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How to Respond to Claims That Abstinence Training Is Ineffective

Why Continue Abstinence-Only Sex Ed When Research Claims It's Ineffective?

In a new report from the Journal of Adolescent Health, researchers write that programs advocating abstinence often fail to prevent young people from having sex, causing some to question the value of promoting chastity to our youth and calling it unrealistic, NPR reports.

“The analysis confirms previous public health findings that abstinence-only education programs don’t succeed in reducing rates of teen pregnancies or STDs. Moreover, public health data indicate that such programs ‘have little demonstrated efficacy helping adolescents to delay intercourse,'” the article states.

How Should Christians Respond?

So, how are we as Christians to respond to the results of this study? With Americans increasingly marrying later in life, and our youth—Christian and non-Christian alike—choosing to engage in sexual activity before marriage, how do we address these findings from a godly perspective? What is the proper way to influence and instruct the youth in our care? Should we no longer insist that abstinence-only education remain a priority in our schools?

The researchers of this study view the matter strictly from a medical standpoint, purporting that safe-sex education and the prevention of undesirable physical consequences of premarital sex should be emphasized. Most Christians hold the view that sex was designed by God to be shared within the context of marriage with the understanding that there is much more at stake than STDs and pregnancy. Abstinence is one way to honor God with our bodies, but also we believe that sexual purity is commanded by him for our own good—physically and emotionally—and that teens can universally benefit from practicing abstinence.

Discussing the Consequences

Christians can firmly address this topic from both the physical consequences of premarital sex as well as the spiritual effects that it can have on our kids. Even though youth today appear to ignore the warnings presented in abstinence-only teaching, we must remind ourselves that God’s design was put into place to save them from the emotional and physical effects of sex outside of marriage—and this is a message worth teaching.

Laura Lindberg at the Guttmacher Institute, a pro-abortion rights, reproductive health research group, says, “We tell people not to drink and drive. We don’t teach them not to drive… We would never withhold information about seat belts because they wouldn’t know how to protect themselves.”

But we do teach underage people not to drink—even if they ignore this advice. And we don’t teach kids to go out and drink and drive as long as they’re wearing a seatbelt. We instruct them to refrain from drinking until they’re old enough to make wise decisions. So why would we teach our kids that it’s OK to engage in risky sexual behavior as long as they’re “prepared”?

It’s our responsibility to tell our kids that the only sure-fire way to prevent STDs and pregnancy is to avoid sex outside of marriage. Even if our message is not heeded or it is considered by some to be unrealistic, it is no less valid. The CDC reports that many STDs are incurable and are not prevented by the use of condoms. And the failure rates of the pill and other birth control methods range from 6 to 28 percent. The truth is that if our youth want to remain STD- and pregnancy-free, they should refrain from having sex.

But we know that the physical ramifications of sex outside of marriage are not the only concern. Equally as important are the psychological and emotional consequences that it poses, and this aspect should be just as concerning to us. In one study by the Heritage Foundation, research showed that sexually active teens are more likely to feel depressed, attempt suicide and have feelings of guilt than their peers who are not having sex—teaching that is clearly missing from safe-sex education.

What Do We Believe About Youth?

The difference between a worldview that says, “Well, they’re going to do it anyway so we might as well tell them how to do it safely,” and a godly perspective is that we offer a holistic approach that protects them from all the consequences of sex outside of marriage. It is realistic to ask our youth to wait until marriage, regardless of what culture tells us. Kids might not respond to “because the Bible says so,” but they can sympathize with a personal testimony of the pain and heartache associated with premarital sex. They might not care about God’s design for sex, but they will respond to a heartfelt discussion with parents who love them and want the best for them. I would argue that an education void of the psychological and spiritual effects is ineffective in other ways.

The potential earthly consequences are innumerable, but we must keep in mind that which should be our greatest concern for our children: their spiritual well-being. Yes, God’s plan surely is in place to protect us from temporal pain, but his greatest burden is with winning over our souls. We are responsible for modeling and promoting a lifestyle that forsakes self to please God. 1 Corinthians 6:19 says, “You are not your own; you were bought with a price. So glorify God with your body.” We must set ourselves apart and speak the truth in love to our youth. And if we are the only voice in their lives that is speaking a different message, just maybe their ears will be open to hear about this God who loves them so dearly that he gifted them with the deeply spiritual, intimate bond of sex within marriage—and placed protections around it for our benefit.

As Christians, we should not be in the business of watering down the truth in the interest of what kids might do anyway. We need to stand up for what God says is true. If we begin to shape our message based on a worldview that does not elevate God’s intended purpose for sex, we have done our youth no favors and instead mirrored the culture around us. We must continue to fight for the protection of their minds, their bodies and, ultimately, their souls by unabashedly teaching them about the most rewarding, healthiest expression of sexuality given to them by their Creator.