As someone who was all but completely celibate throughout high school and this was not at all by conscious choice,
I can tell you that I often found it frustrating to deal with the fact
that a lot of teenagers were under- or mis-informed about safer sex,
that a lot of teenagers were sexually active, and that a lot of
politicians and think tanks believed in stanching teenage sexual
activity entirely. I was fourteen when I started listening to Loveline
(though I didn’t always agree with Dr. Drew) and it began my path of
sex-pertise (as it were). I was eager to get informed. I discovered
Scarleteen in my junior year of high school and happily perused the
site, but at the same time, I’d wonder:
Why am I getting informed about something that’s relevant to everyone else but not to me?
After all, a little less than half of 15-19 year olds have had sex at least once. But if you’re not among those getting laid…nothing you read here can be relevant to you, right? Wrong.
In my case, my state of celibacy came with a bunch of unhealthy
thoughts – what’s the matter with me? Am I in a special class of social
pariahs? I must be the only one who’s more than willing to have sex but
still not having it. I mean, throw in the fact that I’m a girl and that
gender stereotypes abound, and that it’s boys who have the monopoly on
sexual desire and my gender was supposed to be the jealously guarded
keeper of the keys. Here I was breaking that stereotype, and was it not
any boy’s dream come true? So why weren’t they lining up to get with
me? I was especially unattractive. QED.
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You might already see something wrong with that line of thought. If not, I’ll spell it out.
You’re not unattractive. You’re not the only one who’d love to be
hooking up with someone but you’re not. And it’s not – I repeat, not –
the case that heterosexual girls should automatically have a bevy of
potential hookups and if they don’t, that something’s wrong with them.
This bears repeating. Being sexually active isn’t necessarily a mark
of being sexually desirable, and nor is being up for hooking up, but
potential lovers don’t seem or aren’t interested, a mark of being
sexually undesirable. Besides, chances are, you won’t be
celibate for the rest of your life. And whether you engage in partnered
sex at age 16 or 25 or 60 or heck, never, you’ll need to know how to be
safe about it.
Not being sexually active does not exclude you from comprehensive sex education.
(Know too, that there’s more to sexuality than just what you do with
others. There’s masturbation, values, body image, relationships both
romantic and non-romantic.)
This is why I’m not a fan of the line, "Don’t have sex but if you must, then know how to use a condom." I realize that it’s a logical fallacy
but it still feels like there’s an implication that if you’re not
sexually active, then all information is moot, as if the phrase
excludes teens who aren’t sexually active. I’d like to see that phrase
changed to, "Whether you do or don’t have sex and whether you start now
or later or never, you should not be ignorant about safer sex. This
information is crucial no matter what."
I actually believed in abstinence until marriage for a while. But
even then – especially then, because my beliefs were intrinsic, and
appeals to consequences made it seem like waiting wasn’t good simply
for its own sake – it rubbed me the wrong way when teachers said,
"Don’t have sex because that can lead to pregnancy." I mean, let’s do a
thought experiment where some form of birth control (not abstinence)
exists that’s 100% effective against both pregnancy and any and all
STIs to boot. All bets are off then? All reasons to wait for sex are
completely obviated? No? So there are more compelling reasons to wait
to have sex than pregnancy or STIs? Then why the fear that learning
about safer sex will lead to action? Knowing does not mean doing.
Besides, I find that fear is a poor basis for sexual choices all around.
And this brings us full circle. Do not buy into stereotypes. You are
not some sort of freak if you haven’t slept with someone yet, and you
cannot assume that you’ll be abstinent forever. Most importantly of
all, honest, accurate, unvarnished sexual education does not exclude
Abstinence does not mean ignorance.