I come from a small town where most people are extremely conservative. Our high school did not have an abstinence-only sex ed program (yay!), but sex was (and still is) always a hard-to-talk-about topic in our community. Gay people stay in the closet. Pregnant teens are shamed. Children before marriage leads to a lot of whispers and, in many cases, a shotgun wedding regardless of whether or not that is the best choice for all parties involved.
There’s this weird type of peer pressure in a repressed community – the pressure to remain abstinent. In the backseats of run-down cars or behind the bleachers at the high school football game, the story is a little different. Lots of girls are pressured into having sex when they aren’t ready. But publicly, young adults are pressured to wait, even when they are ready.
I’m not saying that we should encourage teens to have sex. I actually believe that waiting is a really, really good thing. But I think it’s important that adults who decide they are ready and choose to have sex don’t feel dirty because they decided not to wait until marriage.
The term slutoften comes up in these kinds of conversations. Unfortunately, slut means different things to different people. People most often use the term with a negative connotation, to mean a woman (very, very rarely a man) who has sex with lots of different people (or even with the same person) often. Some people also use slut to mean a woman who has sex quickly after meeting someone, a woman who cheats on her partner, or a woman who is into kinky sex.
If you ask me, it’s just way too many definitions for the same word.
And so, to avoid being called slut and to avoid the entire town whispering behind our backs, we just stick to not having sex at all. Soon, everything associated with sex becomes taboo, unless one is married. Even then, if word gets out that you actually enjoy sex, you’re put through the gossip wringer.
This community creates a culture of peer pressure – the pressure to remain abstinent before marriage. It’s a dangerous thing, because few girls can live up to that standard. Once you decide you’re ready for sex, even subconsciously, it can be horrible to deny yourself. It can be even worse afterward, feeling like you’re a complete slut and not knowing that sometimes being slutty is absolutely fine!
I don’t know what the solution is, but I do know that the message needs to change. It needs to change from “it’s better to wait, but here’s how to use a condom just in case” to “whether you wait or not is up to you, as long as you make an adult decision and always listen to your own body.”
Have you guys experienced abstinence peer pressure? Do you think this is a problem for young adults (especially girls) everywhere or is it more isolated to rural communities like where I grew up?
Rori is the founder of Between My Sheets. She works full time as a writer, reviewer, and online educator and can be reached at rori-at-betweenmysheets.com