For those of you who are new this evening, we now come to the part of the service that we call the Window on the World. It’s a time when we take a brief look at a current event or issue from a Christian point of view. This week we examine the “New Virginity.” As many of you may have noticed, the December 9 issue of Newsweek magazine profiled teenage virgins and the politics of abstinence as their cover story. The articles chronicled and examined a simple numerical fact: that despite what seems to be the ever-increasing promotion of sexuality, and especially youth sexuality, in our culture, fewer high school kids are having sex now than a decade ago.
For some the desire to abstain is driven by the biological danger of sex. The fears of teen pregnancy and HIV/AIDS have led many teens over the last decade to just say no to sex. And although it was not explicitly mentioned in Newsweek, in recent years the biological risks of sex have increased with the rise and spread of new sexually transmitted diseases like Human Papilloma Virus or HPV. HPV, the fastest growing STD amongst young people, can be passed even when a condom is worn, and has spread to the point where some universities have reported that over 50% of their female students have HPV. The reality of these new STD threats have even convinced most contraceptive-based sexual education programs to include abstinence as a part of their educational program.
However, the articles also made it clear that many young people are also choosing abstinence for emotional and spiritual reasons. Many of the teens profiled were committed to abstinence as a demonstration of self-respect and control over their bodies and their lives. Others turned to abstinence as the result of their religious commitments. Most of these young people were evangelical Christians whose parents and churches had been active in promoting abstinence.
How should Christians respond to this interesting phenomenon? First of all, we should be reminded that the “New Virginity” should not be considered “new” for the Christian church. As Christians, we believe and have always believed that God created man and woman and gave the gift of sex within the context of marriage from the very beginning. From beginning to end, the Bible rejoices in sexual love between a husband and wife, and it considers all sexual acts outside of marriage to be fornication, sin, contrary to the will of God, and destructive to our own person. Thus, as Christians we have taught and promoted abstinence and sexual purity according to God’s Word long before the emergence of the Human Papilloma Virus.
That being said, the “New Virginity” movement can serve as a helpful reminder and encouragement to churches and Christian parents that abstinence from extra-marital sexual activity is still possible even in our age of in-your-face sexuality. Unfortunately, many churches and Christian parents seem to have resigned themselves to the inevitability of extramarital sexual activity among their children and church members. Even here at Tenth, I have heard people mumble, “What can you do, everybody’s doing it.” At times we need to be reminded that God’s way of sexual purity is not merely an impossible ideal, but an achievable reality even in our world.
Second, we should be reminded that it is not enough to simply tell teenagers and single adults, “Don’t have sex, end of discussion.” The Newsweek article reminds us that young people think deeply about their sexuality. Therefore, churches and Christian parents need to take the preeminent role in shaping how our members and children think about sex.
Therefore, I think it is useful for Christians to know about the biological dangers of extra marital sex. We can’t be afraid of talking about the birds and the bees or STD’s. The emergence of new STD’s actually makes it is easier than ever to remind people that God’s guidelines for sexual activity are not meant to keep us from experiencing life, but to protect us so that we can experience life. And in the face of powerful temptations, we need all the mental ammunition we can get.
However, biology lessons are not enough. Young people are not just looking to avoid pain, but they are looking to experience love and joy. Thus, churches and parents need to openly teach that God created sex within marriage as a precious gift for intimacy, love, and emotional bonding as well as physical pleasure and procreation. I know that in my high school and college years my desire to abstain from premarital sex went up, not down, the more I was exposed to positive instruction about God’s intention for sex in marriage.
This is the calling of every church and every Christian parent. Before running off to tell the public schools what they should teach children about sex, we should make sure that we are properly teaching our own children about sex and not abdicating that responsibility to the public schools. However, that being said, I think we should publicly support our government when they do commit to abstinence education, as they seem to be doing currently. God has not given marriage only to Christians, and extramarital sex is not only harmful for Christians. While non-Christians will lack the full understanding of God’s purpose in sexuality, we should still encourage our government to promote what is true and good and right, and sexual abstinence outside of marriage is exactly that. However, we must never let governmental activism serve as a substitute for raising our own children and church members in the fear and admonition of the Lord.
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Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: By Aaron Messner. © 2021 Tenth Presbyterian Church. Website: tenth.org