Abstinence education and its connotations

Photo by Adam Oxford, via flickr

Alexander Suarez/Staff Writer

Abstinence education teaches rape victims they are worthless, according to activist Elizabeth Smart in a panel discussion on May 1 about child sex trafficking.

Smart, the unfortunate past victim of kidnapping and sexual abuse, was raised in a conservative Mormon home where she was taught that sex was something special to be reserved for her husband.

After being kidnapped and raped multiple times, Smart felt that she was now dirty and worthless, questioning whether someone would want her, now that she was not a virgin and had been raped.

As one of her abstinence educators taught her, she was a chewed up piece of gum; nobody wants to chew an already chewed gum.

Although I express sincere sympathy for what Smart and others like her have experienced, I believe Smart to be sadly mistaken. In struggling with the idea and experience of being raped, Smart believes one of her biggest problems was the teaching she received about sex being reserved for her husband. To Smart, this made her feel worthless and her life not worth living.

However, I am afraid that Smart dangerously connotes two teachings into one. That is, Smart thinks that abstinence education, the teaching that sex should be saved for marriage, necessarily involves the teaching that someone’s objective value lies in their sexual purity status.

But this is not true.

Abstinence education does not necessarily involve linking the objective value of a person to their sexual status. Do some or many sex educators mix these two teachings? Yes, they do, but that does not mean we should too.

The objective value of a person is set in stone, according to what they are by essence: human beings.

The objective value or worth of a person is not changed when someone is promiscuous in their sex life nor is dependent upon their sexual activity. Thus, if someone is raped or loses their virginity before marriage, it does not mean that they are worthless.

Nevertheless, it must mean something important and I think that is what Smart is struggling to grapple with. And it is also what abstinence education in of itself necessarily implies. Not that one’s objective worth is stolen or lost, but that something reserved and set apart for a special purpose has been regarded as profane by those who have willingly engaged in the act outside of it’s proper context.

To teach children that they should save sex for their future spouse propagates an understanding of sex as something beautiful and sacred, for lack of a better word. Abstinence education implies that sex and sexuality is not an activity to be taken lightly nor to be given to whomever. It teaches that sex is not like chewing gum or like any other activity, but a very unique and intimate activity that is meant for two people with the strongest possible connection and commitment to each other; it combines love and marriage – not one without the other. It looks to sex as a very powerful activity that has the potential in creating new life.

But as may be obvious, rape victims, such as Smart, are deeply wounded because they know that this intimacy has been treated like dirt by another person, thus experiencing the consequences of that person’s foul decisions.

However, I believe there is hope. To those who are victims of rape, you are still valuable; your worth has not changed. Yes, there is healing that needs to take place, but it does not mean that you cannot or will not ever enjoy this connection with a future spouse.




1. ” Elizabeth Smart: Mormon teaching on sex stopped me from escaping kidnappers,” via The Washington Post


4 Comments on "Abstinence education and its connotations"

  1. Marriage is an institution that was created from religion. Not many places teach abstinence-only sex education without the infusion of purity, faith, love, or other things that are besides the real physiological, psychological and emotional impacts of sex before a person is ready. THAT is what I think sexual education must teach.

    On the contrary, your sincere opinion has come off quite apathetic and clueless. You have expressed your stance on abstinence by taking a victim of rape and kidnapping, who was held hostage for years, and implying that she’s wrong to think that abstinence-education and her mormon background didn’t teach her to believe that worth is lost when a person loses their virginity before marriage.

    I think her biggest problem besides a conservative upbringing was I don’t know… being kidnapped and raped multiple times????????????

    Not sure who you include when you say “we.” I think you’re thinking about the people who actually defend abstinence only sex ed (if you can even call that an education about sex at all). Sex is beautiful and purposeful if it is practiced safely and is consensual. Teach about how wonderful and special it is all you want but don’t forget to include free condoms or birth control.

  2. There’s no thumbnail pic in this post, careful!

    • Junette Reyes | June 23, 2013 at 11:03 AM | Reply

      Hello Fabiana,

      Thanks for pointing that out. I was not able to find something at first, but finally managed to do so.

      Junette Reyes
      Opinion Director

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