the opposite side of things — when the young person really does wait until marriage before engaging in sex — you still have to deal with internalized shame around sex, the head-spinney rules about what kind of sex is “acceptable” and what isn’t, and the fact that you’re no longer “pure” even if you played by the rules. No matter what happens, people end up feeling like shit for a biological imperative.
Problem 4: It’s Archaic and Patriarchal
See, most of the time, expectations and social condemnation about adolescent sex is directed at women and girls. The peeps who own a Y-chromosome basically get off with a slap on the wrist, if that, while young women who are discovered having premarital sex suffer a disproportionate array of consequences. These can include, but are not limited to: slut-shaming and bullying; social ostracism; being disowned; sexually transmitted infections, both relatively harmless if caught and treated (ex: syphilis, chlamydia) and those that are much, much more serious (hepatitis, HIV); unwanted pregnancy, which can result in further distress from the inability to access safe abortion, forced adoption of the baby, or raising the child alone.
See, women are the ones who are most likely to contract an infection from unprotected sex with a partner. It’s much harder for a woman to pass along an STI to her partners than it is for a man to pass along STIs to his. Women are also the ones who end up with unwanted pregnancies from unprotected (and even protected) sex. But women don’t have sex by themselves. It is impossible for a woman to get an infection or knocked up without help from a (usually male) partner — but we stick her with the burden of responsibility, and all of the judgement when one of those things happen to her. Society tells her that she is a slut, that she’s dirty, that she deserved it because she should have known better. Why don’t men get just as much blame, just as many fingers pointed at them? Why isn’t male sexuality policed as thoroughly as female sexuality is?
Oh, right. Because it’s not fair to tell people what they can and can’t do with their own bodies. Especially when we’re talking about something that is normal, natural, and healthy.
Sex is not the enemy. It is not evil, come to tempt you. It is not good and precious only when had between spouses. Sex is messy, fun, awkward, even beautiful, but it’s definitely not something anyone should be made to feel ashamed of having. Without sex, none of us would be here.
I think this goes without saying, but as we live in a world of rampant asshattery, please allow me to state for the record: this is my intellectual property. As such, please do not copy, circulate, edit, alter, take credit for, or otherwise appropriate this material without my express permission. Thank you.