Abstinence and Delay
As a young person of faith you are likely to have heard the word abstinence. It simply means self denial of something (not just sex). Many faiths teach that followers should abstain from sex until marriage and then remain faithful within marriage.
Other protective factors against early teen sex were:
Teens living in two-parent homes are less likely to have sex earlier than teens living in single-parent or step-parent homes.
Perceived parental disapproval of sex has a strong delaying factor throughout adolescence.
Teens who are more religious are more likely to delay sex.
The combination of academic achievement and sports participation (for girls only) have the strongest delay effect in early and middle adolescence.
In late adolescence, girls with high self-esteem are less likely to engage in premarital sex than girls with low self-esteem.
The more religious the teen and their family, the less likely they were to start having sex early.
So it would seem that being a young person from a faith background could help you to resist the pressures from society, the media and friends to become sexually active before you want to.
The London Borough of Newham may show an example of this theory in practice, as there are huge variants in the rates of teen pregnancy. In areas where there are fewer obviously religious people the teenage pregnancy rates are high e.g. Canning Town and Royal Docks . However in areas where the religious affiliations of people are widespread and clear, the teen pregnancy rates are much lower, e.g. Green Street and parts of East Ham.
Abstinence is the most effective way to protect against STIs or unplanned pregnancy.
To choose not to have sex until you are married and then to stay mutually faithful within the marriage is not only a spiritual choice, it is also a healthy choice. Expect support from your faith community, SRE providers and any health services that you may come into contact with.
Beware of a few things though:
>Some couples don’t intend to have sex but do because they get carried away. If you think you are likely to have sex, be sensible enough to plan it. Talk about it, plan what contraceptive you are going to use and practise safer sex, by using a condom.
>Occasionally young people think that as long as they don’t have vaginal sex it is ok and so may experiment with oral and anal sex. These can easily pass on STIs and occasionally girls have become pregnant because semen can be transferred into the vagina with fingers. There are also added health risks with having anal sex, including easier transmission of STIs, also associated with haemorrhoids, anal prolapse, leakage, ano-rectal pain, ulcers and fissures.[i]
What is delay all about?
Abstinence and delay are similar although people that delay may not abstain until they are married (which is what most people take abstinence to mean). Lots of young people feel under pressure to have sex, either from a partner, peer group or media rather than actually choosing to do it for themselves. Research has shown us that many young people regret and don’t always enjoy their early sexual experiences.
Delaying sex is not abstinence but rather waiting until you are genuinely ready for a sexual relationship, having the power and the skills to say “No” until it is absolutely the right time for you. Having a good opinion of yourself and actually liking and loving yourself is really important. The better you feel about yourself, the more likely you are to make good, healthy, informed choices. Remember, “It’s OK to say NO” and that saying no to sex is not saying no to the person but rather it is saying “I’m not ready yet”.
As humans we all have emotional needs. Delaying sex means finding another way to meet those needs through mutually supportive friendships and exploring intimacy and sensuality in a non-sexual way (see 101 Ways to say I love you).
Sex is not just a physical thing but has overwhelming emotions attached to it. Being ready, means being both physically and emotionally ready to enter into a sexual relationship (see Are you ready?) having thought about contraception and unplanned pregnancy.
[i] Primary Care in Obstetrics and Gynaecology: A Handbook for clinicians By Joseph S. Sanfilippo, Roger P. Smith; p408