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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, August 25, 2002

Like a virgin...again

By Tanya Bricking
Advertiser Staff Writer

Ruben Ongos and Sabrina Akiu had been dating about a year when he wanted a deeper commitment.

Sabrina and Ruben Ongos say abstinence allowed them to build their relationship, now marriage, on faith and friendship.
Akiu loved him. She wanted their relationship to work. But she backed away from the idea of marriage.

They each had been married before and were raising children from those relationships. Their family responsibilities and past heartbreaks weren't the problem.

It was the sex.

Not that the sex was bad, it was just that they felt bad about having it.

They were grown people with children, but they wanted to purify their relationship before they took it to the next level. So for a year and a half, they stopped having sex.

They never called themselves "born-again virgins," but essentially, that's what they had become.

After years of saying "yes" to sex, they joined a movement of people saying "no." Some make the decision based on old-fashioned Christian values, but a growing number of people are embracing abstinence not only on moral grounds, but as a way to clean the slate and take control of their lives.

Now married almost three years, Ruben and Sabrina Ongos say abstaining was the best thing that could have happened to them, because they were able to build a relationship on faith and friendship rather than fornication.

"If we had based our relationship on sex, then I don't think it would have lasted," said Ruben, 32, a mechanic journeyman at the Sheraton Moana Surfrider Hotel.

"The sex without the guilt was so much better," said his wife, 40, a mortgage company administrator and grandmother.

The two now share their experience with premarital classes at New Hope Christian Fellowship of Honolulu. "Every time we share, I have guilt," said Sabrina, who still chokes up thinking about it.

Waiting for Mr. Worthy

Joy Onodera says it's not only devout Christians who are taking to the idea of celibacy.

Joy Onodera has dinner with friends including Mark Nishimoto on a recent Saturday night. At 35, Onodera, who is not big on the singles' scene, chooses to be celibate until she finds the right man.

Eugene Tanner • The Honolulu Advertiser

It's catching on with people just like her, a single 35-year-old who is attractive, ambitious — and picky.

She hasn't had sex since well before the turn of the millennium.

"I guess by choice," she said. "There's just not anybody I want to sleep with. Opportunity hasn't arisen. I'm not going to just sleep with anybody."

Onodera is not enthusiastic about the singles' scene. She doesn't want to meet men in bars. She plays volleyball and golfs, lives in Kane'ohe (OK, yes, she still lives with her parents) and works in human resources for JC Penney. Somewhere in that equation, she has not found the perfect man who doesn't smoke or drink too much, who has a good job, is attractive, funny and a little athletic.

"I'm not settling for somebody just because I'm supposed to be with somebody," she said. "I would rather be single for the right reasons than be with someone for the wrong reasons."

While it's hard to figure out how many born-again virgins are out there, a 1998 survey by the University of Chicago for the National Science Foundation found 17 percent of adults surveyed had had no sex partner within 12 months. It's unclear how many people in the prime of their lives were celibate by choice.

Today's born-again virgins are not the virginity advocates popularized by teenage chastity cheerleaders such as True Love Waits, a Christian group that urges kids across the country to sign virginity pledges promising to save sex for marriage.

This is a part of a post-feminist movement for many well-educated, good-looking, sensual women in their 20s, 30s and 40s who are reclaiming their sexual power, said Wendy Keller, a divorced Malibu, Calif., mother who researched the phenomenon for her book, "The Cult of the Born-Again Virgins," (Health Communications, 1999, $11.95), and then became one herself.

Keller, 37, had gone through a wild streak after a car wreck killed two of her children and her marriage to a minister broke up. When she met a born-again virgin at a party, she thought the idea of returning to celibacy was absurd. But the more she thought about it, the more she liked the idea of curbing her urges until someone worthy came along.

She doesn't advocate saving sex until marriage. Her message is one of self-esteem. She says born-again virginity empowers women to value their strength as women, their femininity and their sense of self-worth.

"I believe it is stronger to wait until you know you have the same objectives," she said. "I believe you need to know you are on the same path and have the same values."

The naysayers

A new-agey spin on Old Testament values may appeal to Oprah fans, but at the nightclubs where singles meet, it doesn't fly so well.

Born-again virgins?

"I've never heard of it," said Paul Sonstein, 28, of Mililani, who learned of the subject over bar talk at Palomino's in downtown Honolulu.

While he said he would respect someone's choice to be celibate, he doesn't understand how anyone could return to virginity.

"I can see if you've never had sex," he said. "But once you've had it? It's all or nothing."

His Air Force buddy, Giovanni Ortiz, 26, of Pearl City, said he can see the benefits of celibacy — but maybe not for himself.

"I don't know if I could do it," Ortiz said. "But if somebody has the will power to hold back, then more power to them, especially with everything going around today."

Yet, a vow of celibacy can be hard to take seriously, especially among the sex-therapist segment of society.

"If you're in a relationship that has emotional intimacy as well as physical intimacy, you are going to be happier," said Diana Wiley, a Honolulu sex therapist and radio personality who explores relationship issues in her radio show "Wiley & Sage" (9 to 10 a.m. Saturdays on KCCN, 1420 AM).

Wiley sees how empowerment can be a healthy benefit of a choice to be celibate. She understands how a choice to not have sex can give adults time to focus on other parts of their relationship, careers and children. But Wiley says celibacy also can be an excuse made out of fear. People who have been wounded in love sometimes choose to avoid sex rather than risk being hurt again, she said.

"It should be decided on carefully," she said. "Is it a decision to avoid physical and emotional intimacy? If it's avoidance, then it's not so healthy."

Sex can be one of life's most pleasurable experiences, not to mention one with great physical and emotional benefits, Wiley said. Her advice? If you choose celibacy, "at least do self-pleasuring."

The true believers

Laugh if you want at the oddity of anyone past the age of consent upholding the value of virginity.

Mark Kobayashi was a divorced father when he agreed to put his libido on hold and save sex until he and Sarah got married.

Eugene Tanner • The Honolulu Advertiser

Sarah Kobayashi, 33, of McCully, has heard it since high school. In college in 1988, abstinence was her topic for a speech class. So it was no surprise that she was a virgin when she got married nine years ago.

What was more surprising was that her intended, Mark Kobayashi, 44, a divorced father of two, agreed to put his libido on hold and become a born-again virgin for her.

"A lot of my friends, they teased me and stuff. They didn't believe me. My Christian friends believed me," said Mark, also a member of New Hope Christian Fellowship.

Kobayashi said he had changed since his first marriage and has a more spiritual idea of what this marriage should be like.

"There's a hardness that comes over girls once they lose their virginity, a hardness that they've lost something," he said. "Everybody wishes for the fairy tale relationship."

Waiting to have sex gave the marriage more magic, Sarah said. "To save ourselves for that marriage night was something we put on a pedestal," she said. "I just know that once you give it away, it's gone forever."

To avoid temptation when they were dating, they did group activities and tried to keep from staying out late. Their marriage meant big changes and an instant family. They adopted Mark's two grandchildren. And they say their relationship continues to be about much more than sex.

Vera and Neal Akita, a Mililani couple who married as virgins 17 years ago, say there is a place for virginity even in a world that embraces "Sex and the City" and is driven more by mass media than by religious convictions.

Vera, 41, and Neal, 42, members of Leeward Community Church, say their virginity was their wedding present to each other and is a valuable lesson for their teenage boys. They say virginity, even for people finding it the second time around, is an ideal to uphold.

"It sounds real simplistic to say it's worth waiting, but it's really the truth," said Neal Akita, a service manager for a mechanical contracting company. "This is one of those things I can look back on with no regrets."

Reach Tanya Bricking at tbricking@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8026.