Monday, November 13, 2017

3 Good Reasons for Abstinence (If None of These Apply to You, Go Ahead and Have Sex)

T-shirt that says "Sex is okay." Image source.
So this is a post about good reasons not to have sex, but it's not going to be like other posts I've read on the subject. Typically, those posts are written from the perspective of "abstinence is DEFINITELY the ONLY right answer for people who are not married. In order to convince you to follow this rule, here are some benefits of not having sex. But it's not really about that- really, you have to follow this because it's the rule. It's totally not acceptable to carefully consider all the items on the list, decide 'yeah these don't apply to my situation' and then be totally justified in choosing to have sex." (I submit to you that this is the definition of legalism.)

I don't believe abstinence is "the right answer." I had sex before marriage, and it was a really good thing for my mental health. (Note, however, that before I had sex, I didn't have sex, for some of the reasons given in this post.) I think sex is a big deal, and people should carefully consider the ideas in this post before making a decision, but it's totally valid for your decision to be "I'm going to have sex."

Also, this isn't just about unmarried people. Typically the "good reasons for abstinence" discussion is assumed to be only for unmarried people, because OBVIOUSLY married people have sex all the time and it's always good and awesome and there is never any risk or any reason not to do it. Uh, right. No. All the considerations I give here also apply to married people.

So here they are. 3 Good Reasons for Abstinence:

1. You Don't Want To

All right so if you don't want to have sex, you don't have to have sex. It doesn't matter if you have a "good enough" reason. You're in charge of your body. You don't have to submit your reasons for others' approval and wait for them to decide if you have the right to say no to sex.

If you don't want to have sex because you think it's a sin, then that's fine. I personally don't think it's a sin- but it would DEFINITELY be a sin for someone to try to force you to have sex by explaining "here's why it's not actually a sin." If you don't want to have sex because, even though you no longer think it's a sin, you still have a lot of shame or fear associated with the idea of sex, then that's fine, you don't have to have sex. If you don't want to have sex because you just don't want to but you can't explain why, that's also a valid reason.

However, "you don't have to have sex if you don't want to" is actually not as simple as that. Your choice to not have sex could have an effect on the relationship. You have the right to not have sex if you don't want to- but your partner has the right to break up with you because of it. And this is going to play out differently depending on how committed the relationship is, how long you've been in the relationship, the expectations that each partner had about sex and whether or not those were communicated, etc.

If a couple waits until marriage to have sex, and then once they try it, one partner realizes they don't like it and actually they're asexual, that could be a huge problem. They would need to renegotiate their sex life and see if they can come to an agreement that's acceptable for both of them. The asexual partner can't just decide "if I don't want to have sex then I don't have to have sex, and this relationship will just continue as normal and everything is fine." Maybe because they value the marriage, they choose to have sex even though they don't really want to. It's not their partner coercing them, it's the situation coercing them. And maybe it's worth it because the rest of the relationship is so good, or maybe it's not and they'd be better off if they split up. (Or have an open relationship.) Things are more complicated than "yes means yes."

And there are other reasons that a married person might not want to have sex with their spouse. Maybe they're too tired. Or they're angry at their spouse that day. If this happens a lot and the other partner is unhappy that they're not having sex enough, then they will need to communicate about how to solve whatever problem is making one partner not want to have sex.

So if you don't want to have sex, then you don't have to. That's true no matter what level of commitment your relationship is at- yes, including marriage. At the same time, though, if you're in a committed relationship where your partner expects you to have sex with them, your decision to not have sex could cause problems in the relationship. You're going to have to communicate about how to handle it.

2. Health Risks

So if, between the two partners, you have all the body parts necessary to make a pregnancy, that's a risk you have to consider. If you don't want to have a baby, then figure out what kind of birth control you want to use, research the effectiveness and side effects, etc. And make a plan for what you would do if you did get pregnant. If you feel the risk of pregnancy is just too high, then maybe it would be a good choice for you to not have sex with a partner with opposite genitals.

Also there is the risk of sexually-transmitted diseases. So educate yourself about that and how to protect yourself.

And this isn't just about unmarried people- if you're married and monogamous, that doesn't mean sex never carries any health risk. If you don't want to get pregnant but don't have any condoms or other birth control on hand, well, better not have sex even though you're married.

Also, doctors say you shouldn't have sex for 4 to 6 weeks after giving birth, or possibly longer if it was a C-section. (Yes, this is a case where married people SHOULDN'T have sex.) Or maybe one spouse is HIV-positive; it's still possible to have sex safely, but you have to educate yourselves about how.

So definitely be aware of the health risks that come with sex. They can be very serious. But if you know about them and are fine with the risk (even the small risk inherent in whatever protection you use), then it's totally fine for you to choose to have sex.

3. Emotional Risks

There are certain emotions that people often feel as a result of having sex. Or as a result of things that need to happen for practical reasons in order to have sex. For example, you have to take off your clothes (or at least some of your clothes) and you may be nervous about letting another person see your body. You would have to trust someone enough before you're willing to do that.

(Or maybe you're not nervous about having a new partner see you naked. That's also fine. Go ahead and have sex.)

In purity culture, they always said that sex is the most emotionally vulnerable a person could ever be, and if someone has sex with you and then breaks up with you, that's the WORST THING EVER because they knew you in the deepest way possible and then they rejected you. In reality, though, having sex with someone doesn't mean you fully know them. (Geez, I WISH. Wouldn't it be great if me and my husband automatically knew each other just from having sex, and never had to deal with any communication problems because we were raised in different cultures on opposite sides of the planet.) And if you break up, it doesn't necessarily mean they're "rejecting you" or making a grand judgment on your worth as a person. Like maybe they don't think you're a bad person, they just broke up with you because there's some aspect of their personality that's not compatible with yours.

But if you feel like "I would need to be married to them in order to feel safe and trusting enough to have sex" then that's fine. Or whatever standard you have for the point at which you feel ready to have sex with this person.

Please note, though, that even people who are married might choose not to have sex with their spouse because of the emotional risk. Maybe their spouse laughed at them during sex one time, and they feel really bad about that. Hopefully they can work together and communicate and get past that problem- but until then, it's totally reasonable that one partner might not be willing to have sex.

Or maybe one spouse wants to try some new and possibly weird sex thing, but they feel too embarrassed to actually say it. Maybe you need more time to get comfortable enough with each other to communicate about things like that. Even though you're married.

Or if you're married but you're having a fight with your spouse. Or maybe they did something bad and you feel like you can't trust them- or it will take some time before you can trust them again. Lots of reasons you might not feel safe enough to be vulnerable with them and have sex. And hopefully it's just temporary and you can work through the problem and then trust each other again.

Being married doesn't mean you're always willing to be totally emotionally vulnerable with each other 100% of the time. You and your spouse will make mistakes and hurt each other sometimes, and it's reasonable that when that happens, the partner who is hurt won't really be feeling like they want to take their clothes off and "make love."

Or maybe you want to have sex because you have some unrealistic expectations of sex solving some relationship problem. (Like "maybe if I have sex with them, they will finally love me" or "maybe if I have sex with them, I'll be able to get over my ex" or basing your self-esteem on your sexual partner's opinion of you, etc.) This could be the case whether you're married or not, and it sets you up for disappointment. So consider your reasons and expectations and whether they're reasonable or not. Be realistic. Be honest with yourself about what exactly you are hoping to get out of it. Sex can be a good thing but it's not some kind of magical fix for all your relationship or mental-health problems.


I believe sex is a big deal. It carries health risk and emotional risk. But believing it's a big deal is not the same thing as believing it should only happen in marriage. If you understand the risks, if you understand your own motivations and what you're hoping to get from sex, if you consent and your partner consents, then there's absolutely nothing wrong with having sex. Regardless of if you're married or not. At the same time, being married doesn't automatically mean you will always be willing to have sex. You still need to consider the risks, and there will be times you can't have sex because a doctor says so or because one partner just doesn't want to.

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