Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Abstinence Education

This morning when I woke up, the morning talk show was throwing around a study that was just released, measuring the success of abstinence-based sex education. The study was apparently measuring sexual activity between two groups of teens: those who had pledged to remain abstinent and those who had not. Numbers seemed to show that in both groups, roughly the same number of teens became sexually active. The reporters stated that the main difference is that the teens who had intended to remain abstinent were far more likely to not use birth control. I say 'apparently' and focus on the reporting merely because a good portion of the time, the interpreted results of a study on a morning news show (or any news show or mainstream article) are not the real results of the study.

What really struck me as odd was the interpretation of the journalist who was reporting on it -- "It's great if you can do it, but most of us can't, so be prepared just in case."

Now, if someone is trying to lose weight, no one is going to tell you to carry a cheesecake around, just in case you can't do it. They tell you instead to make it hard. Get offending food out of your house, so that you have to go out and get something andhave more time to think. They advise you to have strategies -- know where you can go to get food that you CAN eat. Have food around that is good for you (I knew a guy who ate 8 apples before going to a Christmas party. He lost 150 lbs.). Have other options that will satisfy your sweet tooth. Find something on the menu of places that you like to go that will help you. When you think you are hungry, have water first...go for a walk...do something else, go to bed.

They also tell you to change your attitude...have a goal. Put up a picture of a skinny you on the fridge. Make a list of why you want to lose weight and post it on the bathroom mirror.

Also...be around people who will support you and give you good messages.

In short, change your environment, change your behaviors, change your attitude, and change your culture. These are probably very key to any behavior or value that one wants to support.

With teens -- and it wasn't SO long ago that I was in the dating realm, we don't do any of this with them or for them. Instead, the mantra that I heard from most parents is "I don't want them to think that I don't trust them" and this is used as an excuse to not give them the tools to succeed. And this journalist, as well as others, are maintaining that these kids should give it the old college try, but still have that condom in the wallet or go on The Pill, just in case.

Lauren Winner, the author of Real Sex: The Naked Truth About Chastity, and keynote speaker at the Cranach Institute's conference "In the Image of God: A Christian View of Love and Marriage" talked about this in her presentation. When she and her husband were dating while in masters' programs, her campus pastor had advised them to keep away from behavior in private that they wouldn't do under the gazebo in the center of their college campus. What would they feel safe doing? Basically just kissing. Why? Because it was a public place. So then they changed where they met and what they did. They went to places where they could be alone but in public. They didn't go to each other's houses where they were really alone and tempted, and as always...this became harder the more in love they became, because romantic love causes two people to become completely absorbed in each other and to crave each other. Other than that, they went out with friends, participated in the college singles group, and kept friends around them that shared their values. (one of the intriguing things about her book is that she started writing it in order to prove that it wasn't important that Christians abstain. She found the typical arguments against having sex to be superficial and meaningless...yet her conclusions were that abstinence is very important. It wasn't the conclusion that her heart WANTED to find).

If the only reasons kids are given are only the should nots, they are almost doomed for failure. Messages like it's naughty, you can get pregnant, you can get STDs, don't hold up in the heat of passion or against the desires to be loved, wanted, and valued in the moment.

What they need to be told about are the beauties of God's promises. Why He created marriage. Why sex is beautiful and only truly wonderful between a husband and a wife - where they can truly be one and show real love and commitment to each other. My husband recalls how his pastor told him in confirmation how he shares a bond with his wife that he has never had with any other woman, and she has never had with any other man. That made my husband yearn for that, and gave him strength in truly tempting times.

When my husband and I were dating, there was also another realization there..that as wonderful as it would be to just forget it all and turn off our brains for a few hours, we were truly aware that if we did, we truly WERE sinning against each other, and were hurting each other. We'd had some small tastes of that hurt in our dating relations, enough to drive home that really letting go would be truly painful to each other, and our relationship might not survive it -- something else that pointed out that the true commitment wasn't there until the rings were exchanged.

Culture is a important also. We're in a culture that glorifies sex. Not only that, but glorifies SINGLE sex. We are bombarded with messages about how exciting and wonderful that surrendering, rebelling, and partaking of the forbidden fruit is. Married sex is supposedly tame, boring, and needs excitement. Our kids see this all over the place. They need messages from us that let them know that this is a BIG HUGE lie. Marriages don't need spiced up through fantasy, toys, and new positions. They are fed through love, respect, and honor. That wonderful comfort and familiarity is marriage's strength. We are taught to despise this very strength in the grocery market aisles, on t.v. shows, and in our self-help books.

Kids also need our support through setting limits...curfews, restrictions on where they can go, who they can be with, what activities they can do. These are loving. Our homes (our living rooms, anyway)need to be open to them, so they have a place where they can be alone, yet very much not alone..and they need to be taught to think and date in a manner that allows them to protect themselves. They need to be encouraged to possibly stay home through college, or their college environments need to be scoped out for more than simply the comfort of the dorms. I know many Lutheran parents who make it a point to check out the congregations that are supporting their kids'campuses to make sure they are preaching and teaching Word and Sacrament, and provide support for their teens. We need to help shape our kids' subculture to support them in their chastity, especially since our general culture tells them that sex before marriage is good and desirable. As my OB/GYN told me before I got married "you need to make sure you are sexually compatible before you get married."

Many cultures use arranged marriage to protect their children, others use chaperones, others use shotgun weddings and the threat of shame. A modern type of courtship is popular among some Christians right now. While some of these means are better than others, probably what keeps teens chaste is the combination of knowing what is right, feeling what is right, and fear of repercussions.

The Mormon "Church" sets up seminary buildings across from campuses where they have classes on all sorts of things including "creative dating," set up their own fraternity and sorority, hold all sorts of social activities, and even have specifically college-aged congregations (wards, they call them). In many ways, it is highly successful in creating a subculture within the college culture that supports their values, as one example.

To a great extent, I doubt whether or not abstinence based education can truly be successful if it is divorced from the Author and Creator of marriage, because it really can be no more than a program that emphasizes how sex has risks and tells teens they aren't ready for those risks yet. But knowing that there is an accountability before God, and that He made us, loves us, and knows beyond all doubt what is right for us is a completely different approach. All Christians have an accountability before God to support individuals in their quest to reach marriage as virgins in our friendships, our support, our prayers and in the structures we set up to support them in that.

But the idea that teens need to be prepared "just in case" is ridiculous. They need to be strengthened and supported in their resolve, forgiven and supported in doing what is right when they sin. And we probably need to take a good long look at our attitudes toward marriage. In general, American Christians have pretty much fully embraced the worldly idea that you go to college, get a job, and then when you are ready, you get married. If I learned anything in Utah, it was that it CAN be done differently. Most of my friends were married before they were done with college. Many had kids. As Christians, we need to seriously look at whether or not we are taking marriage -- something God pleasing and that He promises will bless us, and subjugating it to the gods of knowledge, money, career, and vast life experience.


Susan said...

In your last paragraph, you mention supporting teens in their resolve and forgiving them when they do fall into sin. I think that is so important. There is desperate fear out there about young people getting pregnant. So, obviously, keeping that condom available in the wallet "just in case" is far better than having the kids succumb to passion and become pregnant. But why do we think that??? If the "cure" to teen pregnancy were neutral (like it doesn't hurt to wear your seatbelt, and the seatbelt provides protection) that would be one thing. But then there are "cures" like we give people with cancer, where the cure may be more damaging than the illness it is designed to fight. Even with cancer, though, it's sometimes a judgment call as to whether the treatment or the sickness is more deadly. Look at what history has shown us about our typical sex-ed programs -- the "cure" we promote for teen pregnancy has actually increased the numbers of illegitimate children, as well as destroying relationships and spreading VD. And all because getting caught at illicit behavior (that is, turning up pregnant) is considered far worse than avoiding being caught.

Glenda said...

Great post RPW. I'm linking to it.

The Rebellious Pastor's Wife said...

I have encountered several Christian parents who put their daughters on The Pill to protect them from having their college educations ruined from accidentally getting pregnant.

We can't forget that "condoning" a sexual life outside of marriage is very possibly jeopardizing our children's souls.

As a parent, of course I hope my kids do all the right things to make their future as easy as possible, but I would much rather have them err and "be punished" with a child (which God promises is a blessing), and hope that they repent and trust in God's will than repent and consider the possibility that I may have helped them step toward Hell for the sake of a more pleasant and easy college education.

It is always important for our children to know that God's forgiveness is there for them, as is ours. Jesus died for our sins and is loving and protecting us in all things and will work all out for good for those who trust in Him.

The Ties that Bind Us said...

My husband and I have talked about these situations that will arise as our children get older. We are ready! Or, so we think...but we are determined to do everything differently from how we were raised. I love this post and would love to link it to my blog in the very near future. It is thought provoking. I finally get the "Rebellious" part of your blog. You are Rebellious against this current culture that is undermining our abilities to raise our own kids. You go!!

Christopher said...


"We can't forget that "condoning" a sexual life outside of marriage is very possibly jeopardizing our children's souls."

I'm sorry. I'm missing the connection between pre-marital sex and "jeopardizing our children's souls."

Could you please fill in the missing middle between pre-marital sex and endangered souls.


The Rebellious Pastor's Wife said...

The connection isn't specifically between premarital sex and putting a soul in jeopardy...all sin that a person chooses to engage in knowing that it is against God's will, and chooses to trust their own judgement and embraces that sin as a part of their life and refuses to struggle with it is engaging in mortal sin.

Many sins can potentially be mortal sin as it is a case of willfully refusing to trust in God and to take our bodies and will, which contain the Holy Spirit and partner it with sin.I would hate, while caring for my child I would hate while attempting to care for my child's earthly well-being, to be the one to lead them into embracing an active sex life, for instance, by taking away an earthly penalty and leaving them not considering the heavenly one.

We are told both in the Bible and in the Book of Concord that the Holy Spirit leaves in such a case. When and at what point is not for me to judge...but it is my duty that it is a risk, and I would be left praying that at some point or another my child would recognize their sin and come to repentance. But I would also have the comfort that God does not give up easily on His baptized.

Now this is different than repentant sin, where someone struggles with a sin, even if they commit it frequently, and has contrition.

The Rebellious Pastor's Wife said...

"my duty to point out that it is a risk." Sorry...my touchpad is a little too sensitive and is leading me into typing errors...blech

Barb the Evil Genius said...

I wish my husband and I could have gotten married sooner. I'm not sure how we would have supported ourselves, however. It would have taken us a lot longer to get through school, as well. Like, twice as long. And it would have been even harder with a child to watch. I probably would have dropped out of college. Which would not have been the end of the world, but I have no idea how it would have affected me.

The Rebellious Pastor's Wife said...

I wish Jeff and I had gotten married sooner, too...but have the same concerns. I am always torn on how I see it, because I remember Jeff telling my dad that we wanted to get married. You could literally see my dad tense up, and then you could see the stress just evaporate when Jeff said we were waiting a year and 1/2 for me to finish college. So we are happy that as much as we disagree with the worldview, we were able to honor his wishes, and it has clearly benefited our relationship with him. However, it was very difficult.

TruthQuestioner said...

As a teen myself, I want to thank you for this post. It's encouraging to see more parents concerned enough to talk with their children about God's design for sexuality. I've been blessed with such parents, but know many peers who have not been.
You are absolutely right about setting limits and guidelines for children. We teens not only need, but also WANT limits. That may sound contradictory to the phenomenon of "teen rebellion" but it's true. Teens recognize that their world - both their own body and mind and that of those around them - is changing, and we look to our parents to explain the change and for guidance in coping with it. Sadly, this is just the time when many parents seem to clam up - at the very time when we teens so desperately need an active dialog. The "rebellion" comes from a frantic testing of limits: a testing designed to find out whether anything in this changing world of ours is still certain. Though she may grumble, the teen is relieved to find a limit that continues to hold true. Yes, we like and need some "freedom," but we don't want to be tossed to the wind, to somehow navigate our own way through the mess of adolescence. We may try to act "independent", but most of the time, there's nothing we'd like better than to hold Daddy's hand and curl up on Mommy's lap - when nobody is looking, that is. As parents expand their boundaries and expectations for us, we want, we need them to articulate those to us. And we need them to uphold the limits they put in place because sometimes it can seem like those limits are the only things left holding the teen's from falling into confounding chaos.

Anyway, thanks much.

Joy said...

yay...an intelligent teen! I'll never forget my junior prom. My sister INSISTED that I carry a condom in my purse. I insisted that I wasn't as dumb as she was at my age.

Part of what encouraged me to wait was my own disdain for hypocrisy. I assumed that someday we'd have children, and what was I going to tell them? "Yeah, we did it, but don't you dare!!" I'd like to resort to the days when a white dress was a privilege, not a right.

As anyone who's struggled with infertility and miscarriage can tell you, children are not a choice. Life comes from God. You can choose to prevent conception or birth, but you cannot choose to conceive, or carry to term, or birth a baby that lives.

That having been said, I'm fed up wtih pregnancy being treated as a disease to be avoided at all cost. Pregnancy is the natural consequence of sex. It means all body parts are functioning correctly. We should rejoice in healthy plumbing and thank God for the miracle of life.

Barb the Evil Genius said...

My in-laws would have freaked at our getting married before my husband finished college as well, because of the family history -- my father-in-law quit college when he married my mother-in-law. They freaked out as it was when my husband-to-be bought me a ruby ring for our first Christmas as a couple -- rings having serious significance in their minds.

My family would have flipped had we married before either of us finished college. There would have been little support, especially if a child entered the mix.

Lora said...

That would've been fairly similar with us, I have no doubt. However, I do intend to frame that differently with my kids. I would rather see them married and in college or whatever they decide to do, than agonizing, distracted, hormonal, etc.

Honestly, I find school harder with kids in one way, but I was so focused on Jeff when we were dating, that I missed out on quite a bit there, too.

Susan said...

My son-in-law's parents didn't want the kids getting married too early. They feared it might interfere with school. Well, the long phone calls, the 2-hr round-trip traveling back and forth between their homes, and the arranging for dates, that was disruptive of Matt's attention to his studies too. The kids got married after his first year of med school.

His grades went up during second year. LOL.

Diane said...

you are right that this culture is saturated with, and glorifies sex. We act and speak as if this were the sum total of our identity. You know, the common wisdom that we are "sexual beings." Well, yes, we are, but we are also relational beings, we are emotional beings, we are intellectual beings,we are spiritual beings, and so on.

Elephantschild said...

I'm beginning to wonder if many parents are worshiping at the altar of a college education.

It seems that much common sense about how young men and women are wired and much concern over sexual activity is being cast aside in favor of the The College Degree prize.

A degree is a good thing to have, but not if it's putting a young couple in a situation where it's nearly impossible for them not to fall into fornication!

Not that it's bad to go to college - not at all. But it would be wonderful if parents would be willing to continue to help out their married kids while they finish off college, after the wedding. Somewhere along the line our society picked up the idea that once young adults are married, it's somehow wrong to have family support.

Joy said...

Amen, Elephant's Child. My B.S. (appropriately abbreviated) was made possible by birth control and is useless, since I need a Master's for my field and won't have someone else raising my kids in order to get it. True, the college years were formative, and I earned a piece of paper that says I'm not an idiot. But I could have saved myself and Kevin a whole lotta grief (and money!) by not going.

Make no mistake, readers: fornication IS adultery. Sex is either within the blessed boundaries of marriage, or it is not.

Joy said...

P.S. The whole "It's great if you can do it" argument applies to so many things in life, including breastfeeding and natural childbirth. There are always a small percentage who truly can't do this or that. But in general, if you have no choice, you can. And you grow stronger because of it.

Christopher said...

"Marriages don't need spiced up through fantasy, toys, and new positions. They are fed through love, respect, and honor."

True. There is no inherent need for this. However, it certainly doesn't do a marriage any damage, and is quite the privilege to enjoy if it comes from a place of love, honour, and respect.

The Rebellious Pastor's Wife said...


I used to pretty much think that way, but the more that I get into theology of the body, and go deeper into the thought that marriage is a reflection of Christ's relationship with the church, not to mention a blessing from God, I find myself differing more and more.

Now first of all, let me clarify...by differing in positions, I am not saying sex has to be missionary position, lights out, blankets up. Sex can be beautiful, wild, passionate, and fun. I'm thinkin' kama sutra fascinations.

But both as a sinner and as as one who holds a degree in psychology, when it comes to fantasies, I've never known one really that manages to still glory in the gift of marriage and in the person that God has given. Maybe you are better than me, but I can't remember one that I've had where I can turn around and say "God, thanks for that." There is always something not right, whether it falls under the 6th commandment, the 10th, or something else. And thoughts are sins.

Sex toys, maybe, but they too put the emphasis on pleasure as product and tend to even slightly degrade who the person is that you are with and make them a little less important than the act of pleasure itself. And they often contribute to fantasy. The industry itself is pretty sleazy as well. I can't look at something like a vibrator or what else, and say "yes, I'd feel like my child was contributing to society if they grew up to make these. I'd love to put that in the Christmas letter."

If I can't do that, then I have to start questioning whether or not I really believe that it is good or even morally neutral, because I'd be proud of my kids if they were garbage men or Wal-mart cashiers. There's nothing wrong with that. I probably want more than that, but if they were doing those things to provide for their families and serve their neighbors, I'm sure I could be proud of them. But Maggie the "Intimate Goods Party Hostess," I'd probably tell my friends she worked at McDonalds.

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