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Sex can wait

Published:Sunday | March 21, 2010 | 12:00 AM

Heather Little-White, PhD, Contributor

Now, more than ever, the topic of sex dominates the public space. Sex is in media - advertisements, talk shows, articles, photos and news reports. In general, there is a preoccupation with sex, and as relationships develop, sex becomes the central focus. While society is consumed with the subject of sex, persons contemplating a relationship should really consider letting sex wait.

You may ask, 'When is an appropriate time?' but the answers really lie with the individuals and what they want to achieve from the relationship in the long run.

Culture and religion have strong prescriptions about having sex before marriage. As such, members of these groups would find it challenging to go against the stereotype that sex every day and in any way is the way to go. Counselling is sometimes necessary as couples struggle with the issue of early sex and how it conflicts with religious teachings and cultural practices.


Understandably, there are philosophical, emotional and practical reasons for waiting to engage in sexual intercourse. What factors should influence your decision to have sex with someone you meet?

Is he/she trustworthy?

Is he/she respectful of your needs and wishes?

Is he/she caring?

Would you want to share your body with someone you cannot have a future with (someone who is abusive)?

Without the use of birth-control methods, there is the risk of unplanned pregnancy and contracting sexually transmitted infections. However, more young persons are better informed about birth-control methods especially the morning-after pill.


What are the options for not having sex? A well-focused teenager or young adult generally considers abstinence an option - waiting until he or she is married to have sex. Abstinence education is resurging, resulting in a decline in sexual activity. Young persons are seeing the benefits of postponing sex until marriage though this is sometimes difficult. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, sexual activity among high-school students has been declining over the last 13 years. As more education about safe sex is made available, teens change their definition of sex. They engage in other gratifying activities without engaging in sex. For example, they practise oral sex yet they do not see this as sex because there is no penetration.

Janeth and Robert Dennisontold Outlook that deciding to abstain from sex was one of the best decisions they made as a couple. The couple recently got married. Janeth, 22 and Robert, 23, said they made the decision when they started dating three years ago to wait so they would have something exciting to look forward to.

Both work as computer experts. During their honeymoon, there was heightened excitement and intense passion as their first sexual encounter was like yearning after an apple that is out of your reach but when you get to pick it and bite into it, the experience is blissful.

Generally, it is women who want to delay sex. But more men are taking this position as they want sex with the person they love to be very special, as was the case with Robert. The Dennisons use their first sexual experience as the benchmark for keeping the sparks going in the marriage.

While dating, the Dennisons recalled that abstinence made courting more exciting. There was no worry about pregnancy and contracting sexually transmitted infections. That created less stress when they were together. The great emotional benefit of dating without sex is to know that the person you are with is yours to have unconditionally.

According to Janeth, "I never worried about losing Robert and I could feel that what we had was special. We did fun things together and did not focus on sex. Today we look back at those things and laugh."

Emotional readiness

Abstinence means not having sex at all. It means waiting until the right time when you are committed and emotionally ready to handle the intimate yet complicated act of sex.It means establishing with your partner how he or she feels about sex from the start. You should be honest and set limits. Engaging in sex without being emotionally ready can lead to hurt, low self-esteem and a mistrust of the opposite sex for future relationships.

Very often, partners, especially teenagers, feel pressured into having sex long before they are ready. It is important to share those concerns with a parent, teacher, pastor or trusted friend who will support and advise you to stand up for yourself without allowing someone to make you do something you are not ready to. Sexual abstinence is a choice that couples make, and if one partner feels pressured by the other partner, he or she should explain that abstaining is his or her right, which should be respected. Even if it is your boyfriend/girlfriend, sex without your consent is rape. Certainly, you would not want to take the relationship to this low, criminal level.

Underlying the decision to postpone sex is the understanding that there is a difference between love and sex and that it is not necessary to have sex until you can really show your love for the other person. If your partner really respects you, he/she will not ridicule you about your decision to wait.

Sex is a beautiful and emotional experience. In order to not spoil the experience, it is best to wait.

Use, do not abuse; neither abstinence nor excess ever renders man happy.

- Voltaire

Real names withheld.

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The way forward

Government agencies and non-governmental organisations shouldspend more on abstinence-only programmes as their effectiveness in getting young people to delay having sex until they are emotionally ready is well established.

Parenting programmes should include strategies which parents can use in sexual education to let their children understand that abstinence is acceptable and not something of which they should be ashamed.

Develop hotlines where teens and young adults can call and get online advice.