09 December 2010

Day 257: Does My Head Look Big in This?

Does My Head Look Big in This? by Randa Abdel-Fattah.  ISBN: 9780439922333.

In this book, Amal struggles not only with her identity, but also with her beliefs.  She is challenged, and rigorously, about something that teenagers have to deal with in a way that us old folk with more adjusted hormones don't have to -- sex.  Amal's beliefs make this especially difficult as she believes not only in abstinence, but in no kissing or sexual touching of any kind with another person (masturbation was not discussed in the book, so I probably won't focus on it). 

This may surprise people, but I am not against abstinence.  I am against abstinence being presented as the absolute only choice and I am definitely against saying that abstinence doesn't have any negative consequences.  That is simply not true.  Every single decision we make in our daily lives has negative and positive consequences, and with something as important as our sexuality and related health issues, we need to know all the details before making an informed and adult decision.  And even though teenagers are not adults, this is an adult decision and they will make it whether you like it or not.  If you think about it, having sex or not is the first adult decision children really make.  For the most part I think this is a good thing, as it is a decision over which they will hopefully have complete autonomy and be will ideally a means of expressing adult feelings to another person who has similar feelings (regardless of whether it is actually capital L Love).

I consider abstinence to be a valid choice in terms of birth control, lifestyle, and emotional preservation, but there are downsides and I think people should consider those downsides before they make the decision not to have premarital sex.  I will list the problems here:
  1. Sexual frustration
  2. It will affect romantic relationships (to be fair I would add this to the Pro side, as well as the Pro/Con list of Not Abstaining)
  3. Peer pressure
  4. Differences in experience level when the person does become sexually active
  5. Inability to relate to friends, etc. on this topic
  6. Being left potentially unprotected or without a birth control method if sex is forced or abstinence is abandoned
  7. Marrying someone you are sexually incompatible with
I would say that numbers six and seven are the biggest problems on this very short list.  I did not include all the problems involved in abstinence-only education.  Some of these are not really that much of a downside depending on how well you can cope and/or exactly the level of abstinence.  For instance, someone who perhaps allows dry humping may be better able to cope with sexual frustration, relate to their friends who have had sex, and gain enough sexual experience for it to be less of an issue with a future partner or partners.  Number six can be avoided by carrying protection and/or undergoing chemical birth control methods as a safety measure.  I highly promote the carrying of condoms regardless of sexual activity; there have certainly been times when I've needed one and not had one available.  The worst thing that will happen is that you or your friends will never need them and they expire.

I think number seven causes the most potential damage.  People are entering into marriage with no prior sexual experience and are unable to please their partners or even explain what it is they like, because they simply don't know.  Some of this may get better as newly married and previously abstinent couples become more experienced with each other or seek outside help from sex therapists, literature friends, or family, but some of it is also chemical and physical.  There are people you can love, and just not find yourself sexually attracted to.  I think this is probably more of an issue with people who don't have the benefit of the initial kick that falling in love gives us.  They miss out on that opportunity to have a kind of sex that is impossible to have once body chemistry reaches equilibrium and the "high-as-a-kite in love" feeling wears off.

This does not mean I think people should have premarital sex.  It means that I think they should be aware there are potential consequence and they should be prepared to cope with them.  I do not imagine that would be an easy thing to handle emotionally as a newly wed couple, and so I think it deserve more attention.  To say that abstinence has absolutely no consequences is not doing anyone any favors.

As a note, I made the decision to abstain from intercourse until I was 18.  I feel that it was a very good choice for me, but I do not think it is the best choice for everyone.  I would be happy to discuss my thoughts further for those who are interested and can hold respectful dialog.  Trolls aren't fed here.

My review can be found on Goodreads.

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