The ethics of living with sexual regret
By: Sharon Ryan
| Posted: Wednesday, Jul 11, 2012 06:00 am
Sexual education today focuses on the physical elements of sexual activity including the use of contraception, avoidance of sexually transmitted diseases and legal issues.
Little is being spoken about a more potent threat, a negative emotion that can have a devastating effect upon a personís level of happiness and quality of life. That emotion is known as sexual regret.
A recent study conducted at a large American university discovered that more than 72 per cent of college students regret their decision to engage in sexual activity. The most interesting aspect of this study is that this level of regret, in general, does not vary with gender.
The No. 1 reason for regret is that the sexual activity was inconsistent with the personís values (37%). Other reasons include, alcohol influenced the personís decision (31.7%); the person realized he or she did not want the same thing as the partner (27.9%); the lack of the use of a condom (25.5%); feeling pressured by the partner (23%); and the person wanted to wait until he or she was married before having sex (15.4%).
Everyone makes mistakes and everyone experiences regret. Undoing regret is a tremendously difficult task, but not an impossible one.
Regret can be undone through either a physical or mental act or a combination of the two.
Physical acts that can repair regret involve behavioural changes. We can compensate for regret through our actions. For example, think twice before having sexual activity that contravenes oneís own values. Avoid drinking alcohol when going on a first date with a hot and persuasive partner. Use a condom. Say ďnoĒ to a pressuring partner, and wait until youíre married to have sex. Itís really quite simple.
But some actions have serious implications on oneís life and even behavioural modifications fail to abide the deep emotion of regret. Sometimes we need psychological repair and this requires a brilliant mind, an accidental remedy, or a good therapist.
The shortcut to understanding psychological repair is to gain interpretive control over the situation by deriving positive meaning from the regrettable action. For example, using the regrettable experience to develop a more compassionate understanding for others.
This article is not directed solely at young people. Older people live with more regret. The difference between the two groups is that the university student with sexual regret is experiencing a regrettable commission whereas most older people experience regrettable omissions. As we approach the end of our lives, we tend to remember our incompleted tasks better than the completed ones. This is known as the Zeigamik effect.
Some of the most common regrettable omissions include not spending enough time with our families, not being true to ourselves about how we chose to live our life and earn our income, and not having children. Sexual regret can be healed with forgiveness and behavioural changes, but missed opportunities are irreversible.
Older people do not have the opportunity for behavioural repair because they are running out of time. They have to resort to psychological repair and as I indicated above, this is a very difficult undertaking. That is why so many seniors suffer from depression. They have run out of time and are short on solutions to undo regret and other negative emotions.
My advice to young people is to be aware of this killer emotion and learn how to harness it while youíre young so that when youíre older, you stand a better chance of retiring with a peaceful and happy heart. And, finally, avoid having sex until youíre married. Really, itís become a no brainer.
Sharon Ryan is a resident of St. Albert and teaches ethics for UCLA.