The Rev. Debra W. Haffner is the Director of the Religious Institute on Sexual Morality, Justice, and Healing.
I've just read a new article titled "Legislating Against Arousal" in the latest copy of the Guttmacher Institute's journal.
Cythnia Dailard reports that the federal government, nearly ten years since the start of the abstinence-only-until-marriage program has finally defined what they mean by abstinence. The new guidelines say that abstinence is "voluntarily choosing not to engage in sexual activity until marriage." They define sexual activity as "any type of genital activity or sexual stimulation between two persons."Sexual stimulation? Let's see, that could include flirting, hand holding, kissing, french kissing…watching someone in tight jeans bend over and pick up a fork on the floor of the middle school cafeteria. Come on…were these people ever teenagers? And any type of genital activity until marriage? Let's remember that the average age of marriage is now 26 in the United States. Could the people who wrote these regulations really think it is realistic to ask in-love teens and twenty somethings prior to marriage not to share any type of stimulating behaviors? And what about gay and lesbians who are denied the right to marriage? I guess they better avoid stimulation throughout their lives.
This would be laughable if we weren't pouring millions of dollars into these programs each year. They offer bad public health advice to young people, and I think they fail to offer moral advice to young people as well. Frankly, as a minister, I would refuse to marry a couple who told me that they had shared no sexual behaviors at all; sexuality is too important in a marriage, and the decision to be married is too sacred, to have NO information about each other's sexuality prior to the wedding day. It's hard to believe that it is federal policy to encourage such ignorance.
Instead, we should be helping young people celebrate their developing sexuality, one of God's most life affirming gifts, in developmentally appropriate ways. In October, the Religious Institute will be convening a group of theologians to develop a new Open Letter on Adolescent Sexuality. I look forward to sharing it with you.
Read Ms. Dailard's full article for yourself here.