Every soul is valued in God’s eyes.
Obviously with all the press buzz surrounding the recent speech that Elizabeth Smart made, the discussion on abstinence-only sex education and self-worth have come up, a lot. So I wanted to discuss my thoughts here. And I would love to engage in a discussion with you and hear your thoughts as well. I simply request you do so in a civil manner. I also want to say I really appreciated all your comments on my previous post on these very topics.
I personally believe in an abstinence only approach to sex education. And I also believe that the parents should be the primary instructor and resource when it comes to information about sex.
However, let me be clear, I do not believe that abstinence only should be tied to guilt and a fear of damnation. I understand that that fear is very real and has a lot of power to keep young people from doing many things. But I don’t believe that it is the right approach.
Young people, every single person, needs an understanding that their moral purity is not tied to their worth. Every soul is valued. Every person is of great worth, period. I think when we entangle value and sexual purity (or even sexual promiscuity) we create a host of problems. Sex and worth should never be tied together.
I do believe that young people should choose abstinence before marriage and complete fidelity after because it is the right thing to do, it keeps families tied together, and because of their love for the God that created them and gave them everything. I am also not so naive that I think every young person will abstain from sex because of those reasons. But I believe when their worth in life (this seems especially strong for women) is so directly connected to them being perfectly morally clean, that they will only have a negative attitude towards abstinence (and even sex). With this approach, any slight offense (even kissing too passionately) could throw them off the path of virtue, and with their only value lost, have no where else to go but down. The despair and hopelessness of this attitude is so damaging.
When a person’s value becomes tied to anything, especially sex, it becomes a commodity to trade to the highest bidder. And depending on what a teen feels they are lacking (which will often be worth in their mind), and who can offer that to them (even a counterfeit version of worth), they will trade their virtue for it. But when a young person has that worth built in, sex, purity and virtue are not commodities. And there is no need to trade.
We simply cannot tie worth to anything, especially sex. Our children need this gift, this right to be given to them freely, no strings attached. They need to understand that their worth is inherent to them as a human being, as a child of God.
Which is why I believe it is so important for parents to step in and teach their children the value of God’s ways, which also includes mercy.
I don’t believe in a God who only sees us as valuable if we are sexually pure. Or a God who is quick to damn us for a mistake, and certainly never for a crime committed against us (rape, molestation, sexual abuse). And this is why alongside teaching abstinence, I believe it is critical to teach about the atonement, over teaching guilt.
When my mother was young, she was molested. And for years she experienced intense guilt over it. It stewed and festered inside her and she had negative feelings about sex.
I didn’t know that she had been sexually abused until about four months before she died and years after being married. I was sitting with her on the couch and she had gotten snappy with my dad over something. I assumed it was the cancer talking. But that day I asked, “Mom do you love dad?”
That’s when she told me that she had been molested. And how because of that, sex and affection had been hard for her, her whole life. (She did say she loved my dad too.) I began to understand. Many questions throughout my life were answered in that moment. My mom had spent years feeling less than because of what happened to her. And sadly, an unintentional byproduct of her abuse was passing along feelings of “less than” to her children.
Growing up I felt guilt over everything. And most especially I felt guilted into not having sex. And while the method worked, the fear of damnation and guilt that weighed on me (even though I hadn’t done anything) separated me from God. Those feelings created a distance between me and understanding God’s love. I don’t think I could have survived a situation like Elizabeth Smart’s. It would have crushed my spirit, because I didn’t understand at a young age that I had value no matter what.
But what if my mom had understood at a young age that being violated and robbed of something so sacred did not damn her? I think things would have been very different. I think guilt wouldn’t have been a dominating force in her life, and it then wouldn’t have been in her children’s life as well.
I believe that it is through the power of the atonement that we can feel our value in the eyes of God. Because it is through the atonement that we become whole (even on a daily basis). The atonement is not just reserved for those who make mistakes, it has room for all of us who experience hurt, heartache and pain. We need to feel whole and of worth as humans, and the atonement offers us that. Which is why young people need to be taught about the healing power of the atonement.
I also think if young people had a greater understanding of the sacredness of sex and the power that brings us closest to being gods (creating another human being) they would approach abstinence with a different attitude.
Beyond the spiritual power of intimacy to bind a married couple to one another, there are the emotional ties created when each person gives freely of themselves to the one they love. But when we are plagued with feelings of guilt, we hold back, and we don’t give all of to our spouse.
Another part of the reason I believe so strongly about abstinence (+ the atonement) is because we lose that connection, that great power to bond a couple joined by God when we become casual about sex.
As I mentioned in a previous comment, I don’t believe that creating a high expectation for young people to remain morally clean is a bad thing.
Why is that we so readily accept the laws of the land, and look at the laws of God as just suggestions? Most young people would not drive a car before they are legally able. But when God commands that the procreating powers of intimacy be saved for marriage, we look the other way.
But then, I don’t look at God’s commandments as restrictive. I see them as a way to provide us safety and peace.
Even if you exclude religious reasons for abstinence before marriage, it still makes sense. Teens are not mature or fully developed enough to handle the emotions that sex bring with them, especially when most of their sexual encounters will not produce a permanent relationship. I don’t even think adults can handle the emotions of going from partner to partner. I went from being married to one man, to being married to another and it was difficult to adjust and cope with the feelings that come with intimacy.
Along with the emotions are health reasons. There are diseases, unwanted pregnancies and even abortions that come from not abstaining from sex before marriage. And families are torn apart when there is not complete fidelity after marriage.
When it comes teaching children about sex, I acknowledge that many parents just will not provide their children with adequate information. Perhaps they were abused like my mother, and it is simply too painful for them. Or maybe they just don’t have the information they need to teach. But, all those reasons aside, I strongly believe the responsibility still falls on the parents to teach their children about the sacredness of sex, help them see their inherent value and instruct them in the power of the atonement to heal them and make them whole.
I do think there is value in allowing schools to continue to teach sex ed. I do think they should focus primarily on the biology of sex. Because I felt my information about sex was inadequate, in college I took a human sexuality class. We did not discuss whether sex before marriage was right or wrong. We covered anatomy, we discussed diseases, we went over pregnancy and birth. We even talked about different psychological research about sex and from different standpoints. The teacher did not offer her opinion, she simply presented the facts, she presented opposing viewpoints and allowed us the chance to think for ourselves.
Teaching children in schools in a similar fashion (with age appropriate material) is not impossible. And if they have questions they can come home and ask their parents, which provides a chance for child and parent to openly discuss sex in a safe environment.
Sex education isn’t a one time deal either. Parents should be talking to their children about sex from the time they are small (again, age appropriate information), and throughout their lives. It should be an ongoing conversation. And we should be looking for opportunities to teach.
This is a difficult subject, I acknowledge, because we can talk about great ideas and the value of parents teaching their children about sex, but I know not all of them will. I do hope that more parents in this generation will than the generation before. If we can be just a little better than our parents, and our children a little better than us, then we are on our way to being a better society.