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Perspective: There is a benefit to restraint

Self-restraint — taught by all faiths — is critical to our human existence

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Photo illustration by Michelle Budge

If you don’t live on social media, you may have missed the short-lived controversy about an opinion piece published by The Washington Post in the waning days of Pride Month (observed annually in June). The piece is provocatively titled “Yes, kink belongs at Pride. And I want my kids to see it.”

The headline alone ensured countless shares from aghast conservatives at the message found within. As a writer with a few provocative headlines under my belt, I endeavored to actually read past the headline, hoping that perhaps it was just a bit of clickbait.

I’ll save you the click: It wasn’t. The piece really was about how a mother of impressionable children not only exposed her children to these vulgarities, but encourages other parents to do similarly. 

In reading the opinion by Lauren Rowello, however, an interesting nugget came out about the fundamental differences between traditionally religious parents and those who worship at the altar of something else. She explained part of why she wanted to expose her children to “kink” at Pride events like the one she attended in Philadelphia:

Children who witness kink culture are reassured that alternative experiences of sexuality and expression are valid — no matter who they become as they mature, helping them recognize that their personal experiences aren’t bad or wrong, and that they aren’t alone in their experiences. I can’t think of a more relevant or important reminder for youth, who often struggle with feelings of isolation and confusion as they discover more about themselves and wrestle with concerns about whether they’re normal enough. Including kink in Pride opens space for families to have necessary and powerful conversations with young people about health, safety, consent, and — most uniquely — pleasure. Kink visibility is a reminder that any person can and should shamelessly explore what brings joy and excitement. We don’t talk to our children enough about pursuing sex to fulfill carnal needs that delight and captivate us in the moment.

A critical part of religious life for the faithful across the religious spectrum, regardless of the actual faith, is the requirement to exercise self-restraint.

One of the most important commandments in the Judeo-Christian world is the imperative to keep the Sabbath holy. Generally speaking, it requires a different way of living one day a week. For Orthodox Jews (which we are) and members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, there are additional restrictions on modest dress and dietary limitations (kosher for Jews, Word of Wisdom for Latter-day Saints). Even at a very young age, my Jewish children have an understanding that cheeseburgers and shrimp cocktails are not on the menu in our home or outside of it. The Sabbath is not a day for playing video games or going shopping; we spend it together as a family without everyday distractions that cloud our days the rest of the week. 

Contrast those constant lessons in restraint with what Rowello seeks to instill in her children. “Any person can and should shameless explore what brings joy and excitement ... To fulfill carnall needs that delight and captivate us in the moment.” 

What separates human beings from animals? We are, after all, mammals. But our family dog will eat an entire block of cheese in a single sitting, as quickly as he possibly can. It is what brings him immediate pleasure in that moment, and his only consideration is his feelings within that moment. For human beings, we know not to do such things, because a few moments of cheese-filled pleasure will be followed by hours of stomach-turning agony. These lessons are part of what any good parent teaches their child: That everything good is only good in moderation, and even some things that may feel or taste good should not be indulged in at all, even if they may indeed be pleasurable. 

Self-restraint is critical in our human existence, which is why God wrote so many “thou shalt nots” into the holy texts still read and followed by millions of believers. It’s not to deprive us of pleasure, but to set guardrails on our lives to train us to be more than pleasure-seeking animals. These big and small limits on our lives are indeed a kind of training we need not just in childhood, but throughout our entire lives — from cradle to grave. 

What sets us religious parents apart from the parents celebrating unfettered sexual exploration with their children? It’s not our supposed prudishness recoiling at the sexually explicit content, but something deeper, more fundamental and profound. The lessons faith teaches about living beyond the moment within certain guardrails are those that will elevate our children in countless ways from their peers.