Abstinence = Happiness?

Here is a video I watched recently:

Here is the comment I posted on YouTube:

I love how the abstinence guy brings up ‘statistics’. If he really cared about statistics, he’d look at the scientific research showing the failure rate of abstinence. Despite Christian theology, humans are still animals who have natural sexual urges. Research shows abstinence-only programs fail in actually stopping young adults from having sex until they’re married.  A tiny fraction of a percent might manage to abstain, but they are rare exceptions.

Here is the first response to my comment made by girloffaith16:

“Where is your evidence?”

I’ve already posted the evidence in my blog:

Here is the second response to my comment made by noclip14:

“I don’t think you understood the argument. He was saying that people who abstain from sex until marriage tend to be happier. He used statistics from surveys that showed this. Christianity isn’t the only religion that preaches abstinence until marriage. Also, there are many non-religious people that abstain from sex until marriage.”

I haven’t responded to this specific point in the past and so let me take that opportunity now.

I did understand the argument. I just didn’t think it mattered that people who claim to be abstinent also claim to be happy.

First, I’ve seen enough data to know that teens define abstinence in ways that fundamentalists wouldn’t necessarily accept. When asked in studies, some teens consider handjobs or blowjobs as being included within the label of ‘abstinence’.

Second, being happy doesn’t prove one is correct or moral. Research does show that religious people claim to be happier (whether or not they objectively are happier). But I’m suspicious of anything religious people say, especially fundamentalists. Bob Altemeyer’s research shows social conservatives and fundamentalists have a stronger tendency toward Right-Wing Authoritarianism (RWA). The relevant facts about RWAs is that they are more likely than the average person to lie and be hypocritical.

Even so, I wanted to look at the data for myself. Are abstinent people more happy? Here is what I found:


What it found is that teen girls aren’t always driven to have sex out of depression or rebellion. In fact, of the girls who resumed sexual activity after a period of abstinence, one of the main factors was being happy and having a secure relationship.

As the authors say,

“A number of studies demonstrate associations between depressed mood and sexual risk behaviors. However, studies using daily diaries and momentary sampling have demonstrated close temporal associations between improved mood and sexual thoughts and behaviors…Adolescent sexual intercourse is frequently presented as an entirely opportunity-driven risk behavior. Our data present a more nuanced picture, in which sexual intercourse is associated with important relationship attributes, such as partner support and perceptions of relationship quality.”

I don’t know how much research there is on the issue of the correlation (or lack thereof) between happiness and abstinence. And, if this correlation does exist, I don’t know that any simple causal relationship exists. The above research seems to show the situation is complex.

My thoughts are that anyone who is considered normal and accepted by others will be happier. The US is a fairly religious country and so the average person will probably be happier if they conform with the social norms. In our society, if a teen girl has sex and her peers find out, she might be called a slut, might be entirely ostracized or might get unwanted attention. And if a teen boy has sex and adults find out, his parents might punish him or a pastor/preacher might tell him that he is going to hell. Any teen who is willing to be independent of social norms (whether having sex, doing drugs, or simply acting atypical: a boy taking ballerina classes or a nerd who reads all the time) will have a more difficult life and will probably be less happy, but that isn’t to blame the teen for being treated negatively by peers and adults.

There are many possible counfounding factors and I don’t claim to know what they all might be. However, I can speak to human nature. Humans evolved as social animals and we are happiest when we are accepted as part of a group. This is why I think religious people profess happiness. It’s simply feels good to be accepted. Even being accepted by a gang feels better than being excluded, but in our society being accepted by a church is even better because being religious gives you automatic respect in our religious society. However, in a secular society such as China, religious people are probably less happy than the non-religious. So, it all depends on the social context. In terms of abstinence, research would show very different results in countries that have cultures of more openness towards sexuality. If you had sex and everyone around accepted that as normal, then you probably wouldn’t be unhappy.

Still, even in the US religious culture, there is no simple or consistent correlation between abstinence and happiness.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s