Archive for Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Double Take: Tips for teens making the case for abstinence

October 6, 2009


Dear Wes & Samantha: Your column talks a lot about kids deciding to have sex. What about if we have decided not to? Could you give some tips on how to be abstinent rather than just say that not very many teens are? My boyfriend and I already know that. We want to try anyway.

Wes: All you have to do is ask. Regardless of whether you’re doing it for religious, health or emotional reasons, the decision to remain abstinent is a great one. I’m impressed that you’ve actually MADE a decision. Too many young people just fall into sexual activity or do it as a way of competing in a limited dating pool. So the first tip I’d offer to anyone who isn’t yet sexually active is to sit down and think it through and make an affirmative decision whether you want to be or not — and let NOT be an authentic choice. If you’re already sexually active, sit down and make a decision whether you want to continue to be. It’s uncommon, but there’s no reason you can’t decide to let your sex life go dormant until you feel you’re better prepared. This isn’t like deciding between Wii and Xbox. It’s a serious, consequential decision. While you can reduce the long-term physical and emotional risk of sexual activity by taking careful precautions, you cannot eliminate it. Sex is never risk-free in any way, shape or form.

Next, you need to clearly define “sex.” I realize this brings back uncomfortable news clips of a certain president and his intern, but it’s important for you to set your own boundaries on exactly what constitutes sexual activity versus abstinence. Will you kiss? Will there be touching — if so where and how? If this seems too personal to consider or discuss, then you need to wait until you’re mature enough to proceed. In all things sexual, avoiding a choice is making one — usually one you’ll regret. Once you have this figured out, be crystal-clear with any partners very early in the relationship. Of course you’ll lose some dating options, but you may well gain a sense of purpose in your sexual development that will serve you a lot better in adulthood than 14 ex-partners from your teen years.

Abstinence is one of those odd situations where you have to work harder to not do something than to do it. A healthy sexual appetite is a normal part of adolescence and young adulthood. Going against that is like standing up in a rushing river: You have to use a lot of energy to resist the current. In order to compete with sex, you need other activities that involve healthy excitement and risk taking. Fortunately the myth that the world is so boring it demands we have sex is ridiculous. You can learn rock climbing or survival training. I’ve even heard of places that allow you to race cars on a closed track. It’s obviously better if you can share your activities with your partner, allowing you to build intimacy without having to end up violating your agreement.

Samantha: I admit that my response to this is very personal and something I wouldn’t normally share. However, I can’t answer your question with facts or statistics. I can only tell you what I know. I’ve been dating the same guy for nearly a year and 10 months, and we are abstinent. We have chosen not to have sex at least until college, and maybe not even then. It’s not a religious decision. It’s a decision we made because we don’t feel we’re ready yet.

Because we’ve been exclusive with each other for so long, people ask me if we’ve had sex and are often surprised when I say no. They ask me if he’s pressured me. I explain that he agrees that we are not ready. I applaud you for also finding someone who not only respects your decision but actually agrees with you.

These reactions can make you feel as though you’re doing something wrong, like maybe you should be having sex. Instead of explaining why you don’t, try just listening. You can probably think of a counterpoint for everything someone says, and that’s fine, but keep your arguments to yourself. People who feel a need to argue with you may actually be questioning their own choice, and they may feel a need to defend it to you and to themselves.

If outside pressure doesn’t get to you, great! But no matter how you and your boyfriend feel about abstinence, there is still pressure within your relationship to have sex. You’re dating because you’re attracted to each other, emotionally and physically. As Wes points out, it’s human nature to want to express that and make the other person happy.

Having solid boundaries will allow you to make your behavior consistent with your values and beliefs. I recommend you each separately decide what your limits are, then make a pact: Don’t do anything that you have not verbally agreed to in advance. This way, you won’t be questioning what you want while your hormones are going crazy. If you want to change those boundaries, that’s fine but talk about it first, not in the heat of the moment.

Talking about sex (whether you are having it or not) can be pretty awkward. Stick to whatever you think is right for you and don’t let others’ opinions or unclear boundaries keep you from sticking to your promise to each other and to yourself.

— Dr. Wes Crenshaw is a board-certified family psychologist and director of the Family Therapy Institute Midwest. Samantha Schwartz is a senior at Lawrence High School. Opinions and advice given here are not meant as a substitute for psychological evaluation or therapy services. Send your questions about adolescent issues (limited to 200 words) to All correspondence is strictly confidential.


canyon_wren 8 years, 6 months ago

Great advice from both Dr. Wes and Samantha!

SettingTheRecordStraight 8 years, 6 months ago

More terrible advice from Wes and his teenage sidekick. Neither have a moral compass. Instead, they repeat the tired old lines we hear from a degraded society: Do what feels good. It's all relative. There are no absolutes.


Imagine replacing Wes' bone-headed advice on premarital sex with either a) adultery or b) teen drinking. Under Wes' plan, a would-be adulterer should "think through" his plan to cheat before sleeping with his mistress. He should "consider the long-term consequences" to his wife and children. And while choosing to not cheat would be a "great decision," who is Wes to judge a behavior as immoral?

Now take teen drinking. According to Wes' logic, the urge for teens to rebel by drinking alcohol is strong, and the desire to take risks with alcohol is even stronger. Wes would say, if he is being intellectually honest with himself, that anyone who teaches teens to be abstinent from alcohol is "being unrealistic." Instead, Wes would help guide them in their decision making. Wes' deplorable advice to a young drinker would be similar to what he shared in today's column: "Once you have this figured out, be crystal-clear" with your parents and the police that you have decided to engage in safe alcohol consumption.

Why does society condemn aldultery and teen drinking but for some reason give teen sex a pass? It doesn't make sense.

Amy Heeter 8 years, 6 months ago

I wish the LJWorld would drop This column.

canyon_wren 8 years, 6 months ago

WOW! I didn't get the message YOU got, SettingTheRecordStraight, or I would never have said I thought it was a good column. Are you sure you read the same column I did? I thought it was a very "cautionary" bit of advice--and I certainly expected more along the lines of what you described.

SettingTheRecordStraight 8 years, 6 months ago


In my opinion, Wes has given the same advice on teen sex since the ljworld has carried his column. His advice is that teens are going to have sex if they want to, and it's foolish for adults to teach a message of abstinence only.

Thankfully, parents, teachers and law enforcement are committed to "abstinence only" when it comes to teen drinking and drug use. Sex seems to be the exception to the commonsense rule.

headdoctor 8 years, 6 months ago

Teens can do it but talk about it? Abstinence instead of birth control? Talking about it, setting limits, making pacts? Waiting until college or later for sex? That is a hormone cocktail recipe for baby.

BrianR 8 years, 6 months ago

"...teens are going to have sex if they want to, and it's foolish for adults to teach a message of abstinence only."

In what universe is this untrue? Teach your kids how you want them to live and hope for the best. Getting all worked up about having a false sense of control will only get you an early coronary.

mom_of_three 8 years, 6 months ago

Excellent column. And you can't insert alcohol for sex in this column. Two entirely different arguments.

jonas_opines 8 years, 6 months ago

canyon_wren (Anonymous) says…

"WOW! I didn't get the message YOU got, SettingTheRecordStraight"

It's pretty clear (assuming that he even read This particular column before commenting on it) than unless you shriek the evils of sex and damnation, then to STRS you have no moral compass and are just a sign of a degraded society. By those, of course, he really just means one that thinks differently from himself. I'm surprised that you haven't picked up on that yet.

denak 8 years, 6 months ago

I agree completely with this column. I really can't see where people have any legitimate objection to the advice given.

I would much rather my son and his friends get advice that tells them a) there is nothing wrong with your urges, you are human and it is natural, b) but you don't have to have sex to have a healthy, loving relationship and c) if you decide to, talk to your partner BEFORE you have sex about protection, boundaries and expectations.

Seems to me, that is good advice regardless of one's age.

Of course, if you disagree, you could always just tell your child, "no" and well, we see how that works out.


canyon_wren 8 years, 6 months ago

Good comments, dena and jonas. I stand by my approval of this column. I am a firm believer in abstinence, as I think sex is too fantastic to treat as cheaply as it is treated now by both kids and adults. I have really strong feelings about this, but I realize that it is impractical to assume abstinence can ever be a common perspective. The important thing to teach teenagers--with regard to sex or drug/alcohol use--is that their peers shouldn't be relied on as having a more logical idea of what is best for THEM--that is "the blind leading the blind." I think a lot of marriage problems now are because young people "slept around" and sex has been separated from love, so it is not a part of an emotional commitment to a spouse. However, I realize the way I look at many things differs greatly from others' views. I just want kids to realize THEY are unique and can make their own decisions about life, rather than in response to pressure from their peers.

Romans832 8 years, 6 months ago

For those who advocate abstinence, at what age do you bring this subject up with a son or daughter? You've seen teens and pre-teens trying to walk up the down escalator? Every time I see that, I think and often say, "Well, if you can do that, you should also be able to wait until marriage for sex." (How is walking up the down escalotor like abstinence? Both seemingly difficult to do.) One gal had gone up three or four stairs (I think that's about as far as she planned to go) and was looking for her mother's approval, when I made the comment about waiting for sex until marriage. I got a motherly glare and she told me my comment was totally inappropriate, because her daughter was "only seven." I wanted to ask, "How old does she have to be before you talk to her about these things?" Maybe she does talk about such things but just not with such graphic language. I've never been the mother of a 7-year-old, and don't expect to be anytime in the future. So help me understand what is appropriate. (The only other person I've asked didn't see what was wrong, but he's never been a parent either.) I suppose "mind your own business and let the parents do the teaching" would be one answer, but kids get a lot of lessons from places other than parents, so why not allow a bit of "humor" to be used as food for thought?

Kash_Encarri 8 years, 6 months ago

I would like to think that I could read this column the same way you did wren, but when I caught my kid looking at things on the net that I did not approve of and caught him smoking weed I felt the need for professional assistance for both of us since I obviously was not setting the example that I had thought I was. Wes was the person that we were sent to through my company's IAP, and after a couple of visits and being told the kid just needed to find a girlfriend I knew what a waste of time it was to go see him.

After that experience, all I can hear (or read) from Wes is quack, quack, quack.

somedude20 8 years, 6 months ago

barrypenders (Anonymous) says… What would the progressive Clinton, Letterman, and Polanski (C.L.a P.) have to say about this. The progressive mind supports C.L.aP's activities so maybe C.L.aP's could enlighten the children. Darwin bless you all

Get a life!!! Really!!!!

canyon_wren 8 years, 6 months ago

good comment, Romans, and good analogy, too!

I only raised one daughter and I have an idea she waited till marriage (she married at 27) but that was her business. She didn't date much till college, so that helped her get past some uncertain times, I am sure. I don't know that I warned her or gave her any ultimatums, but did let her know, right along, that I thought sex was really a fine thing, so I don't think she had any hang-ups in that department. Mainly, though, I raised her right along to make her own decisions and she is such a sensible person now that I depend on HER a lot for advice. She also seems to be very happily married. I suppose there IS a way to communicate some important things like that to a 7-year-old but it would have to be in a very general way. When I was young, my mother sang lots of old songs to us, and one of them had the lines, "Don't touch, don't meddle, little boy, little girl, or the world will lose some of its joy." I have no recollection of what that song was really about but have often thought of it in terms of kids experimenting with sex before they would be able to appreciate its beauty.

canyon_wren 8 years, 6 months ago

Interesting info, Kash! It DOES sound like your contact with Dr. Wes was a big waste of time. Hope things are going better for you now with your boy.

hail2oldku 8 years, 6 months ago

I've heard other similar stories Kash. I don't think you're alone in those personal experiences. Maybe that's the itch that STRS is trying to scratch as well.

jonas_opines 8 years, 6 months ago

Finding a good therapist for you is a lot like trying to find a partner in any other walk of life. It generally takes more than just a single one to find the right fit, and sometimes the right fit is to abandon the idea of therapy altogether. It's just a simple fact that what one promotes as positive steps or a correct path will occasionally rub up against another's own personal views or personal ethical code. If they do with you, you find someone else. If they all do, you might forget therapy, or perhaps you might question your own personal views or personal ethical code.

Kirk Larson 8 years, 6 months ago

You might be a conservative if... think if your kids can't get condoms, they won't have sex.

9070811 8 years, 6 months ago

Well, the idea of telling your offspring of what you want them to do and the way you want them to live isn't exactly the proper way to go about it. You'd have to have a super great relationship all throughout childhood to have your advice to be acted upon. Discuss with them what they want in life and give them resources to be educated about sex and it's outcomes. Tell them your story, you don't have to tell them your intimate details; but as a parent, your feelings matter. There is a way to discuss without being preachy. If your family is religious, explain the how sex is a act that brings one closer God. As sex is the form of making a life, which God is the ultimate creator and father.

Everyone needs to keep in mind that comprehensive sexual education saves lives. Denying someone comprehensive education is denying them the facts of life, literally.

KansasPerson 8 years, 6 months ago

Romans, I am pretty shocked at your comment. No matter what your thoughts on the matter, you should keep them in your head, or pass them on to the people in your own life. As a parent, I must tell you -- if I had a seven-year-old girl and a total stranger in the mall said ANYTHING to her about sex, said stranger would be taking a trip down the escalator via a smack upside the head from me.

puddleglum 8 years, 6 months ago

another reason I am glad I don't have a teenage daughter.

9070811 8 years, 6 months ago

puddleglum, a teenage son can/will/may engage in sexual activity too.

denak 8 years, 6 months ago


I don't necessarily disagree with you. I think children need to hear from their parent(s) that they are unique and special. I think if they heard if from their parents enough, some would go looking for validation in other places.

I also agree that sex is too fantastic to be treated cheaply. Unfortunately, in our society, our children are bombarded with sexual imagery constantly and usually the message they are getting is negative and unrealistic. So, I think it is crucial for parents to try to fight that as much as possible.

I don't think telling your child to wait is unreasonable but I do think it is unreasonable and irresponsible for parents to not teach their children what they need in order to grow up healthy and whole. So, yes by all means teach abstinence. More importantly teach your values. But I also think that a parent's responsibility is to prepare his or her child for the real world because like it or not, statistically, your daughter probably wasn't a virgin at 27 (not picking on her) and my son,probably will not be a virgin at 27. (not something I want to think about) and most kids won't wait for marriage, so it is imperative to teach children what they need to know in an age appropriate way from the time they are young children until they leave for college.


denak 8 years, 6 months ago

".... I think if they heard if from their parents enough, some would go looking for validation in other places...."

oops, this is why I should proof-read. It should read, "some would not go looking for validation in other places..."

newbee2 8 years, 6 months ago

Let people (teens and adults) make informed, educated decisions. There should be no finger pointing in this process, like "teaching abstinence is bad" or "teaching sex education is bad" is the key, education early (some girls go through puberty at a scary early age these days) and education frequently (more than one talk is called for here). If parents are unwilling to do it (you are either lazy bums or cowards), then society has to! I, for one, am sick of paying for immature people's mistakes (and I am not just talking about teens, either).

Escapee 8 years, 6 months ago

Interesting column and interesting comments (the serious ones). I happen to agree with the advice given by both Wes and Samantha. To communicate -- both parent to child, and adolescent to adolescent (or whatever age the topic becomes an issue) -- is of the utmost importance. To be thoroughly educated on sexual matters is information to be shared long before then. (Sort of the 'classroom education' for drivers' ed before that actual 'behind the wheel'.)

I have raised three daughters. One lives with her boyfriend at age 25; one is most likely sexually active and has a steady boyfriend at age 20; and yet another is very specific in what she's looking for in a partner and has not yet addressed this issue in depth at age 20. Although I tried not to impose my own moral code upon my girls, I did share with them that I was not a virgin upon marrying and often wished I had been. Also told them why. Which is because -- as several of you have expressed, it is a gift too precious to share with those to whom a full commitment isn't acknowledged. Having a sexual relationship with someone you love changes that relationship forevermore. Those who are not ready to deal with that reality...will have problems. That doesn't mean that I think everybody who has a sexual relationship in their lives must be married. I think my oldest daughter has an extremely healthy relationship with her boyfriend (with whom she lives) -- but they also have full communication about what that means and what their commitment to one another means. That clarity has everything to do with how meaningful -- and even how satisfying -- that sexual relationship will be.

I would find it awkward to have to discuss some of these things with my now grown daughters (unless they came to me requesting advice) and I'm glad I chose to educate them as best I knew how at much earlier ages. I think the most important thing I was able to impress upon them was that sexuality is mostly choices -- that we have the right to do or not do things with our own bodies that we choose. That it isn't alright for someone else to take advantage of us -- physically, OR emotionally. And that to protect ourselves -- both physically AND emotionally is, and should always be a priority.

Escapee 8 years, 6 months ago

As for choosing counselors -- I agree with the person that said you must find the one that matches your own moral groundings in order for you to get advice that will fit you in your life. One of my daughters needed counseling when we lived in Lawrence. We went to Wes. And it was not a good fit for my daughter. We then sought counseling elsewhere and were helped dramatically. But that doesn't mean that I think Wes's advice stinks. I don't. I think he probably serves the majority of Lawrencians better than the counselor we used. But that's more because I saw great differences in the average Lawrencian -- and 'us'. (Hence, the move.) He's lived there a long, long time. He has a good understanding of what goes on there. And he has sat behind closed doors with a good percentage of Lawrence's families and children, and blended families, and single parents, and damaged, lost children, etc., etc., etc.. Some people just don't like to hear the truth. doesn't fit their moral codes for life.

At any rate, name-calling is a rather immature and worthless reaction to whatever your difference of opinion with him might be. His guidance is mostly based on what he knows to be working solutions to the problems he deals with. Maybe even specific to the Lawrence Community in some instances. I think he provides a good reflection of what's going on in this particular community. And would be highly unlikely that anybody would agree 100% of the time with what somewhat else has to say. Especially when the topics of discussion chosen are usually those that pose the most conflict....

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