A small research study recently presented at the American Sociological Association meeting looked at the long term effects of virginity pledging… for men. The study followed a group of religious young men who chose to remain abstinent until marriage, with the support of each other and their communities. The goal was to see what the young men’s lives would be like – before and after marriage. What the researcher found was that while the supportive environment of their church helped the men avoid pre-marital sex, it didn’t help them deal with their sexual lives at all once they began. Once the young men became sexually active, they still felt tormented by unacceptable urges — such as for pornography or affairs. However, even more problematically, they didn’t know how to improve or even assess the quality of their marital sex lives. They didn’t even know how to talk about the topic with their wives. In short, because sex had always been described to them as a dangerous influence, and the only support they had was around abstinence, they didn’t know how to transition to it being a healthy and enjoyable part of their relationships.
There’s nothing wrong with encouraging abstinence, but it’s probably much more helpful to encourage it with information about how to have a healthy sex life once that abstinence ends. That means including information not just about contraception and safe sex but about consent and satisfaction. If sex is going to be a marital sacrament, it should bring pleasure and joy to both parties. That requires information, patience, and practice — not ignorance, paranoia, and fear. People need to be able to talk about sex with their partners, with open eyes and lights on. Hopefully they can then learn to make love that way too.