To Abstain Courteously

Update: Also see the later and more detailed post How to Handle
SIW points us to the OU’s new site dedicated to abstinence with the redirected link
SIW himself is critical of the OU’s position on condoms:

Read through the literature on the abstinence movement making its way through public schools and other childhood education, and you’ll find that it leads to decreased condom use among the sexually-active, that self-proclaimed “virgins” frequently choose instead to engage in sexual activity that they simply don’t consider “sexual intercourse” and tend to do it in an unsafe manner, and myriad other issues. Now, if you were thinking that when Jewish groups, with so many health professional among their ranks having spoken out against these pro-abstinence tactics, would veer away from suggestions that could tempt Jewish youth into unsafe practices, you’d be wrong.

There’s an exchange I had with my Niddah Rabbi in smikha which may help explain the rationale. Given the increase in sexual activity in the Jewish community (especially among teenagers), I asked if at some point we should encourage women to go to mikvah even single to at least negate the issur karet. The response was that were that to be the policy the result would be an even greater increase in sexual activity and no greater likelihood of taharat hamishpacha. I’m guessing the OU is doing something similar here, advocating a stricter halakhic stance, because allowing for anything less would tacitly approve of sexual activity.

What bothers me here is not so much the content, but the obviously condescending and pandering tone. From the design of the site it seems clear that they’re trying to speak to the younger generation – e.g. a section called “Your Bod” – but such attempts are like your parents trying to act “cool” and “hip.” This approach never works because it’s artificial and eventually the charade will be exposed. Case in point, here’s one attempt at cultural relevancy:

Deciding to abstain can be easier said than done. In our society, sex is literally everywhere, from magazine covers to billboards and from car ads to beer commercials. “Back in the day,” only soap operas might feature sexually active characters. Lucy and Ricky slept in separate beds. All Greg Brady might get after a date was a peck on the cheek. When Natalie lost her virginity to Snake on The Facts of Life, that was huge – and it was only 1988! Now, shows like Friends and Seinfeld, whose characters routinely jump from bed to bed, are considered “quaint.” The personalities of characters on shows like Will and Grace, The OC and Sex and the City are virtually defined by their sex lives! All this makes it seem as if promiscuity is the societal norm. It isn’t, nor should it be.

Demonstrating moral decay from television shows is not a new argument. While they get points for knowing about The OC and Sex and the City, who under the age of 27 would remember a specific episode of Facts of Life let alone I Love Lucy? More importantly, what teenager would find this argument compelling?

Teenagers may be growing up faster, but that also means that they can expose and reject condescending tripe much easier. In other words, just as the behaviors and mentality of teenagers changed over time, the OU would need to adjust accordingly. I’m not arguing against the OU’s agenda given the alarming rise in sexual activity and the dangers involved, but there has to be a more appropriate and effective strategy to communicate and influence behaviors.


  1. Shana
  2. Shana
  3. Janet Rosenbaum
  5. Shana
  6. Steve Brizel
Send this to a friend