Monday, November 17, 2003


Abstinence is the policy of the current U.S. government, when it comes to social ills such as Aids and teenage pregnancy. I think that it's a wonderful idea; it should be a lifelong vow for all its proponents. Maybe that way the U.S. would some day get a sensible government.

Don't get me wrong. I think that abstinence is a valid choice in sexuality, and it has many benefits. But it is a very difficult choice, and to imply that it isn't is cruel. Now, I wasn't much for abstinence as you may have noticed. My children (and what a bunch they are!) were fathered by all sorts of creatures. It was fun, on the whole.

And that's the problem with abstinence; you need to abstain from sex to achieve it, and sex is fun. Eating is also fun, and look at the size of the people in this country. "Just say no". Yessss, but... The spirit may be willing, yet the flesh is, as ever, weak.

History is a good teacher about the possibilities of abstinence in sex among the general population. Abstinence doesn't win very many contests here, I am afraid. People are created to be sexual creatures, and fighting that is fighting a basic instinct. At least the government should admit that this is true.

Children are too young for sex, in my divine opinion. They don't need it to complicate growing up, which is hard enough as it is. It's a good idea to encourage children and teenagers not to engage in sex too early. But to tell the vast populations of AIDs sufferers in Africa that abstinence is the best policy? To spend one third of the U.S. new funding on AIDS there on abstinence education? Or to try to make American schools stay silent about contraception? Whom do these policies benefit?

In some African countries it is believed that making love to a virgin can cure AIDS. In many African countries women have very little or no choice about whether to engage in sex or not. How can they be abstinent even if they wish to? In some Sub-Saharan countries the number of condoms in circulation is enough for one condom per man per year. Are all the men there going to have sex only once a year? I doubt it. I'm old and I have seen it all, but I have never seen abstinence work on any widespread scale.

And what about the teenagers who don't receive contraceptive information at school? What if they decide to have sex anyway? What if they have parents who believe in 'abstinence only' policies, too? What will happen to these children?

An interesting twist in the abstinence discussion is the return of the bridal gift thinking: the idea that a woman gives her virginity to her husband when she marries. She has saved it for him until then. It's not clear what he has saved for her, if anything.

In any case, the bride is supposed to say, on the wedding night:"Look, hon! See what I've got here! It's all unused and unopened, and all for you!" How nice. Especially as it stops any sexual comparisons of the groom with prior boyfriends and reinforces the idea that a woman's virginity is her most valuable attribute, yet not really hers. If I had a virginity to save, I'd save it for me, not any future beau I might glue my divine eye on.

If the 'abstinence only' policy wasn't so tragic in its likely consequences, it would be a rather fun spectacle to watch. We goddesses do get bored over the millennia, and at least these repeated human follies give us something to write about.

A postscript: It seems that the Bush administration applies the principle of abstinence to auditing the books of faith-based organizations receiving funds from the government, but lapses in this quite inexplicably when it comes to organization which advocate contraceptive education in addition to sexual abstinence.