Thinking About Abstinence

This was the lead-in for a front-page article in The Kansas City Star: “Abstinence approach allowing students to list the pros and cons of sexual activity shows promising results, study finds.” Traditional approaches to abstinence moralize; the new approach invites students to think. Not surprisingly, the new approach was more effective than the traditional approach. (Two years after students engaged in this approach, 1/3rd said they had had sex versus almost 1/2 of the control group).

People, whether they’re middle-school students, team members, or managers, don’t like to be told what to do. They want to figure it out for themselves. And the way we figure something out is either by trial-and-error or thinking it through. The latter approach usually proves less painful, less messy and less expensive.

It’s interesting that there are few, if any, courses in school that teach us how to think. The approach the students took above to think about abstinence was to list the pros & cons. Although listing pros and cons is not a bad start, it is a very limited, analytical approach. Edward de Bono, a leading authority on the direct teaching of thinking skills, provides many more tools to help our thinking beyond the listing of positives and negatives.

Here are some tools from de Bono’s The Power of Perception workshop that could have helped the students think about abstinence more thoroughly:

  • Consequences and Sequels. Over time, do any of the pros of abstinence weaken or turn into cons? Do any of the cons weaken or turn into pros? (A second piece of cake might be a pro at the dinner party; on the scale the following morning it might have become a serious con).
  • Other People’s Views. Did the students take into account points of view other than their own?
  • Key Values Involved. Did the students reach a conclusion based on quantity (there were more pros than cons) or on quality (the merit of the pros was more significant than that of the cons).

We don’t want to be told what to do, we want to make our own choices. Those choices need to be well thought-out and not based solely on how we feel. We need to be good thinkers.

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