Guidance on Sexual Self-Control



This is a tricky subject for many people in today’s world because we live in a liberal society, in the western world at least, where unlimited sex can seem to be OK. It is particularly difficult for young people who somehow have to find a sensible way for themselves through all this freedom.

What is a sensible way? Pressure from friends, from TV ‘soaps’, from magazines and from advertising all seem to spell out a message that anything goes. People need to bear in mind many things before they start a sexual relationship. When puberty arrives and our bodies change and sex hormones start to make us feel attracted to the opposite sex, it can be very tempting to start to experiment with sex. But at that stage in our lives it is a dangerous game to play. Maturity helps us to make better decisions.

Sex adds to the joys of a loving relationship, but it is important that the love comes first, not the sex. It is true that love sometimes follows sex and this is because sex can be such a powerful experience, but this creates great difficulties between people. Relationships built on sexual attraction alone soon become weak because all the other things that make a strong relationship may be missing. Things such as shared values, interests, family backgrounds and education are the true basis of relationship. Sexual appreciation should come after these aspects are considered. Sex is a promise of loving attention to the other person, but many people have forgotten this. They have short-term meaningless relationships, often of the sort where one of the partners ends up feeling ‘used’.

Sexuality is a beautiful gift to be enjoyed in sexual intercourse or we can choose to express it’s energy and excitement in other ways, through our creativity, dancing or singing or other exciting experiences. Casual sex is an empty, meaningless and dangerous activity. On the other hand sex in a loving and committed partnership strengthens the bonds between partners and brings them closer in understanding. That is not to say that the sex act is an essential activity in all loving partnerships. Some people find that it becomes unnecessary in their relationship at a certain age. Others continue their sexual activities into their sixties and seventies and consider it to be a very important part of life.

All creatures have an instinct to reproduce. Human beings are drawn to reproduce and form lasting relationships in order to look after their young. For us sex is a means of creating children and also a means of giving and receiving deep and loving pleasure. Sex is fun and is there to be enjoyed. It is a very strong desire in humankind but if it is treated with disrespect, it can lead to many problems.

When people have careless sexual relationships, the result is that fatherless babies are born to girls and women who are ill equipped to look after them. This is happening all over the world. In the UK figures in the year 2000 showed that we have more teenage pregnancies than any other country in Europe. Many children are brought up by only one parent. For the children this creates a huge gap in their lives, either having no father or sometimes no mother. The young parents miss out on having a supportive and loving partner to share the joys and also the many difficulties of bringing up a family. It can be a very hard and lonely job for the single parent.

Girls may decide to have an abortion, a very difficult decision to make. Occasionally, if old-fashioned methods are used, they may have difficulties in becoming pregnant later on when they do have a loving partner and they both want a family. Although there are many modern solutions to unwanted pregnancy, they do not come without a price. Pressure might be put on a girl to have casual sex because of the easy availability of contraception and ‘morning after’ pills and she could pick up one of the many sexually transmitted diseases. Some of these diseases cause sterility (being unable to have babies), some cannot be treated medically and may affect people for the whole of their lives; some such as AIDS are fatal. Although these diseases are relatively uncommon, more and more people are affected by them, especially people who are promiscuous (those who have casual sexual intercourse with many partners).

So when dealing with sex the first consideration is respect for oneself and for the other person who is involved. It is best to let sex develop in committed relationships. Perhaps the relationship will not turn out as you hoped, but at least you will have loved and respected the other person, and were also loved and respected yourself.

We need to understand how our bodies work. It is dangerous to hide behind ignorance and the excitement of being swept away by the moment. If we do decide we are mature enough to cope with the possible results of pregnancy, then the safest way we can do this is to use contraception properly. It does not come with a hundred percent guarantee of safety, either from pregnancy or from picking up a disease, but it does reduce the likelihood of either or both, depending on the method used. *2

In the West it is now considered quite normal for children to learn about their own bodies by touching them and getting used to the sensations produced. It is not something to feel guilty about and for some people it releases tensions and removes the distraction of sexual thoughts. In the West girls and boys do go out with each other before marriage, unlike the young man in the story. Young people have to decide what is responsible behaviour, and ‘how far they can go’ without risk to their health, happiness, or to their future. Sober, clear-headed decisions are required to keep you out of trouble.

The average age of first sexual experience with another person in the UK in the 1990s was 17 for girls and 15 for boys, but most of those who had had early sexual experiences said they wished they had waited longer*. They had been pushed into experimenting with people they had no real feelings for, or had acted out of curiosity. Some had been under the influence of drink or drugs which dull the mind and make bad decisions more likely. Once a young person starts this kind of activity it can become harder to refuse the next time or the next person. Are young teenagers really ready for serious relationships, which could result in pregnancy and the responsibility of bringing up children, or for making agonising decisions about abortion? The world trumpets sex in nearly every advertisement, in most TV programmes, in magazines and in newspapers. It is easy to be taken in by all this publicity and to want to join in with what appears to be going on. Thoughtful people do not act in careless and irresponsible ways. The subject clearly needs some very careful thought and discussion before decisions are made.


Questions to ask yourself, or to discuss with friends, parents and teachers

  • What makes a good relationship?
  • What sort of peer pressure is there in relationships? (Peers are people of our own age)
  • How may a boy friend or girlfriend influence your behaviour?
  • Who should make the final decision about what you do with your body - you or someone else?
  • Where can you get information about sex education? *2

* National Children’s Bureau, leaflet 158, Highlight 1998.

Ref.4. Wellings, K and others (1994) Sexual Behaviour in Britain: The National Survey of Sexual attitudes and Life styles. Penguin

Ref. 16. Thompson, R and Scott, (1991) Learning about Sex: Young women and the social construction of sexual identity Tufnell Press

*2 Materials and information are available from:
Sex Education Forum,
National Children’s Bureau,
8, Wakley Street,
Tel. 020 7843 6056