June 24, 2004 | Unknown

True Love Waits or Just Waiting for the Fall?

President George W Bush’s faith makes it predictable that sex education in American schools is increasingly about teaching teenagers not to do it, rather than how they should protect themselves when they do.
While public promises to abstain prior to the honeymoon gives pleasure to fundamentalist Christians, a Columbia University study cited recently in The Weekend Australian Magazine (June 19-20 2004) found only 12% of the 2.4 million adolescents who’d made such a vow kept it (well, obviously they didn’t survey 2.4 million teens, but that is how many have taken the “pledge”, so one can extrapolate that the percentage of failed “pledgers” in the wider “pledge” community would be equivalent to that amongst those surveyed).
This makes these pledges even less successful than the ones taken at that other often religiously motivated ceremony involving rings.
Unfortunately, adolescents weighed down with the anti-sex message of groups like True Love Waits (TLW) aren’t likely to be carrying condoms in their pockets or knowledge in their noggins when they succumb, although they might be wearing a TLW ring or other assorted jewellery available from $24.95 to $249.95.
As the Magazine states with regard to the study’s findings, “(they) were more likely to have unsafe sex”.
Interestingly, TLW acknowledges the study on its website (www.southernbaptistsrefrain.com), but quickly dispenses with it by saying others, like parents and churches; should offer support to abstaining youths, as they do.
The site means you need look no further for evidence “purity pledges” fail: more than one contributor has repledged; that is, lost their virginity before committing to celibacy, again (all they need to do is turn thirty and be single; celibacy is then thrust upon you, whether Christian, Jew, atheist, pagan or whatever).
The “guilt”, “pain” and sanctimonious and oversimplified thinking guiding these “pledgers” might be familiar to many people raised in earlier times. Advice from the sickly-sweet counsellors such as “another good boundary is not to lie down together on the floor, couch, bed – anywhere” possibly also rings a bell, and reminds of a lack of ring-a-ding-ding.
In some ways, TLW recalls old cautionary movies or episodes of The Simpsons where such films are so skilfully sent up.
There’s a moment of unintended mirth when the reader realises one pair of “pledgers” don’t live on the same continent. Any humour is soon erased by Asha, who believes “this is special to me because I’m not great at a lot of things. I don’t sing, I can’t play sports and I’m not the smartest person. This is something that not all girls can do (that I know)”.
It wouldn’t be the first time a young woman with limited confidence has found some sense of self from what she doesn’t do rather than what she does and by comparing her actions to those of other girls.
Alas, as any dieter knows, when you deny yourself something, you don’t stop thinking about it until you get it, either by the truckload or with the same amount of shame you’d have if you did.
Thomas Keneally put it more eloquently when reflecting on his days in a seminary in The Best Australian Essays 2002, “…sexuality is always there – the more assiduously repressed, the more likely to cause psychic mayhem”.
Whereas Keneally idealised the Catholic Church, these youthful Protestants possess such an unrealistic view of wedding nights and the value of virginity as a “gift” for spouses, they are surely in for one heck of a “fall”, if not the type that comes from having intercourse without getting Jesus’ okay first.
Accepting that extreme religious devotion will always exist, perhaps the most troubling thing about TLW and its unsuccessful program is that it has been embraced, albeit with no “prolonged kissing” or “looking at…pictures that feed sexual thoughts”, by the US Government to the tune of $135 million in Australian dollars, with more to come.
We are left wondering how much more US taxpayers are having to fork out for the effects of unsafe youthful indiscretions than needs to be the case so the religious right can continue to believe young ‘uns are “sexually pure” and what they deem to be morally upright.

Posted by Unknown at 3:26 pm | Comments (2) |
Filed under: Uncategorized


  1. The idea that teenagers are not being taught how to have safe sex is a farce. While it is true, for them, that not having sex is the best alternative and it SHOULD be taught as a means of sex education, it is not the only sex education that teenagers get. This is a smokescreen for not telling teens at all that they should remain abstinent, when in all actuality they should. It’s not the fact that teens make a commitment not to have sex that drives them to it, but it is the same desire that all teens deal with whether they have made a commitment or not. Society drives that desire to elevated levels beyond anything else by using sexuality as a form or expression. Sex sells, TV programs, MTV, music, magazines, the internet, and everything that teenagers read, use, and see is filled with sex and that drives their desire far more than anything else, including a commitment to sexual abstinence.
    Sexual activity among teenagers is far greater today than it ever has been before. This is a new phenomenon that has continually grown and developed over the last 50 years to the degree that it is today. This also explains the elevated levels of Aids, STDs, and unwanted teenage pregnancies that lead to a greater number of abortions. Back when it was not broadcasted to every home in America and when it was not socially acceptable to do these things, teenagers didn’t have a problem making such a commitment. Times have changed, which makes it an ever increasing difficult process to remain sexually pure, and yet one that is well worth it.
    As a youth minister, I continually work with hundreds of teens each year. I recognize the statistics of TLW and I know that 80% of the kids making that commitment will break it. So why do I do it? For the 20% of kids that do keep it! There are also kids who have made the mistake already and they recognize what they have done and turn from it, never to do it again until marriage. I’ve never met a teenager that has been sexually active and didn’t regret it, and many of them have suffered some horrible consequences that destroyed their future, simply by making the choice to have sex. The idea that we could have 20% of our teenagers avoid this pain in their lives is the reason that TLW is successful despite the poor percentages.
    I also know that our teenagers are quite educated when it comes to sexuality. Not only do our school systems teach it, but they get it from other places as well. They know, and are very insightful in our discussions about STDs, AIDS, and other sexual dangers from multiple sex partners. TLW is not some Nazi camp that forces teenagers to wait to have sex, it’s a choice. We offer it to them as a choice, and they choose whether or not to remain abstinent. But to teach teenagers how to have safe sex without showing them the real benefits of abstinence as another alternative is simply irresponsible and ludicrous. TLW is an excellent program that should continue to reach teenagers for years to come.

    Comment by Pressed — August 11, 2004 @ 11:30 pm

  2. Thank you for your response to my article. I appreciate your taking the time to reply.
    I certainly agree that we live in a culture soaked in sexual imagery, but I’m not convinced young people are having sex any earlier these days. After all, the idea of having a stage of life identified as adolescence is a fairly new one.
    The term “pure” is a problematic one in relation to sexuality; after all if you are not pure you must be “impure”.
    Such binary ways of thinking have been very destructive (particularly for groups such as women and queers) and in any instance life, and sexuality, is not that black and white.
    An 80% failure rate suggests to me that TLW is an unsuccessful program and as such should not be given government funding.
    If churches want to do it, well so be it.
    Making the choice to have sex doesn’t have to be a great regret or the cause of “pain” if you are prepared (I’d much rather kids have a condom in their back pocket than be wearing a TLW ring).
    Presumably TLW doesn’t even acknowledge same-sex desire or if does it is just another aspect of life young people have to feel rotten about.
    One of the problems I see with TLW is that it can lead to the situation where sex becomes an obsession.
    Defining yourself as “impure” or “bad” because you have had sex or had sexual thoughts is just so sad in this day and age.
    To me TLW really represents another way in which the church endeavours to control people’s lives by guilt and negative thinking.
    Thanks again for your response.

    Comment by Darlene — August 12, 2004 @ 8:46 am

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