Barnabas Network International | Online Resources for Churches


"Abstinence" is a dirty word!  


The debate is on again! All it took was for someone to advocate abstinence as a legitimate response to the sexual freedom issues in our society and the 'freedom advocates' came out of the woodwork.   If there is one word that is guaranteed to re-ignite the debate regarding safe sex (assuming that it ever needed re-ignition) it is the word "abstinence".


Those who advocate such an approach are generally regarded by the wider society with a range of predictable reactions. Most responses involve ridicule and disbelief that anyone in their right mind would promote abstinence. The best response that "abstinence advocates" can expect is being treated as "quaint".  


What is it about sexual issues that so strongly resists the idea of abstinence? In other areas of life the idea of abstinence is not only accepted but even welcomed. I read the following in a news report recently….  


Alcohol is widely used and enjoyed by many people. However, drinking to excess can cause  medical, occupational, personal, financial, legal or social problems. If you think that your drinking is effecting your health, relationship, or work performance, you may want to cut down or abstain from alcohol. Young people have many responsibilities in their lives, including study and work. They are not naive about the role of alcohol in their life. They are actually trying to manage it and its place in their life. [Sydney Morning Herald (on line) April 29, 2009]  


So then, am I take it that it is legitimate to try and manage the place of alcohol in one's life? Even to the point of abstaining from drinking alcohol? And such a decision may even be looked upon with a degree of admiration by others?  


And what about nicotine? There has been a very significant cultural shift in the last couple of decades regarding cigarette smoking. Millions of dollars are spent annually trying to convince smokers to…..smoke in moderation? No! Those programs make an appeal for the smoker to give it up. To abstain!  


It would seem, then, that it's OK to call for abstinence when it comes to cigarette smoking and to applaud those who have 'gone on the wagon' when it comes to alcohol (although moderation in their drinking would make us feel more comfortable. We don't want to over-react, do we?)  


So, what is it about sexual freedom (including the freedom to abstain) that evokes such a hostile response towards abstinence?   Maybe it is a fear that the advocates of abstinence will try and force their views on the advocates of condoms and free sex so that some form of prohibition is enacted as was the case some decades ago when the authorities tried to enforce prohibition of alcohol.  


In all this, I am not trying to advocate prohibition of alcohol, nicotine or condoms. Prohibition has never worked and never will. I am, however, advocating persuasion when it comes to these social issues. Prohibition imposes a law from outside that results in people being constrained.Persuasion changes a person from inside resulting in them being convinced.  


I am also wanting to plead the legitimacy of abstinence as a choice to be made when it comes to sexual issues and choices. If abstinence is an appropriate response so far as nicotine and alcohol are concerned, why not in the area of our sexuality?      

Download free ministry resources.
give us your feedback.