SEX AND SINGLES: REASONS TO WAIT
By: Paul C. Reisser, M.D.
One crisp October evening college senior Justin Case brought his new girlfriend, Lucy, home to meet the family. During dessert the conversation turned to an upcoming student body event, “Safe Sex Week,” which Justin had helped plan. “People will be walking around campus with condoms pinned to their lapels,” he chortled until he noticed Lucy’s raised eyebrow, his parents’ disapproving glare and the questioning look from his 8-year-old sister, Prudence.
“Hey,” she asked, “what’s a lapel?”
If Prudence is like most 8-year-olds, by the time she reaches puberty she will not only know far more about condoms than lapels, but she also will have heard endless repetition of the following sexual messages:
1. If you are not having sex regularly, something is desperately wrong with you.
2. If you’ve had a few dates with someone and there is mutual attraction, sex is usual and customary.
3. If you’re postponing sex until marriage you must be either a social catastrophe or a religious fanatic.
4. Since sex unrelated to marriage is normal, natural, expected, and inevitable, it is very, very, very, very, very important not to leave home without a condom.
5. Sex is good and fun and satisfying, and since there can’t be too much of a good and fun and satisfying thing, then sex is OK any which way with whomever – as long as there is mutual (or group) consent, no one gets pregnant unless she wants to, and no one gets hurt.
Sex is indeed wonderful, and powerful, and important – but it can also bring disappointment, disease and disaster. It is too great to squander, too potent to toy with, and definitely not a good thing to die for.
As a family physician, I have seen too many people who thought “it can’t happen to me,” but are now miserable because of the consequences of sexual mistakes. So I want to set forth an idea which might sound radical in the 1990s, but which makes ultimate sense:
The key to great, truly liberated sex is waiting for the right person, the right place and the right time: holding out for a permanent relationship, committed in marriage, and sexually exclusive.
WAIT FOR SEX UNTIL MARRIAGE! ARE YOU CRAZY??
No.. just the opposite. Having multiple sexual relationships, whether one at a time or all at once is a game of genital Russian roulette. No one expects to lose, but too many do. Consider the following:
Thirty years ago the average boring high school health education class discussed only two sexually transmitted diseases (or STDs): syphilis and gonorrhea. These were described as potentially hazardous but nothing a little penicillin couldn’t vanquish if treated in time.
The sexual playground of the 1960s and 1970s has now become a jungle teeming with exotic, dangerous and often incurable infections.
GONORRHEA has become leaner, meaner and widely resistant to penicillin. It can create pelvic infections in women, both low grade or red hot, causing damage ranging from scarred tubes to complete destruction of the reproductive organs.
SYPHILIS, which had declined to the point of becoming an STD relic of sorts, has now made a sensational comeback, occurring at a frequency not seen since the 1940s. Untreated, it can lead to serious damage of the brain or heart (among other things), or even death.
CHLAMYDIA is estimated to have infected 30 to 40 percent of sexually active young adults. In women it can quietly damage the fallopian tubes and thus prevent pregnancy altogether, or cause a dangerous ectopic (misplaced) pregnancy, which requires emergency surgery to correct.
Then there’s another contingent of STDs – those caused by viruses – that have a disturbing habit: once on board they never get off. In fact, they may even sink the ship.
HERPES SIMPLEX has infected at least 25 percent of sexually active adults. Its blisters may be a mild nuisance or a major disruption as they come and go and come and go and come… for years. Two out of three newborns who pick up a herpes infection from their mothers at birth will die, and most of the rest will be seriously handicapped.
HUMAN PAPILLOMA VIRUS (or HPV) may be the most common sexually transmitted organism in the United States. It causes soft “venereal warts,” but more importantly these are associated with genital cancer in both sexes. Approximately 7,000 women in the United States die every year from genital cancers related to HPV.
HEPATITIS B, a serious liver infection, can be transmitted sexually. The disease may be self-limited, or it may continue for years, leading to some very unpleasant or even fatal complications, including liver cancer.
HUMAN IMMUNODEFICIENCY VIRUS (HIV) is carried by over one million Americans, of whom over 180,000 have developed full-blown ACQUIRED IMMUNE DEFICIENCY SYNDROME (AIDS). Thus far, the progression from silent HIV infection to death has appeared inevitable. More than 100,000 have died from AIDS in the United States, and millions are dying worldwide, with
unimaginably complex infections and cancer, often accompanied by wasting, diarrhea, and loss of intellect.
WANT TO HEAR SOMETHING REALLY SCARY?
All of these diseases, and many others, can be transmitted during sex by people who don’t know they are infected. These people don’t look sick. They feel great and they enjoy sex, but without knowing it they may be lethal weapons.
BUT I PRACTICE SAFER SEX!
(Did you notice no one calls it “safe sex” any more?)
Despite the epidemic of heartaches and horrors from STDs, far too few people today are willing to accept the obvious: these diseases could be eliminated altogether if uninfected people would postpone sex, find and marry one partner, and remain mutually faithful for life.
That’s “unrealistic,” say those who are talking endlessly about “safer” sex. Having “safer” sex usually means taking these precautions:
1. Limiting the number of partners with whom one has sex. Fewer partners means fewer chances for exposure to disease.
BUT: A lethal disease can be transmitted by a single sexual contact with one infected partner.
2. Knowing something about a partner’s sexual history, and presumably avoiding sex with someone who has had many partners.
BUT: How do you know whether you’re going to get the whole story of your prospective partner’s sex life, especially if he or she has something to hide? And how are you going to find out what your prospective partner’s partners, or their partners, or their partners’ partners, have been up to? From an infectious disease standpoint, you not only have sex with the person at hand, but with all of their sexual contacts, and all of their contacts’ contacts, and so forth.
And how about the job of taking that sexual history in the middle of a hot date?
Scene from a best-seller yet to be written:
She felt his hot breath on her neck as her supple arms twined around his waist, and then he caught a glimpse of shimmering moonlight reflected in her longing gaze. As their passions welled, she pulled out her clipboard and purred, “Say, Harold, could you tell me about your first sex partner? Who was she, and what was she like? And then what happened in college when you were in that fraternity, you know, I Phelta Thi? Oh, and how about graduate school…”
3. Use a condom at all times.
BUT: What if he doesn’t want to wear it? (Some men feel that wearing a condom during sex is like taking a bath with their socks on.)
What if it breaks? With their 10 to 15 percent failure rate, condoms have never been considered the most effective way to prevent pregnancy – and wherever sperm can go, so can chlamydia, herpes, HIV and all the others.
IS “SAFER” SEX SAFE?
You would be wise to consider some bottom line questions before entering a sexual relationship:
1. If you knew that your prospective partner harbored a hazardous or even lethal disease, would you entrust your life and health to a condom?
2. If your partner has HIV, does a one-in-ten chance of exposure to a miserable death sound like reasonable odds?
The reality is that, in the STD jungle, wearing a condom is certainly safer than not wearing one, but much less safe than avoiding the jungle altogether.
STILL NOT CONVINCED? THEN REMEMBER HOW BABIES GET STARTED…
Despite the widespread availability of condoms, spermicides and contraceptive pills, birth control precautions aren’t always taken before the heat of passion, and they don’t always work when they are.
More than 40% of America’s three million unintended pregnancies every year begin even though some form of birth control technique is being used.
And when a woman becomes pregnant she is never the same again. Pregnancy cannot be ignored, and whatever is done about it will have a permanent effect on her life. Only two basic outcomes are possible:
1. The baby will be born, or;
2. The baby will die before birth, whether through deliberate or spontaneous abortion.
None of these endpoints is easy to deal with. There are no quick fixes where human life is concerned. If a woman bears and raises her child, her time and attention will necessarily be diverted for years. If she bears and gives up her child for adoption – an act of considerable courage – she will still not escape physical and emotional pain. The child may be gone into loving arms, but not forgotten.
Because many women find these options highly uncomfortable, they may seek an abortion, which may appear to be an easier solution. Unfortunately, many later come to realize that what was destroyed looked a lot more like a tiny human than a shapeless wad of tissue. And since at least one out of four women seeking an abortion does not actually believe it is morally right, thousands ultimately live with severe, long-term regrets – especially if the procedure itself, or a subsequent infection, leaves her unable to have children later in life.
WHICH BRINGS US TO AN IMPORTANT WARNING FOR WOMEN
(Men read at your own risk…)
In the sexual revolution, women have been (and still are) the big losers.
1. When an unwanted pregnancy occurs, the woman is usually left holding the bag, and she virtually always pays a far bigger price than her partner.
2. With the exception of syphilis and AIDS, STDs tend to have more severe consequences in women than in men.
3. When women accept the Playboy philosophy of sex-as-recreation, they trade a number of sexual encounters for… nothing. No ongoing relationship, no commitment, no security, no family and possibly no children (if they acquire a pelvic infection from a partner.)
Therefore, when your date/boyfriend/fiancée begins murmuring famous lines such as, “If you really loved me, you’d sleep with me…” or “If you don’t, I’ll find someone who will…,” guess whose interest he has at heart? If you said yours, guess again. It’s time to wise up.
ALL OF THIS REALLY SOUNDS PURITANICAL. DO YOU HAVE SOMETHING AGAINST SEX?
On the contrary:
1. What really devalues sex is the idea that intercourse is no more meaningful than a good meal or a drive in a fast car.
2. What stifles sexual satisfaction is casual copulating with little or no emotional involvement. (Songwriter Michael Johnson said it well more than a decade ago: “Bodies on bodies, like sacks upon shelves/People just using each other to make love to themselves…”)
3. What people miss in non-marital sex is the opportunity for enjoyment far greater than the immediate sensual experience.
Sex can and should generate a powerful bond, a relational Super Glue between two people. In the setting of a permanent and public commitment, it can be savored, explored and nurtured without guilt, without fear of consequences, without bartering, negotiating and haggling.
Consider the following contrasts:
I. Performance vs. Acceptance: For some, sex is like a perpetual game show. Give a “correct” response and the bells go off. You win the round and get to play again. Say the wrong thing, miss the mark, and the buzzer croaks.
You get unceremoniously escorted to the exit while the applause rises for the next contestant. Women, especially, who are skilled at putting on a good show can become championship players – but they’re on stage for their act, not for themselves. Unfortunately, faking pleasure isn’t anything like actually having it.
Imagine instead having sex without fear of rejection, where pleasing and encouraging your partner becomes the primary agenda, where performance can always improve because it isn’t subject to rejection. “Safe sex” should mean much more than freedom from disease.
II. Suspicion vs. Trust: When one or both partners have a lot of prior experience, what’s to guarantee that tonight’s coupling isn’t just another notch on the belt? Indeed, trust has become so foreign to the sexual playground that the phrase “Trust me” has become the caricature come-on, the phrase uttered by the predator who hopes that the intended prey is too dumb not to burst out laughing.
III. Guilt vs. Freedom: Believe it or not, lots of people still believe that the words “right and wrong” apply to sexual behavior. Even with the briefest exposure to traditional Judeo-Christian values you can’t miss an important message: the Designer of sex cares a lot about when it’s done and with whom. This is not because sex is bad, but just the opposite; because it is so powerful, so intense a force within us, and the one arena in which we can participate in the creation of life.
Sex is God’s fine art, and we ought to feel uncomfortable about trashing it. (Indeed, having casual sex is not unlike lining the bottom of a bird cage with the original Mona Lisa.)
Even without reference to a Creator, a basic concern for the well-being of others should put a crimp on the vast majority of non-marital sexual adventures, which are loaded with self-serving agendas.
IV. Uniqueness vs. Comparisons: You can only have sex for the first time once. For those couples who wait to initiate their sexual experiences until marriage, the wedding night can be an ecstatic time of discovery and bonding, even if they are not technically accomplished. (That can come quickly and pleasantly enough.) For those who have already sampled others or each other, the wedding night instead is more like finding the presents already opened on Christmas morning.
And what if the partner to whom you’re now committed isn’t as sexually proficient as one or more of the others? Flashbacks are virtually impossible to suppress.
BUT HOW CAN I RESIST THE PRESSURE? EVERYONE I KNOW IS HAVING SEX!
Contrary to popular belief, there are plenty of single adults who are holding off on sex until the time is right. Having intercourse is not like breathing – you can survive without it. But since the going can get tough, keep the following in mind:
1. Decide before the conversation, before the date, before the relationship gets serious, that sex begins on the wedding night, and not before.
2. Keep your reasons clearly in mind. You’re waiting because you want to enjoy sex fully, without risking serious disease, unplanned pregnancy and distorted relationships.
3. Keep your most significant sexual organ – your brain – free of sleaze. Sexually oriented films and videos and explicit lyrics in rock and rap have not been created with your health and welfare in mind. Pornography, along with being incredibly stupid, pushes barnyard sex, rape and abuse.
4. Avoid situations which increase the risk of an accident. Remember that sexual feelings gain momentum like a car rolling down an ever steepening hill. It’s a lot easier to put on the brakes in the coffee shop than on the couch.
5. Alcohol and drugs cloud judgment and weaken resolve. Stay sober.
6. Don’t be a sucker for sexual come-ons and con games. Have in mind some responses for the tired lines which continue to make the rounds:
“Sex will bring us closer.”
“Sex will enhance our relationship.”
(No, sex will become the center of attention and then choke out everything else.)
“If you loved me, you’d do it.”
(If you really loved me, you wouldn’t ask.)
“Just this once—”
(No one wants sex “just once.”)
“I want to give you something to remember me by.”
(Such as herpes, HIV, a pregnancy…)
“If you don’t, I’ll find someone who will.”
(I hope the two of you have a nice life.)
WHAT IF IT’S TOO LATE?
It’s never too late. Many people who are sadder but wiser after one or more sexual encounters are now waiting for the safety and pleasure of a marital relationship. To rephrase a cliche, today is the first day of the rest of your sex life.
IF YOU’RE STILL NOT CONVINCED:
If you still insist that sexual adventures are essential to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, be sure your life and health insurance premiums are paid up. With or without condoms, your life will be in jeopardy, your apparent liberty will become bondage, and your pursuit of happiness will ultimately be like chasing after wind.
There are, unfortunately, a number of problems with these popular messages distilled from the “sexual revolution” which began in the dearly departed 1960s:
1. Millions of people are having sex when they are immature, unprepared, or even unwilling. One in five women will experience sex without consent in her lifetime.
2. Millions of women are getting pregnant when they don’t intend to, forcing them to make agonizing decisions which permanently change their lives.
3. Millions of married couples are struggling with conflicts arising from the prior sexual exploits of husband and/or wife.
4. Millions of young adults are losing their health – or their lives – to sexually transmitted diseases, when all they wanted was a good time in bed.
(The above material was published by Focus on the Family, Colorado Springs, CO.)
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