If you want to avoid pregnancy and STIs, then technically yes, abstinence can be an effective strategy. That is the position that conservatives insist upon putting forth every time sexuality comes up. If that were the extent of it, then I wouldn’t have a problem with this. Hell, I have given this advice. It’s not a divisive position to point out that not having sex will reduce your risk of experiencing the potential consequences of sex.
However, this is not a difficult concept. At most, you should need to say a couple of sentences about abstinence when you’re talking about strategies for preventing STIs and pregnancy. When I was learning how to pitch a tent, build and start a fire, survive in the woods, etc., nobody had to take me aside to tell me that staying home was a valid and reliable way to avoid hypothermia, heatstroke, starvation, and other potential consequences of camping. When I was learning how to scuba dive, nobody had to sit me down and explain that the only 100% effective way to avoid drowning, decompression sickness, and being crushed by pressure is to stay on dry land. When I was (last one, I swear) learning how to fire a musket, nobody had to give me a long lecture about how the only way I could be sure a gun wouldn’t be exploding next to my face would be to never fire a gun. “Don’t do that” is a piece of advice that doesn’t need to be stated.
The problem is that the people who push for abstinence don’t really care about anyone’s safety. They care about their religion.
Love and Fidelity Network is an organization that exists because “Health Centers readily distribute condoms as the only real safeguard against STIs, neglecting to encourage abstinence as a realistic and effective option.” Apparently. Setting aside my opening point, that being that you shouldn’t need someone to explain to you that if sex can cause pregnancy and STI transmission, avoiding sex will protect you from pregnancy and STI transmission, university health centers will tell you about abstinence.
What upsets Love and Fidelity Network, though, isn’t that people don’t know it’s okay to not have sex. They imply that’s what they care about, but it’s obviously not. What bothers them is that people know that it’s okay TO have sex. Take a look at their website. Their mission statement is as follows:
“Our mission is to EDUCATE, TRAIN, AND EQUIP college students with the ARGUMENTS, RESOURCES, AND DIRECTION they need to uphold the institution of marriage, the unique role of the family, and sexual integrity on their campuses.
We believe today’s young men and women will form the nucleus of an articulate and effective new generation of leaders for marriage, family, love and fidelity at universities and in the public square.”
So straight from the mission statement, we see that this isn’t an organization that’s solely interested in advocating for abstinence as an option. These are people who talk about “the unique role of the family,” upholding “the institution of marriage,” and “sexual integrity.” No big deal though, right? They just like marriage and families, don’t you? Plus, “sexual integrity” is pretty vague. That could mean anything.
And then we move on to their FAQ section, and all bets are off. Visitors to the page are given “talking points” on marriage, sexuality, and love. First place they urge you to go? The National Organization for Marriage. In fairness, I link to NOM a lot, as well as the FRC, FFA, and all sorts of other conservative acronyms. However, I link to these organizations (some of which are recognized by the Southern Poverty Law Center as hate groups) in a “oh gods, look at these crazy bastards and their ridiculous notions!” sort of way, not so much a “you should use arguments from these people” manner. Anyway, right out of the gate, we’ve got an organization linked to the National Organization for Marriage, whose self-described mission is to “protect marriage and the faith communities that sustain it.”
Moving on from there, we are provided a (broken) link which reroutes to Chastity.com for “Purity Talking Points.” Chastity. Dot com. Chastity, of course, is the Creationism to abstinence’s “Intelligent Design.” A brief look through Chastity.com shows that the name wasn’t chosen ironically. Going through their “Q&A” section, we are treated to many amusing little conundrums, including:
“Sometimes I wonder if I’m sinning because women seem so much more attractive to me than God. Is that bad?”
“Why does God give us such powerful hormones now, if we aren’t supposed to get married for ten more years?”
“My boyfriend and I are trying to be pure, and we even pray together. Is it wrong for us to discuss our temptations?”
“What’s wrong with masturbation? I think of it as getting rid of your temptations without leading anyone into sin.”
“How do you prevent impure internet ads from popping up?”
“Is it okay to masturbate, so long as you’re not lusting?”
This just goes on and on. In addition to their delightful little “Q&A” section on how to maintain one’s “purity” (one day I’ll get around to addressing this “purity” nonsense), Chastity.com has an online store, from which you can order “Chastity Bundles,” “Chastity Tracts,” and “Commitment Cards,” which come in two varieties: Catholic and “secular.” I put “secular” in quotes because the supposedly secular cards still have the creepy “purity” talk and links to a similarly “secular” website. The main difference is that they don’t specifically have “God” or “Blessed” written on them, and thus can slip into public schools.
Circling back to Love and Fidelity Network, they do have the courtesy to provide at least a little content of their own on their FAQ page, in the form of “Sex Myths.” This section seems to mostly come off as damage control, eager to assert that “The argument in support of chastity and abstinence is available to common reason. In fact, even many of the religious arguments for chastity are perfectly reasonable,” and “We are not judging anyone. We are simply striving to help others understanding why we believe chastity to be the best path to that goal and we invite them to try it out for themselves.” Seriously, they’re not judging you. They just think that sex is dirty, and that you’re impure and less of a person if you’ve had sex.
Clearly, the Love and Fidelity Network and others like them don’t just want to present abstinence as an “option.” They want to make it the ONLY option. Why? Why expect everyone to abstain when condoms, contraception, and vaccinations, if used properly, could make sex harmless within a generation? Because, despite their claims, they ARE judging, and they DO have an agenda. They see that the culture at large is becoming increasingly okay with sexuality, and they are therefore looking more and more like assholes for thinking that people who have sex are “impure,” “sluts,” and “whores.” In response, they are desperate to drag society back to an earlier day, when casual sex, and even pre-marital sex, was viewed as bad, so that they can stick with their outdated superstitious morality without getting called on their bullshit.
For more coverage of how the Love and Fidelity Network is offensive for being anti-sex slut-shamers, check out this post by my colleague over at Brute Reason.