Why Abstinence Works…Even When it Doesn’t

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Disney superstar Joe Jonas of the Jonas Brothers sat down for a candid interview with New York Magazine where he describes what it was like to become famous through the Disney machine and how he and his brothers each dealt with it. There are also shocking (or not so much) confessions about drug use with his Disney costars Miley Cyrus and Demi Lovato.

The post is lengthy and heartfelt. Jonas describes the unexpected pressure that fame brought to the boys as teenagers and the battles it created between who he really was and how he was being sold to young fans. He also sheds light on his religious upbringing and those now infamous purity rings. As young teenagers the Jonas brothers had decided to participate in a popular church program called “True Love Waits” in which young people wear “purity rings” as a sign of their promise to wait for sex until marriage. They were both praised and maligned. Jonas says both perspectives were disturbing to him.

But back then we explained that we had made these promises to ourselves when we were younger. A few months later, it comes out that we’re in some cult and that we’re theses little staged Mickey Mouse kids. People were coming up to us saying “Thank you so much, I’m waiting because you guys are waiting too!”. And we just thought, No! That’s not what we’re about.

Unsurprisingly Jonas didn’t fulfill that promise to himself, but I found what he had to say about losing his virginity very interesting.

We decided to take the rings off a few years ago. I lost my virginity when I was 20…I’m glad I waited for the right person because you look back and you go, “That girl was batshit crazy. I’m glad I didn’t go there”. 

Many people have commented on the Disney star’s revelation about his virginity with sarcasm and a sort of “I told you so” attitude. The “conventional wisdom” of modern pop culture is that celibacy never works and is an unrealistic standard to pursue. As Jonas expressed, those who choose to wait until marriage for sex are treated as if they were brainwashed cultists. However, I think the takeaway from Jonas’ essay isn’t that abstinence is silly and doesn’t work – I think the takeaway is that abstinence DOES work, even when it doesn’t.

Jonas says he waited until he was 20 to give up his virginity. That is an impressive feat given the lifestyle and opportunities of celebrity-hood. Studies suggest teens that engage in sex are more likely to experience depression and also divorce in the future. In a society that is increasingly sexualized its certainly no secret that abstinence is very, very difficult.  I promised myself I would wait until marriage. I was about the same age as Jonas when I broke that promise. I recommitted and broke it again years later. 

My point is – abstinence is difficult and a lot of people fail at it. That doesn’t make it worthless. Abstinence taught me to value sex and treasure the intimacy it creates. Even though I fell short it did prevent me from making bad choices when it came to intimacy in my dating life. Because of that promise I waited longer, which gave me a better shot at one day finding a loving, respectful partner who would covet the gift of our intimacy. As a matter of fact if you ask my husband if I had slept with him while we were dating would he have ended up marrying me he will say “No”. The truth is that decision added an incentive for him to really pursue me and get to know me as a woman he could fall in love with.

Joe Jonas said about the same thing. Even in his admission of failure he still recognizes that his early promise set the tone for how he viewed sex. It taught him relationships have serious ramifications in any life and sex is best and safest (for mind, heart and body) when shared with someone you have a long-term relationship with. To me that’s a resounding endorsement for abstinence. Sex can create LIFE. It can destroy confidence, inspire crazy behavior, sparks wars and celebrations and yet we’ve been sold so many lies about how inconsequential sex really is.

Abstinence is a tool in valuing that most intimate of acts. How can that ever be wrong?

Neither Jonas nor I fulfilled the promises we made to ourselves as teens. That abstinence bar is pretty high but as a member of a community that is oft-subject to the “soft bigotry of low expectations” (see what Florida is doing for their Black students) I am loathe to lower standards for our children. There is worth in reaching for a goal, even if it is a lofty one. Those who choose abstinence for themselves aren’t crazy, and if they fail they are NOT failures. Jonas may have made a leap for the bar and come up short, but at least his feet were off the ground for a moment.

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