Abstinence for Adults

Twenty years ago President Jimmy Carter told a group of government employees: "Those of you who are living in sin-I hope you’ll get married." The suggestion provoked a huge belly laugh—especially among reporters. Who even talked about "living in sin" anymore? In the "enlightened" seventies, it seemed absurd that mature adults should wait until marriage to have sex. But the press isn’t laughing anymore. U.S. News & World Report just ran a cover story about premarital sex entitled "Was It Good for Us?" The answer is an emphatic no. Debates over premarital sex usually focus on the problem of teen pregnancy. But as U.S. News points out, the number of teen pregnancies is small compared to the number of adults in their twenties who give birth to kids out of wedlock. In fact, the magazine reports that "most of the current social ills tied to sexual behavior" stem chiefly from adults—not teens—engaging in premarital sex. For example, in 1994 only 22 percent of children born out of wedlock had mothers age 18 or under; more than half were born to mothers in their twenties. Each year only a fifth of all abortions are sought by teens, but more than half are obtained by mothers ages 20 to 29. Sex without commitment brings emotional barrenness as well. As one woman told U.S. News, "This all-you-can-eat sexual buffet is leaving a lot of men and women feeling very empty... we’re starving for love." Many of the sex-ed programs of the past two decades have taught teens merely to "postpone sex." The pregnancy rate among teens has dropped in recent years, which means these programs may be having some effect. But the message of postponing sex implicitly suggests that it’s okay to have sex as an unmarried adult. Most Americans have always recognized that teen sex is harmful. But in recent decades, many people—even some conservatives—have assumed that mature adults could handle sexual relationships outside of marriage. But now the evidence is in: Premarital sex is just as harmful to adults as it is to kids. And that’s why all the social pathologies associated with premarital sex are turning up among the twenty-something crowd-the adults who were taught as teens to postpone sex. Sadly, U.S. News says that Americans—even the clergy—have all but given up on the notion that the unmarried ought to stay chaste. But you and I should never give up on biblical teachings. We ought to tell our kids, and anyone else who will listen, to postpone sex—not until they’re older, but until they are married. And we ought to hold up as role models people who have made a public commitment to premarital chastity, like basketball player A. C. Green, rocker Julianna Hatfield, and model Lakita Garth. The empirical evidence is simply catching up with what the Bible has taught about sexual ethics for thousands of years. We can be confident that what God commands in Scripture is always best for us. After all, it was God who invented sex in the first place. And when we read reports like the one in U.S. News & World Report last week, we ought to remind ourselves and our neighbors that, eventually, the scientific studies will always catch up with divine truth.


Chuck Colson


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