St Patrick’s patch 3: To do or not to do

Much of contemporary culture has gotten it wrong. Sex is not that connected with love. Sex is, foremost, pleasure, though I think it is also rather overrated even in that regard. Playing the piano can be more fun. Trust me, I’ve done both.

Too many adults tell enquiring teenagers that sex is something special and should be reserved for the one special person you love. Then when the teenager asks, What is love? the answer is “You’ll know it when you experience it.”

The next moment, the teenager gets a crush — and hormones would not be doing their jobs properly if he or she did not get crushes — and they soon think they’re in love, and Why not? Didn’t everybody say sex goes with love?

This patch 3’s bottom line is: Sex is a decision very separate from love. It is a decision taken on its own merits. You can love someone without it being a sexual relationship, and you can have sex without love even entering the equation.

To link sex with love is to make teenagers’ bodies hostage to their endocrine function. I trust teenagers’ rationality and mental maturity more than I would trust the vagaries of raging hormones. I would rather teenagers steer their lives through thoughtfulness and consideration than magnify their ups and downs on the roller-coaster of adolescent love, by putting sex in hock to it.

To teenagers I’d say this: The decision whether to engage is sex is not a decision you make when you’re in love. It’s a decision better made before you’re in love. When you’re in love, that particular person, and wanting to please that person, wanting to hold on to that person, will have a powerful grip on you, and these considerations can overwhelm others. Yet, having sex is an activity with far more consequences than your relationship with that person, consequences you will tend to factor out in a moment of love. The result is that you may make a decision under those circumstances different from the one you might prefer to make in a more sober moment. And then you might regret your actions.

Fine, but what if there’s an opportunity for sex just for the fun of it? That too is a decision for you to make, but again, it is better to have your own thoughts and principles in place before temptation and impulse overwhelms everything else. That way, what you finally do is one that you’re less likely to regret.

But first, let’s talk about the counter-party.


The urge to get physical can sometimes  be very strong. However, because it involves another person, it is important that both persons must feel equally ready to take the step. Quite often, this is not the case; one party is more eager to go ahead than the other party. To complicate things, the less eager party, afraid of losing the other’s affection or friendship, might fail to articulate his or her reservations clearly, and then events acquire a momentum of their own. The next day, the less eager party might regret what had happened; with that, a big thorn is introduced into your budding relationship. Will that relationship that you so treasure have a future?

The rule of thumb should be that the less eager party sets the pace and the limits. The slightest hesitation should be given the importance it deserves. Better to do less than to do too much only to wonder if you’ve made a mistake. There will always be another day, when you’re both more ready.

Another thing to bear in mind is that sex is not an all-or-nothing play. There are degrees of sex. There are even degrees of pre-sex, like kissing and fondling. Is mutual masturbation more agreeable to the both of you than penetrative sex?

Third parties

Everything we do involves risk. Ditto with sex. As explained in patch 2, there are pregnancy and infection risks. Some risks can be mostly eliminated with precautions, but other risks will remain. This is true even for adults engaging in sex. But there is a difference: Adults generally have better resources for dealing with negative consequences should they occur. These resources include emotional ballast, the perspective of experience and communication skills, making them better able to resolve problems within themselves and with their partners. They also include financial resources, to deal with an unexpected baby or visits to the doctor.

As a young person, you don’t have the same resources. When problems arise, you’ll need to depend on your parents or older siblings for help, not to mention the fact that a pregnant teenager faces social taboos that a pregnant adult does not. So if you make a reckless decision, the consequences of your decision affect other people around you too, people who are important to you.

Decide well in advance

Precisely because matters of the heart and physical intimacy are powerful forces, so we must act responsibly: to ourselves, our partners and our families.

I think it is important that each person, young or old, establishes certain baselines for himself or herself. We should know within ourselves what each of us is prepared to do, and what we do not want to do. These decisions should be made taking into account as much cost/benefit and risk/reward information as we can obtain. They must also be consistent with other overarching beliefs, such as religious convictions, and expected obligations to other people we love (e.g. family), so that we are at ease in our minds.

Making such decisions early before falling in love or before facing temptation is helpful in numerous ways. We communicate better to our future partners when our private resolutions are well-formed; we are less likely to be beating around the bush, or giving conflicting signals, leading our partners to draw mistaken conclusions. We are also less likely to be carried away by the moment when we have something clear in our rational minds that can balance our emotional impulses. This may not totally stop us from making mistakes, but it can make the difference between a small misstep and huge, lifelong one.

Thirdly, it’s useful against peer pressure. Because we’ve thought through and understood our feelings and convictions, when peers come and nudge us to do something else, the gap between what we really want and what peers are pointing to comes into focus easily. We become aware that it’s going to lead to an uncomfortable situation, enabling us to take appropriate measures, such as distancing ourselves from such conversations or such company.

Nor is it responsible behaviour to be the one putting peer pressure on others. Even if you have chosen to get intimate (safely, I hope) and are sexually experienced, you still have to respect your partner’s privacy. It’s not mature behaviour to talk about your intimate relationships like they were trophies to be displayed, or to egg others on. We all need to respect the fact that different people make different decisions in their own best interests.

Yes, you have a right to control your body and make a decision for yourself. But you also have a responsibility to yourself, and to those you love, to be making the best possible decision you can.

* * * * *

This post is the third in the series.

St Patrick’s patch 1: How to use a condom

St Patrick’s patch 2: Pregnancy and infection risk

St Patrick’s patch 3: To do or not to do

St Patrick’s patch 4: Who and what we are

8 Responses to “St Patrick’s patch 3: To do or not to do”

  1. 1 Anne 31 August 2010 at 14:34

    This is very much from a male perspective… but is worth for women to take note of how men are more easily able to split the two. Some women can split the two, many cannot. Orgasms release oxytocin and we suddenly get sex and love all mixed up. Guys who have sex with girls should be sensitive to the fact that girls may take this all much more personally.

    (PS: love the series – and great photos)

  2. 3 waxscribble 31 August 2010 at 22:02

    I agree with Anne… women do have a harder time differentiating the two, if they should be differentiated even.

  3. 4 yawningbread 31 August 2010 at 23:00

    Anne is referring to the neural imprinting on human brains as a result of neurochemical rushes from orgasm. It happens in males as well as females, and I would agree with Weekday Blues on this.

    But it only happens AFTER first sex with that particular partner. It is therefore off-scope as far as the article is concerned, because the main point of it was to encourage teenagers to be deliberate and aware BEFORE they get into sex.

    It would confuse the issues to be discussing post-coital neural changes.

  4. 5 yawningbread 31 August 2010 at 23:15

    There’s a letter from the Health Promotion Board in Straits Times Forum of 31 August 2010. For the record, I should put it here, especially as it provides important data:
    The writing’s on the wall for parents, schools

    WE REFER to the report (‘St Patrick’s objects to condom video’; Aug 21). The Breaking Down Barriers (BDB) programme developed jointly by the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Education and the Health Promotion Board (HPB) aims to provide accurate and comprehensive information and skills on the prevention of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and HIV infection.

    We fully support abstinence and the building of strong moral and ethical values in teenagers as the main preventive measure against the risk of human immunodeficiency virus infection.

    We cannot, however, ignore the findings of HPB’s Students’ Health Survey 2006 that young people in schools are engaging in sexual activity and in unprotected sex, resulting in STIs either in their youth, or later in their lives.

    The survey showed that 4 per cent of youngsters in upper secondary schools had engaged in sexual activity and the median age of initiation is 15 years.

    There has also been almost a threefold increase in STI notifications among young people aged 10-19 years – from 238 new cases in 2002 (45.7 per 100,000) to 681 new cases in 2009 (117.6 per 100,000).

    Statistics also indicate that males are the main at-risk population for HIV infection in Singapore. They comprise 90 per cent of the 4,404 HIV cases diagnosed from 1985 to 2009.

    Ignorance about protection against disease is not a strategy for controlling the growing HIV epidemic. Education is critical to improving awareness to enable youngsters to protect themselves.

    The BDB programme, while promoting abstinence, also teaches condom usage so as to provide information and life skills in a controlled setting for protection against HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases.

    We are mindful that parents may have different perspectives on sexuality education. However, we would strongly encourage parents to continue to opt into the BDB programme and for all schools and parents to continue to devote more time and resources towards developing in each child a strong moral compass that will guide his actions.

    Lam Pin Woon
    Chief Executive Officer
    Health Promotion Board

  5. 6 Dav 1 September 2010 at 01:59

    1) I dislike Christian because it hijak my boy friend.

    2) They are trying hard for ” christian political agenda” in sg because take advantages of anti-gay govt, i will broken their dream/plan to hijak singapore govt.

  6. 7 Becca D'Bus 1 September 2010 at 05:03

    Does anyone know if the BDB program deals with non-vaginal penetrative sex? I doubt it, but anyone?

    ALSO,does the program deal clearly and honestly with alternatives to penetrative sex?

    • 8 Weekday Blues 1 September 2010 at 15:12

      Note, I am answering this based on my experience as a high school student.

      The facilitators do mention oral sex, but only to the extent that ‘you can acquire STIs like this, use condoms’. I have always felt rather annoyed that sexuality education treats heterosexual intercourse as the main sexual activity that people engage in, as the end goal so to speak. (It doesn’t help that in telling horror stories about the evils of non-penetrative sex in transmitting STIs, one facilitator referred to ‘a virgin’ who had several STIs. Fetishising the hymen… eh. Yeah.)

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