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Social Issues: Chastity


by Ross S. Olson MD

In discussing ways to deal with the AIDS epidemic, the concept of chastity is usually passed over quickly as unworkable. Sometimes this is due to use of the term "abstinence," implying, "just say never."

Having no partners for life is indeed protective against sexually transmitted diseases and is the right choice for some. For most, however, "ONE PARTNER FOR LIFE" is the ideal for sexual health.


How can this be? What is the basis? Isn't it just morality disguised as science? The reasons are many:

1. There would be essentially no sexually transmitted diseases. Except for unusual scenarios, like blood borne infection from medical sources, a disease-free faithful couple, who also avoid injecting street drugs, will remain disease free.

Does that mean that a woman must stay in the house with a chemically dependent abusive man? Of course not! But ideally, that is a commitment that would never have been made if the brain were in gear at the start of the relationship, something often lost if sex comes before permanence.

2. There would be fewer "unwanted" pregnancies. With the presence, support and encouragement of a faithful partner, the father of the baby, the difficulties of life are much easier to face. I will not argue that this eliminates all the feelings of "I can't handle this." But the rate goes way down and the feelings are much more transient.

3. It is psychologically healthier. Is divorce an easy thing? How would you react if your partner is having a sexual relationship with someone else? Why is this phenomenon called, "cheating?" All the intuitive indications are that the sexual relationship is meant to be permanent.

But doesn't the seasoned swinger learn to deal with these feelings? Yes, but the solutions are not very pretty. Prostitutes stop feeling. The ritually abused develop multiple personalities because "this cannot be happening to me." And being a sociopath means never having to say, "I'm sorry."

4. It removes the cause of a great deal of poverty and economic difficulty. After divorce, the average standard of living of the man tends to go up. That of the woman goes down. Women and children are the new poor. Pooling resources can only help in the making of a home and especially the raising of children.

5. Many other social problems are reduced. It is no secret that the child in a stable two parent home does better psychologically and academically as well as being at decreased risk for abuse. The promotion of the family is not some failed Republican plot, rather it is good sense and good science, good ethics and good economics.

6. Sex is ultimately more enjoyable when it is exclusive. Anything casual loses significance. The mystery and the desirability of sex increase if it is saved for one partner to whom I can say, "You are worth waiting for, therefore I will wait until we have made a permanent commitment." Then, I can also say, "This I share only with you." Variety is not spice, it is slow poison.


There are objections, of course. I will warn, however, that many of them look feeble on paper, not because I paraphrased them poorly, but because they work better as unexamined assumptions.

A. "This approach implies that sex is bad." Almost every good thing can be misused. Claiming that something needs to be exercised within boundaries is not the same as calling it innately bad. Eating is good, but it can be overdone. Eating certain items, like for instance other people, is frowned on by all but the most hard line situational ethicists.

B. "Sexual impulses cannot be repressed." This one really looks pale in the sunlight and may sit there unclaimed. Yet it does underlie a great deal of current thinking on the subject. Think about it for a minute. Unless we have complete anarchy and victimization of the weak and gullible by the strong and clever, there must be some sort of restraint. All the people have to control themselves some of the time, and some of the people have to control themselves all of the time.

C. "Everybody just needs to be responsible and caring." If we were creatures of logic and altruism, we might be trustworthy in this area. But think for a minute of the way nearly all people justify their own behavior with rationalizations. And the effect of sexual behavior on others is probably most likely to be obscured by fuzzy thinking.

D. "Chastity is an old idea." So is "two plus two equals four!" Despite its antiquity, we tend to require adherence to this concept, even from Savings and Loan executives and elected representatives who might prefer a more liberal standard.

E. "Kids will be kids." Maybe so, but is it not the responsibility of the older generation to prevent youthful self destruction? Those of you with children, do you really want your teenagers sleeping around? Those who have been through divorce, do you recommend it? Is a series of temporary relationships something you would like to see as the norm? Even if some will not follow good advice, does the ideal suddenly change?

F. "We cannot change behavior, but we can prevent negative consequences." But the negative consequences have not been prevented. During the Heyday of the birth control approach to teen sexuality, pregnancies, diseases and psychological consequences have skyrocketed. Not only is it the failure rates of condoms -- in the neighborhood of 18% per year for preventing pregnancies and diseases when used by teens. It is also the despair that comes from treating the most intimate of human relationships as trivial.

G. "Society has changed." Is it really better for women to raise children in poverty, without the support, or even the presence, of the father of the baby? The solution is not to create some half-baked new society or simply to define what is as OK. What we actually need is a return to literal keeping of traditional marriage vows, each partner loving and cherishing the other, until death.


If we really love kids, it is foolishness to nurture them for a dozen years and then allow them to shipwreck on the shoals of sexuality. How much better to repair the old lighthouse!

Ross S. Olson MD

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