I’ve had the opportunity to speak to millions of teens from across the U.S. about abstinence, and you’d be shocked at some of the answers I’ve gotten when I ask people to define “abstinence.” When I first started speaking, I went to a preparatory school in Beverly Hills where they spend a lot of cheese to send their kids to school.
Cheese is the equivalent of cheddar, bling-bling, ice or whatever vernacular kids are using these days for money. So I asked the crowd, “Can anyone tell me what abstinence is?”
This one chick raised her hand and said, “Um, it’s like, um, really, like you know what I’m sayin’....it’s like a growth that like grows in the back of your neck.”
And I said, “No, honey, that’s an abscess....okay.”
Then I got in my car and rolled across to the south side of L.A. to a high school in Compton. As you probably guessed, they don’t spend no cheese to send their kids to that broke-down, tore-up school.
So I asked the assembly at Compton, “Can anyone tell me what abstinence is?
Sista girl raised her hand and said, “Yo, um, it’s like this. You know what I’m saying? It’s like Mookey and Yoyo told me that Yashika and Camoochi said it was like a bird.” And I said, “No, honey, that’s an albatross...okay.” People have some crazy definitions for abstinence. But abstinence is not a growth and it is not a bird: It is saving sex until marriage.
It means waiting until you say “I do”—which means I do you, you do me and we don’t do nobody else. Abstinence: Waiting until you say “I do”—which means I do you, you do me and we don’t do nobody else. Mom wasn’t afraid to talk about abstinence. She was very clear: “You have sex and I will kill you.”
When I thought of premarital sex, pregnancy and disease were not the first things that came to mind. I feared a major time-out: I might not come back out of consciousness after my mom found out. But the ultimate time-out would be the disappointment I would feel from my mom because she gave me her best and I didn’t give it back.
Many people believe abstinence is completely unrealistic—and it is if someone shakes their finger at you, tells you not to do it and then doesn’t show you how to live it. My mom demonstrated for us as a single parent what it was to abstain from sex. She didn’t have a string of boyfriends sleeping over or living with us. And she didn’t just advocate sexual abstinence—she promoted a lifestyle of abstinence from all risky behaviors including drugs, alcohol and violence.
She knew that if you’re not modeling what you’re teaching, and then you’re teaching something else. If you’re not modeling what you’re teaching, then you’re teaching something else. Teaching abstinence isn’t shaking your finger and telling someone to “just say no.”
Teaching abstinence is mastery and demonstration of the arts of self-control, self- discipline and delayed gratification. Many adults are busy telling young people don’t do this or don’t do that, which only helps them focus on what not to do. Not doing those things becomes its own end. But my parents communicated to us that the things we were to abstain from—including smoking, drinking and promiscuity—were a means to an end. The end was a better life, and those things were obstacles that would get in the way.
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