Ciara is making headlines again, discussing the decision she and Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson made to abstain from having sex in their relationship until they were married.
In a magazine article and several online sites, Ciara talks about feeling powerful in her decision and how it made their relationship stronger. She believes that it was an important opportunity to build a friendship with her future spouse and to figure out that they shared values.
A strong, long-lasting relationship requires more than physical intimacy.
I think that consensually choosing abstinence is great. I also think our society is super-confused about abstinence, consent and choice.
Abstinence isn’t virginity.
Virginity is often taken to mean the status of a person prior to first penile-vaginal intercourse. Throughout history, it’s been used to decide the value of women for marriage and to judge their worth morally and monetarily. Virginity is a concept that can devalue and discount people whose first sexual experience was not a choice, as well as people who are lesbian or gay. Also, many youth take part in risky sexual behaviors like anal or oral sex because they believe that will “preserve their virginity.”
Abstinence, on the other hand, is a choice. Whether you are in a relationship or not, married or not, whether you’ve been sexually active before or not, you can choose to be abstinent at any time in your life. You may decide to be abstinent from sexual activity today, this week, this month or until you get married.
Abstinence should always be a choice.
Just because you have had sexual intercourse before doesn’t mean you can’t practice abstinence, nor that it is a decision that your partner doesn’t have to take seriously. Even if you are in a relationship or married, there are likely times when at least one of you doesn’t want to have sex. That should be OK. When you make the choice not to have sex because you are tired, not feeling well or not in the mood, your choice should be honored. If you need to discuss a difference in each other’s desire for sex, do so. And, honoring someone’s choice to be abstinent is always important.
Consent is key.
In my world as a sexuality educator, people often say that “consent” is a continual, enthusiastic yes. That can be easier said than done, and it’s still important. There have been too many people manipulated, assaulted and abused due to lack of understanding and clear communication about what was and wasn’t wanted. Just because you say yes to one sexual behavior, like kissing or touching genitals, doesn’t mean you are saying yes to other things, like intercourse. Both partners involved in sexual activity should be enjoying themselves. Otherwise, there’s some level of consent that isn’t present.
This isn’t always easy.
Some people like to pretend these decisions and behaviors are easy. “Just say no!” discounts the complexity of communication and relationships, whether you are 16 or 66. Yet, it is possible to have a consensual and respectful relationship if both people are talking about what they do and don’t want and are respectful of each other’s choices. Avoid teasing or shaming anyone for what they do and don’t want. Remember that feeling or desiring something is different from engaging in that behavior. You may desire one thing and choose to abstain because you are respecting a partner’s choice.
For Ciara and Russell Wilson, abstinence was a respectful, consensual choice. For others, pre-marital sex is a respectful, consensual choice. It’s all about respect and choice.
Amy Johnson specializes in sexuality education and promoting healthy sexuality culture. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org