Sunday, September 20, 2009

"Bridle All Your Passions," Part I (Parental Guidance Advised)

In the Book of Mormon, Alma offers his second son Shiblon some advice that--given his third son's interest in the harlot Isabel--might have been better directed toward Corianton. He tells Shiblon to "bridle all your passions." We commonly interpret this counsel as advice that is particularly applicable to cases of sexual temptation, and secular research has recently confirmed the wisdom of making decisions about sexual morality well before the time to actually make such decisions is nigh.

Dan Ariely--the author of Predictably Irrational, and a man with interesting fashion insights--has done important research on the bridling of passions. He asked a number of male undergraduate students to take a survey rating their propensity to engage in a number of different sexual behaviors if and when they were sexually aroused. A sample of some of the questions:

"Is just kissing frustrating?"
"Would you tell a woman that you loved her to increase the chance that she would have sex with you?"
"Would you keep trying to have sex after your date said no?"
"Would you always use a condom if you didn't know the history of a new sexual partner?"

The students who answered the survey gave the same answers that most men would probably give:

59% said that "just kissing" was not frustrating.
70% said that they would not lie to have sex.
80% said they would respect their partner's refusal to have sex.
88% said they would always use a condom with a new, unfamiliar sexual partner.

But then Ariely asked the same students to take the same survey again. This time, however, he asked them to answer the questions while actually in a state of sexual arousal--and boy, did their answers change. While aroused,

69% said that "just kissing" WAS frustrating.
51% said that they WOULD lie to have sex.
45% said that they would NOT respect their partner's refusal to have sex.
31% said that they would NOT necessarily use a condom with a new, unfamiliar sexual partner.

Ariely's findings suggest that we make decisions much differently when our passions (and especially our sexual passions) are aroused. Just as important--we're really bad at predicting how we will react when our passions are aroused. The students who answered the questions about how they THOUGHT they would react if and when sexually aroused VASTLY underestimated their willingness to engage in questionable behaviors when they ACTUALLY were aroused. Our minds consistently miscalculate the danger of allowing our passions to become "unbridled"--as Alma would say--and it is much more likely that we will make a bad choice in that condition than we believe before we allow ourselves to become aroused. Ariely writes:

"There are most likely many situations where teenagers simply won't be able to cope with their emotions. A better strategy, for those who want to guarantee that [they] avoid sex [or any other immoral behavior, from gambling to pornography], is to [learn] that they must walk away from the fire of passion before they are close enough to be drawn in. Accepting this advice might not be easy, but our results suggest that it is easier for them to fight temptation before it arises than after it has started to lure them in. In other words, avoiding temptation altogether is easier than overcoming it." (Predictably Irrational 101)

The lesson? Listen to Alma. "Bridle all your passions"--because you're fooling yourself if you think you can limit or accurately predict the amount of damage they will do once unloosed.


Jo Jo said...

Wow, you certainly cover a lot of topics on your blog! Great post, I'm forwarding it to my 16 year old ;-)

Jodi said...

I enjoyed this post, very thoughtful.