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Nov 27, 2004


Thos who promote "abstinence only" clearly want teens to pay for their sins. If you break the rule, then a harsh punishment is what you deserve.

Yes, this is the sense I got as I was growing up as well.

David Huff

My feeling is that "abstinence only" is so deeply entrenched in even moderate congregations that pragmatic, real-world issues will never get a chance to intrude.

I'm afraid that the church as a whole will be a "light" for this the same way they have been for many civil rights issues - a tail light.


So are you suggesting that pre-marital sex is OK and if teens feel like it they should jump into the sack but use a condom and a contraceptive?

John Wilkins

Actually, I don't think that what a parent has to say about pre-marital sex makes much sense to kids anyway.

Look, I'm a realist. I know that sex is fun and pretty interesting to teens.

But as the wag said, "forbidden fruit is the tastiest of all."

Greg, you'll note that in Europe, where sex is not as culturally regulated, girls have sex later than in the US. Promote health, wisdom and caution, and people make good choices. Hide information, and you leave sex up to the wild imagination of the teens, or, you let the pornographers set the debate.

Anyway, I'd never force a teen to jump into the sack. If they did, however, I'd hope they had a condom and a contraceptive.

David Huff

So are you suggesting that pre-marital sex is OK...

Bzzzt! No, that's an example of the fallacies of the False Dilemma and the Slippery Slope.

What John is trying to do is to get us thinking in a realistic and pragmatic way about a complex, real-life issue.


I wouldn't be that quick to discount the influence of parents on teen sexual behavior. If what you say is true, then teens wouldn't listen to their parents when they talk about drugs or tobacco either. But Parents - the anti drug campaign reports on their website that parents who talk to teens about drugs are 31% less likely to try drugs.

The abstinence-plus program will never work because teens would see right through the hypocrisy - "yes you should abstain but if you want to have sex its OK here's a condom and contraceptive" - both of which don't prevent STDs effectively. Teens hear "If you use a condom it prevents pregnancies or STDs" without the clause that says "most of the time". Also, in England, a study in 2002 Journal of Health Economics (I think) found that the approach you describe did not decrease teen pregnancy but increased it. In other words, increased or comprehensive sex education will not reduce teen pregnancy.

But lets teach our kids how to drive cars...
I think this is a bad analogy with respect to abstinence and sex for teens. One learns to drive a car correctly and become a good driver by practice and usually with an instructor - not by reading books or show-and-tell. So how does this analogy translate to teen sex education - for better marital sex, practice early and practice often? I fail to see how this is a realistic or pragmatic solution.

John Wilkins

Interesting you mention drugs. I do wish that parents did talk with teens about sex. No argument there. I believe that my own parents, who were remarkably open and liberated about sex and sexuality helped me resist the mixed cultural messages about sex. They didn't moralize, but there was always the understanding that 1) people are involved in sex [not objects] and that 2) actions have consequences. Did this mean no sex before marriage? That was up to me, but I never felt rushed or pressured by my peers, although I was curious and didn't feel bad about my curiosity.

Greg, you might want to be a bit more precise. Condoms are one sort of contraceptive, and it's rate of protecting from STDs is good. Birth control pills do not protect from STDs. Their rate of preventing pregnancy is also very good. Perfect? No. But good enough that people continue purchasing their products. Granted, it might be hard to trust some of the statistical data, in part because the abstinence only people have political interests in skewing it.

You keep adding "if you want to have sex its ok here's a condom." This is not what gets said. What get said is that the only way to avoid the consequences of any risky behavior is not to take the risk. However, there are ways to minimize the risk.

The main thing to do is get kids reliable information. I'm opposed to hiding information from teens. It's that simple. Most abstinence only education is, I think, unreliable, and teens know it. What these programs do is give kids bad information, and scare people about sexuality and sex.

You mention moral hypocrisy. Well, Greg, you might note that abstinance only education is the only kind of education taught in schools, with a little bit added on. Add that to the fact that parents themselves don't teach kids very well about sex. What's happened is that kids are instead engaging in other sorts of sexual behavior rather than intercourse. They've already seen through the hypocrisy of a culture that teaches abstinence only, yet sells everything through sex. And add to the fact that even in conservative Christian youth groups, sex is far more common than the pastors would have you believe.

I believe that if you teach abstinence only until marriage, you lead teens down the path of porn.

Have you seen the stats of people having sex before marriage these days?


For my own part, I think that a focus on virginity is inhumane and encourages objectification of people - or at least, many of the abstinence-only messages I grew up with did that. The message I got was, "Sexual contact defiles people; it is right to despise those who engage in it, particularly the unmarried ones; if you engage in it before marriage, you will shame any future husband and will no longer be worthy of love." You could only screw up once, and after that you were trash and deserved whatever bad things might happen to you as a result. I don't think it's possible to unite this worldview with one that believes in the universal dignity and worth of all people, I really don't. I think it encourages people to treat their sex partners poorly - "if it'll have sex with me it can't really be a *person* with emotions and needs I should care about. Sex is for tramps and whores, and who cares about them?" - and to treat themselves poorly - "it's not like it matters if she respects me or not; I've already given her my virginity, the only thing that was worthwhile about me, and so I might as well stick with her - what do I have to lose, anyway?"

There is much to despise in the prevailing counterpoint to this purity-centric worldview, to wit, the idea that sex is something that people in a relationship owe each other, irrespective of their individual desires, and if Partner A is insufficiently pleased by Partner B, he is right to leave. This also encourages objectification of people - "it's only there to have sex with me, and if it won't do that, to hell with it, I'll find another receptacle" - and suggests that people should ignore their consciences when making sexual decisions - "I don't feel good about this, but it's my job to please him, right?"

I intend to promote a third path to my (theoretical) children, something I haven't found good words for yet, but here are the main tenets: Relationships are about people; sex is a way of strengthening bonds and expressing their depth; but sex should never be elevated in importance above the relationship, or the people in it. As with all things on earth, there are risks and rewards, and I haven't figured out the best way to convey these to my children, whose happiness in future relationships may depend upon what I say. I certainly do not believe that overstating the risks of sex - which even the *educational* abstinent-focused programs do, as far as I can tell - is the way to go, because the kids who know you're lying will think you're lying about all of it and proceed to ignore you, and the kids who don't know will spend their early adulthoods terrified.

John Wilkins

Erin, I think your words are ... accurate, precise, just, tender and deep.

thank you.


If European teens are having it later than American teens, the reason might be this: they see so much of it on network TV and elsewhere in their media that they're already bored by it. When I lived there (5 years) I walked out of the living room more than once while "regular" TV was on. If this is the dynamic, then abstinence programs may be backfiring. I wish I had the answers to this one.

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