As a Christian parent considering sex education for your teen, of course, you’re thinking abstinence education. Perhaps your local church or school even offers such an option. So you’re good, right? Maybe, or maybe not.
The Balance Between Privacy and Openness
We live in a world that knows no shame, yet God’s Word makes it clear that some things should remain “taboo” topics (Ephesians 5:12). Even sex within marriage has a place, and it should remain a private activity (Hebrews 13:4). Things that might have caused just about anyone to blush when you were a kid are now openly discussed. As parents, we need to be careful not to avoid topics our teens are hearing about elsewhere and yet refrain from being too graphic in our explanations or discussions. That balance will be different for each family, depending on the other influences and exposure their teens have.
Defining Your Terms
The government-sponsored sex education programs have some pretty basic goals in mind: preventing unwanted pregnancies and diseases. This emphasis on public health and welfare certainly falls short of the biblical ideal, and it provides a hurdle we must climb over if we’re going to encourage our kids to abstain from what the Bible calls “any hint of sexual immorality” (Ephesians 5:3). We need to define for our teens exactly what that means, or they will assume the cultural norms and widespread assumptions about what abstinence is.
Clarifying What “Sex” Is
Many teens are opting for “technical virginity,” and it’s far from God’s ideal. Thanks in part to Bill Clinton’s insistence that oral sex doesn’t constitute “sexual relations,” many of today’s teens view all sorts of non-coital sexual interaction as acceptable, even if they claim to be abstinent. At best, there’s vast confusion about what the term includes. Not only are oral sex and other sexual activities unlinked to pregnancy viewed as less consequential, but those activities are also viewed by today’s adolescents as less intimate and therefore more acceptable with casual acquaintances.
In a 1994-1995 study of over 1,000 college freshmen and sophomores, the following percentages of students considered the following activities to fall under the category of “abstinent behavior”:
• mutual masturbation (to orgasm): 61%
• oral intercourse: 37%
• anal intercourse: 24%
Reevaluating the Goal
Maybe “abstinence” and “virginity” aren’t the most important terms or goals to discuss, after all. (In fact, they’re never actually used in Scripture.) The gospel-focused organization Pure Freedom puts out some excellent resources that focus, instead, on purity and relationships instead of simply “where to draw the line” — although they discuss that, too. The books And the Bride Wore White or What Are You Waiting For? by Dannah Gresh (previewed here) and Who Moved the Goal Post? by Bob Gresh give you biblically sound helps to guide your teen beyond simply letter-of-the-law abstinence and toward the heart.
As an alternative to sex education, maybe what we really need to do is provide relationship education. But that’s a topic for another day.