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Rebranding abstinence

By Elisabeth D. Turner Columnist

Former Hofstra University Honors College Professor Donna Freitas recently released a book called The End of Sex, in which she alludes to the message of abstinence that the evangelical community promulgates. In the book, she doesn’t label sex as dirty or bad, and she doesn’t she say that students should wait to have sex until marriage. Yet, nor does she brand the notion of abstinence as pathetic. Rather, she wonders why the term “abstinence” couldn’t be rebranded for our generation in particular.

The term “abstinence” is both political and religious – and equally abhorrent - yet it may, in fact, be worthy of notice, because it places value on the sex act.

For most of us students, sex is a rite of passage. Sex allows us to thrive   because it enables us to understand a person with whom we’ve made a connection on a deeper level.

But it’s also casual, something done without much restraint or consideration for the emotional scars that it could leave. So long as we don’t get pregnant or contract an STD, it’s okay. What happens behind our bedroom doors is our business because our bodies are our own business.

But I wonder, as Ms. Freitas does, if in relegating the act of sex to something so causal, we’ve trivialized its intimacy. We can do it anytime and anywhere. We might deny ourselves because we ran out of condoms, but because we see sex as general and equally pleasurable, and don’t really consider it especial in any way, we’ve contributed to the depreciation of both its value and its beauty.

Abstinence is considered something insulting because we associate it with the denial and suppressing of our desires – the religious right. We see it as barring our ability to express and grow as individuals, to develop romantic tastes. But abstinence shouldn’t mean “no sex.”

Freitas is right in suggesting that the term be rebranded, its negative connotation destroyed. Perhaps, abstinence could simply mean placing value on an act that should be a representation of intimacy, rather than pleasure.

The evangelical community I grew up in views sex outside of marriage as one of man’s greatest sins. The less physical contact one has with another before marriage, the “purer” one would be and thus, more righteous in the eyes of God. But the same community that I grew up in, I’ve realized, wasn’t entirely irrational in its thinking.

Unlike our generation, these people place value on the sex act itself. Sure, they may over-emphasize the concepts of purity, but for them, the sex act actually has meaning because certain boundaries are drawn.

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