Modern Controversies #5
In a world of ever changing fads and a culture that cannot find any solid anchor points the Bible's viewpoint on sex is dramatically different. "Flee sexual immorality. Every sin that a man does is outside the body, but he who commits sexual immorality sins against his own body" (1 Corinthians 6:18). Sexual immorality is defined by scripture as sexual relations between any two persons who are not lawfully married. "Marriage is honorable among all, and the bed undefiled; but fornicators and adulterers God will judge" (Hebrews 13:4). Thus, the Bible stands as the preeminent advocate of abstinence. If you are not married, the Lord expects you to abstain from sexual activity until you are married. Naturally, in our society today such a position is greeted with derision and jeers. Many believe that expecting young people to abstain from sexual activity is simply unrealistic. Others simply do not see the point in abstinence given the precautions that they can take to protect themselves from the negative effects of sexual activity. Since everyone is doing it, and if I can be protected from disease or pregnancy, why should I do as the Bible instructs and abstain? These are the questions many young people are asking today.
The answer is found in an often overlooked passage in Deuteronomy. There Moses tells the children of Israel "And the Lord commanded us to do all these statutes, to fear the Lord our God, for our good always. . . ." (Deuteronomy 6:24). The law of God is for our good. His commandments protect and help us. Much like a mother who tells her child not to touch a hot stove because she loves the child, so God loves us too much to let us ruin our lives with sexual activity outside marriage. What is needed today is a better understanding of why abstinence is the only choice if we would avoid the all the troubles and pains of sex outside marriage. Abstinence works for the following four reasons:
Abstinence protects you from performance-based love. The scriptures show marriage to be a wonderfully fulfilling relationship based on mutual love and respect for each other (see Ephesians 5:22ff). In that context each person is free to completely give him or herself to their mate without fear of rejection, or exploitation. Such can hardly be said of fornication! Sexual relations outside marriage are little more than the selfish gratification of one person's desires at the expense of another person. The common line that many teen-age girls hear is "If you really love me, you'll do this." Doesn't that perfectly illustrate this point? In plain terms this line says "If you want this relationship to go on you must perform for me and please me by doing what I want." A song by a rock-and-roll band, speaking of an illicit relationship, says "you made me feel so good, you did everything right." Isn't that performance-based love? How can we properly construct a secure relationship in such an atmosphere? When one partner does not do "everything right" the relationship is ended. Teaching young people the power of saying "no" gives them the right and ability to say "You must accept me for whom I am, and love me as a person instead of a sex object." Abstinence loudly announces that we need not perform to get love.
Abstinence protects you from misleading feelings. Many experts have found that sex outside marriage gives the illusion that a relationship is much deeper and more solid than it really is. "Studies show that a relationship based on physical attraction may hold itself together for three to five years. During that length of time two people are fooled into thinking, ‘Well, we've been going together for so long, surely we can make it for a lifetime. This must be love.'" A public school health textbook states "Because sex is so powerful, it creates very strong emotional bonds between partners. These bonds can make us believe the relationship is deeper than it really is, that we know our partners (and our partners know us) much better than we actually do. Or, because we've had sex, we may be tempted to hang onto the relationship, not out of love, but to save face." The choice of whom to marry is one of the most critical decisions any individual can ever make. It determines, to a large extent, whether we have any kind of satisfying and happy family life. Yet sexual activity before marriage can trick a person into marrying someone who is not really right for them. Such a marriage is literally doomed from the start, and with its demise goes the joy that only a strong marriage can bring. Few can term their lives successful who have a litany of broken marriages and unhappy relationships trailing behind them. Isn't it wonderful that God protects us from such misery and heartbreak with abstinence?
Finally, abstinence protects us from having experiences that will taint and destroy marriage. Sex is much too powerful an experience to be forgotten. Unfortunately, we do not exorcize the memories of relations with others at the marriage altar. Instead, they continue haunting the new relationship with memories of the past. One young man wrote that he could not be sexually intimate with his wife without comparing her with past relationships and thinking that another woman was "better" than his new bride. It is easy to see how such mental pictures rob a marriage of its strength and love. Remember the quotation from Hebrews cited above? The marriage bed is to be "undefiled." That means marriage should not be tainted by anything foreign, unclean, or filthy. Extramarital and premarital sexual experiences defile marriage by introducing the foreign element of past remembrances. Only abstinence can protect you from this!
For these reasons, young people need to be taught abstinence. They need this vital information because if they choose to become sexually active they place themselves at risk for far more consequences than just pregnancy or AIDS. Sexual activity before marriage has dangers no contraceptive method can even begin to protect a person from. What teens risk is their whole person-hood, and their entire future. Thus we see that the way of the Lord is not outdated or old-fashioned. It works perfectly to protect us from the terrors and traumas of sexual immorality, while giving us the perfect place to enjoy the God-given gift of sexuality: marriage.
Regrettably, at a time when young people are under intense pressure to start sexual activity, several forces in our society are actively working against abstinence education in our schools. The liberal and left-wing forces in our country continue to push for ever more "comprehensive sex education" while deriding abstinence-based programs as "fear and shame based." They urge us to be more realistic and honest about teen sexual activity. In that vein, let us have some realism and honesty about sexual education in our country today.
If we are honest, we must admit there is no proof that sexual education has ever worked to reduce teen sexual activity. A recent article by noted columnist Deborah Mathis ridiculed teaching children to say "no" to sexual activity. Referring to teaching abstinence she says it is "pretty careless and shallow mothering" and that it "just won't cut it." Her answer to such a ridiculously old-fashioned approach (right for June Cleave and Donna Reed, but not today, she assures us) is school-based health clinics ready to supply children with contraceptives. She ties her article up by wishing that the idealists who believe in abstinence would good a get dose of the real world. I am well ready for a dose of the real world, but believe that Ms. Mathis' views will suffer from such strong medicine. The facts show that there is no evidence that comprehensive sexual education works. Since sexual education was added to the curriculums of our public schools in the early 1970's, every measure of teen sexual activity is up, up, up. In 1970, 5 percent of fifteen-year-old girls and 32 percent of seventeen-year-old girls reported having had sex. By 1988 the figures had increased to 26 percent of fifteen-year-olds and 51 percent of seventeen-year-olds. The percentage of births to unwed mothers continues to rise, from 30 percent among teenagers in 1970 to nearly 70 percent in 1990. Despite spending more than $2 billion on Federal Title X family planning services since 1971 teenage births and abortions have continued a steady and alarming rise. The GOP dissent to a 1992 report on "Teens and AIDS in America" by the House Select Committee on Children, Youth, and Families states, "In fact, those states with the highest expenditures on family planning . . . demonstrated the largest increase in abortions and out-of-wedlock births." When are the advocates of comprehensive sexual education going to deal with the real world fact that it simply doesn't work? The verdict on comprehensive sexual education is in: Ms. Mathis and Company have failed America's youth. It is time to honestly admit that and find something else that will actually work.
Teaching abstinence stands ready as a realistic option that can and does reduce teen sexual activity. The idea that teens will inevitably have sex is not only defeatist, it is incorrect. Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta, Georgia has recently developed a "just say no" program that has caught the eye of even the White House. This program does not teach the Bible or mention God. However, it teaches truths that are in line with the Bible's teaching, and so the program works because it is based on truth. For example, it helps children see that the proper place for sex is in marriage, and that they are not ready or responsible enough to cope with sexual activity. While Ms. Mathis and others would like to believe such programs cannot work this approach is working (something that cannot be said of comprehensive sexual education). Eighth grade students are enrolled in the program with the result that by the end of ninth grade only 24 percent in the program group had sexual intercourse, as compared with 39 percent in the non-program groups. A study of high-risk youths funded by the Ford Foundation also found that the program significantly delayed the onset of sexual activity in teens. In light of these clear findings it is simply impossible for people to dismiss the Bible's viewpoint as unrealistic or useless for our day. Teaching abstinence not only can work, it has been proven that it does work.
One young woman wrote "My school taught us what our sexual anatomy did. But when the time came, what I really needed to know was all the dimensions of having a sexual relationship with my boyfriend. My school only provided condoms. . . . " How well this young woman illustrates the Bible's teaching on sex and sex education. Parents are charged with raising children (Ephesians 6:4) and can do what Planned Parenthood, schools and school-based clinics seem unwilling to do: tell children to abstain from sexual activity until married. This is God's plan for our health and happiness. In the end, we will all eventually realize how right the Lord is.
By Mark Roberts
From Expository Files 3.5; May 1996