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The Age of Abstinence-Only Sex Ed is Over


Jul 19 2013
With high rates of teen sexual activity, Christian parents must talk safe sex, too.

As a teen, I was taught abstinence-only sex education. I pledged purity, and I made it known to all the boys around me. In my freshman year of high school, I was even voted "Most Likely to Wait Until Marriage." The very next year, at age 15, I became pregnant.

Today, nearly half of American high schoolers, aged 14 to 18, are sexually active, according to a Centers for Disease Control survey. Even Christians aren't overwhelming waiting until marriage. One survey--using a broad label of evangelicals that included even those who didn't attend church-- found that 80 percent unmarried evangelicals have had sex. When examining stats focused more narrowly on young practicing evangelicals, the figure was much lower, at 44 percent.

Either way, a significant number of kids from Christian households are growing up and deciding to have sex before marriage. I think that's enough to prompt us to expand "the talk" into territory where many evangelical parents dare not go.

The familiar Christian parenting mantra of Proverbs 22:6 tells us that if we "start children off on the way they should go, when they are old they will not turn from it." For sex education, many evangelical moms and dads hold to this verse, teaching their kids to "just say no" and trusting they'll stick to it.

Parents set on abstinence often worry if they say, "Don't have sex, but if you do here's how to be safe," children will take it as permission. This implicit go-ahead for "safe-sinning," they say, reduces the moral efficacy of the abstinence-only message and offers teens the tools to engage in pre-marital sex without fear of consequences.

This idea of safe-sinning, though, is a myth. An overwhelming majority of teens actually say it would be easier to abstain if parents would address sex in an open and honest way.

Our "just say no, end of conversation" approach leaves kids to their own devices—namely, the media and peers—for understanding the societal presentation and pressures of seemingly grey areas of sex and intimacy. By focusing only on abstinence, parents may inadvertently close off avenues of discourse and downplay the emotional, physical, and spiritual risks of pre-marital sex.

In Hosea 4:6, the prophet Hosea writes, "My people are destroyed from lack of knowledge." I can't help but think that if I could have talked to a trusted adult and learned about sex in an honest, non-scare-tactic fashion, I would have reconsidered my decision. Or at least, I would have had the opportunity to ask questions and disclose my muddled teenage thoughts and logic on the topic.

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The Age of Abstinence-Only Sex Ed is Over