Sunday, May 21, 2006


Teen-Age Abstinence: Hormones Versus Ideology

The reason why teen-agers make abstinence pledges and then have sex anyhow is because hormones are stronger than ideas. Hormones keep the species going; ideas and ideologies, for the most part, end up being tools for killing off populations who disagree with specific ideas and ideologies.

But the Christian fundies, even including those of the Roman Catholic variety (yes, they’re “Christian,” too, though somebody like Pat Robertson or James Dobson might forget that), just don’t get it. If you just pray hard enough and often enough; if the community of your church just helps you be more...different.

Is there anything worse, to an adolescent than being "different," not following her or his peer group? The only way churches are going to do that is to make sure the youth’s peer group is made up of youths all of whom are terrified of sex. In fact, maybe the adolescents shouldn’t even be in school, unless it’s a church school where they’re watched every second. Sort of like Bob Jones University, maybe. Or a prison. No...scratch that: there’s sex in prisons... Chastity belts, maybe? For both sexes. It’s crazy. Young people have always fucked and always will fuck, given any sort of chance—and since the invention of the automobile and the two-parent-working family, there are more chances than ever.

Oh, how can a young man or woman stay pure!

And what’s this use of “counter-cultural” in the opening paragraph of Lauren Winner’s article? No matter how they try, abstinence will never be hip....

May 19, 2006
Op-Ed Contributor
Saving Grace
Durham, N.C.

THE recent Harvard study that found teenagers' virginity pledges to be ineffective should come as a surprise to no one. Several studies had already come to that conclusion. If we are truly to help our teenagers adopt the countercultural sexual ethic of abstinence until marriage, Christians concerned about the rampant premarital sex in our communities need to rethink, rather than simply defend, young people's abstinence pledges.

It is awfully easy for Christians to blame our community's sexual sins on the mores of post-sexual revolution America — to criticize Abercrombie & Fitch catalogs, to natter on about how "Grey's Anatomy" portrays sexual behavior that doesn't square with Christianity.

But perhaps it's more important that we reconsider how we talk about sex in the church. For although the church devotes an immense amount of energy to teaching about sexuality — just go to the Christian inspiration section of your nearest Barnes & Noble and compare the number of books about chastity to books that challenge, say, consumerism — many Christians still "struggle with" (in that euphemistic evangelical phrase) premarital sex, adultery and pornography.

So why is the church's approach to teaching chastity falling short? Consider the popular "True Love Waits" virginity pledge: "Believing that true love waits, I make a commitment to God, myself, my family, my friends, my future mate and my future children to a lifetime of purity including sexual abstinence from this day until the day I enter a biblical marriage relationship."

This pledge and others like it are well meaning but deeply flawed. For starters, there's something disturbing about the assumption that teenagers are passively waiting for their future mates and children, when the New Testament is quite clear that some Christians are called to lifelong celibacy. (Paul, for example, did not have a mate or children, and Dan Brown's fantasies notwithstanding, Jesus's only bride was the church.) Chastity is not merely about passive waiting; it is about actively conforming our bodies to the arc of the Gospel and receiving the Holy Spirit right now.

Pledgers promise to control intense bodily desires simply by exercising their wills. But Christian ethics recognizes that the broken, twisted will can do nothing without rehabilitation by God's grace. Perhaps the centrality of grace is recognized best not in a pledge but in a prayer that names chastity as a gift and beseeches God for the grace to receive it.

The pledges are also cast in highly individualistic terms: I promise that I won't do this or that. As the Methodist bishop William Willimon once wrote: "Decisions are fine. But decisions that are not reinforced and reformed by the community tend to be short-lived."

During our first year of marriage, my husband and I lived in a small apartment inside a church. On Tuesdays, Alcoholics Anonymous and Al-Anon met downstairs. As I got to know some of the regulars, I began to wonder if there wasn't something the church could learn from the 12-step groups in our midst.

After all, what are 12-step groups but communities of people expecting transformation? People show up because they want to change, and they know that making a promise by themselves — I will stop drinking — won't cut it. Alcoholics Anonymous explicitly recognizes that transformation works best when a community comes alongside you and participates in your transformation.

Christians, like 12-step group attendees, are people who are committed to becoming, to use the Apostle Paul's phrase, new creatures. Living sexual lives that comport with the Gospel is one part of that.

Perhaps pledges for chastity need to be made not only by the individual teenager. Perhaps we also need pledges made by the teenager's whole Christian community: we pledge to support you in this difficult, countercultural choice; we pledge that the church is a place where you can lay bare your brokenness and sin, where you don't have to dissemble; we pledge to cheer you on when chastity seems unbearably difficult, and we pledge to speak God's forgiveness to you if you falter. No retooled pledge will guarantee teenagers' chastity, but words of grace and communal commitment are perhaps a firmer basis for sexual ethics than simple assertions that true love waits.

Lauren F. Winner is the author of "Girl Meets God" and "Real Sex: The Naked Truth About Chastity."

I am a Muslim, in my religion pre-marital sex is not just dissuaded but absolutely forbidden and considered as a guilt. while this rule is supposed to be a very strong red line, I find it very difficult to submit it. I am struggling, on the line.
thoughtfully : the case is very very complicated
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