Abstinence Education


What should parents, educators and church leaders teach children about sex? Sixty years ago—at least, where I grew up—the question would not have been so controversial or appropriate as it is today. The people of my home community may not have been completely agreed on the topic, but most of them would not have taken the position that many liberal politicians, educators and preachers take today. They may not have taught their children God's view of human sexuality—although many parents, preachers and teachers did—but they would not have advocated letting children grow up with the moral values of barnyard animals. In addition, most of the parents I knew exemplified the kind of moral values they wanted their children to adopt. Does that mean that all of my associates were always sexually pure? I am convinced that most of them were, but not all of them. But not one member of my high school graduating class had a baby out of wedlock. The vast majority of them have had good marriages and families. Most of them after more than a half-century are still married to their original partners. How many of today's graduating classes will be able to say that fifty years from now? How many of them will be able to say that five years from now?


You cannot be unaware of the conflict in our nation over teaching sexual abstinence to our young people. Liberal educators, politicians, theologians and the ridiculous American Civil Liberties Union have joined together to oppose the teaching of abstinence. Some of the opponents argue that it is a matter of separation of church and state. Are they affirming that teaching any kind of moral values is a violation of the separation of church and state? But there are some rational voices, even in the media, that oppose teaching abstinence-plus-contraception. Recently Saritha Prabhu, a Clarksville, Tennessee, columnist for The Tennessean, wrote an excellent article with the title, "Abstinence by far and away is the answer" (Monday, December 13, 2004).  She asks, "Should we teach our teens to abstain from sexual relations until marriage, or should we teach them abstinence but, presuming that they'll do it anyway, teach them safety measures" (p. 11-A)?


There is one aspect of teaching about sex or about any other topic we must not overlook. As I write this transcript, I have on my desk Desmond Morris's book, The Naked Ape (New York: Dell Publishing Co., Inc., 1967). When I bought my copy of that book in 1979, it had already gone through nineteen printings. Desmond Morris writes: "I am a zoologist and the naked ape is an animal" (p. 9). The Saturday Review wrote of Morris's book: "A startlingly novel idea, brilliantly executed.... To read Desmond Morris on the sex habits of the naked ape is disconcerting, to say the least." The Saturday Review describes Morris's book as "enlightening, entertaining, disturbing, discomforting, ego-shrinking" (Back cover). In case you are wondering who the naked ape is, it is every human being, including you and me.


If we are nothing more than naked apes—as Desmond Morris and most other evolutionists believe—what would be the point in discussing teaching sexual abstinence to our young people? I grew up on a farm where we raised hogs, goats, horses and cattle. I do not recall my father's bringing in an expert on animal behavior to conduct sessions on sex among the animals. We know that animals do what comes naturally. It would be silly to try to teach them moral values or sexual techniques. Is that really all we are—just animals? If we are just animals—whether apes or some other—why should we bother about teaching abstinence or any other moral value? In fact, I challenge any evolutionist to give one valid reason for doing anything or refraining from doing anything. I have read Antony Flew's book, Evolutionary Ethics (New York: Macmillan, 1967). Even though Dr. Flew was a prominent philosopher, his book makes absolutely no sense—either logical or moral.


We do not speak of animals committing sin or doing wrong. However, evolutionists cannot refrain from using moral language of human conduct. Do evolutionists believe the Holocaust was immoral? Do they believe it is morally wrong to discriminate on the basis of race or religion or social status? Would they approve of abusing children or others just for fun? If they believe any of these activities are evil, they must have some standard for making that judgment. What is the standard they use? Dr. Will Durant, the distinguished historian of philosophy and a humanist, understood the difficulty of evolutionists' developing ethical values. In the book, Humanist Ethics (Buffalo: Prometheus Books, 1980), edited by Dr. Morris Storer of the University of Florida, Dr. Durant made this very wise observation: "We (meaning humanists) shall find it no easy task to mold a natural ethic strong enough to maintain moral restraint and social order without the support of supernatural consolations, hopes, and fears" (p. 8). Humanists will find it impossible to develop a "natural ethic strong enough to maintain moral restraint and social order without the support of supernatural consolations, hopes, and fears."


Do you know what the supporters of teaching abstinence-plus-contraception really believe? They argue that teens are going to engage in sex outside of marriage regardless of what they are taught. So we must make sure they are protected from sexually transmitted diseases and from out-of-wedlock pregnancy. Is that really the kind of children and young people we are rearing in our nation? Can they not be taught the dangers of engaging in sex outside the marriage bond? If they cannot be taught moral values, we are in for some rough sledding in the years ahead. Let us think for a few minutes on the implications of this situation.


Do you teach your children not to smoke, not to drink beverage alcohol and not to abuse other drugs? Suppose we approach these problems as many liberals want to approach sex education? Should we teach our children: "I prefer that you do not smoke or drink or abuse other drugs. But I know you are going to do anyway. So be careful not to smoke too much, not to drive under the influence of alcohol and not use drugs that will impair your judgment?" Would you think we are wise in leading our children in the right direction if we used that approach to tobacco, alcohol and other drugs?


Most Americans—even secular humanists—believe stealing is wrong, at least, under most circumstances. Why do we not tell our children and young people: "We know you are going to steal, but just make sure you do not get caught?" That would make as much sense as telling young people they should not engage in sex outside marriage, but if they are going to do it any way, they should make sure they are adequately protected. What kind of nation have we become when we fail to give children and young people the information they need to lead fulfilled lives? As parents, preachers and teachers, we are derelict in our duty when we fail to teach and exemplify the principles our young people must know and observe.


Who should teach our young people about sex? Many American schools are intruding on the territory that belongs to parents alone. Schools have no right to provide sex education for children. There are several reasons for making that statement. Tragically, many American educators have espoused situation ethics. They do not believe there are any absolutes. If there are no absolutes, it is not absolutely wrong to tell young people they can engage in sex outside marriage if they are careful and protect themselves. If the public schools in your community are providing sex education, you should investigate to learn what is being taught. Some modern schoolteachers have the moral values of barnyard animals. Is that the kind of person you want teaching your children about a topic that has such influence in their lives?


Parents should also make sure what is being taught in Sunday school classes. You would think offhand that Bible teachers would actually teach what the Bible does on such a vital topic. There have been cases where churches were actually showing pornographic movies to their young people's classes. You should also make sure of the moral values of the teachers of children's classes.   If a man is a known womanizer, he is not the teacher your children need. How can we teach the whole counsel of God without teaching what the Bible says about sex? But it must be done with discretion.


Tragically, what many of our young people learn about sex they learn from popular songs, from television programs and from the movies. Have you noticed how some of the songs actually teach or at least imply that a man is not really a man until he has engaged in sex? One country song says, "This bed of Rose's that I lie on, where I was taught to be a man." Engaging in sex outside the marriage bond does not make a man a real man. It makes him a thief and a reprobate. He is taking what no woman has a moral right to give and he has no moral right to take. It is not unusual for a man to tell a woman: "If you really love me, prove it by having sex with me." I believe it was Dr. James Dobson who said that was comparable to telling a woman to prove her love by sticking her head in a fire.


The Soap Operas on television promote sex outside marriage. I am told (since I never watch Soap Operas) that almost never are husbands and wives shown as being intimate. It is almost always unmarried people and in many cases persons who have met at least fifteen minutes (or is it fifteen seconds?) before they engage in sex. What message are the songs, television programs and movies sending our children and young people? Will what they learn from those sources prepare them for lasting and happy marriages? The people who own radio and television stations and movie theaters are responsible before God and before good people for the deterioration of morals in America—not that it makes any difference to them so long as they make money. They ought to be ashamed of themselves for corrupting the youth—and adults—of America.


If we ought to teach young people about sex, what should be the message we deliver to them? Churches have been accused of presenting only the negative aspects of sex. Obviously we have to teach all the Bible says about sex, but we must not dwell on the negative side all the time. We must teach that God made us male and female (Gen. 1:26-27). We must also teach that God invented sex for the joy and fulfillment of husbands and wives in the marital relationship. The book of Proverbs stresses the beauty of the sexual relationship in marriage. How can Christians overlook these stirring words? "Drink waters out of your own cistern, and running waters out of your own well. Should your springs be scattered abroad and streams of water in the streets? Let them be only your own, and not a stranger's with you. Let your fountain be blessed; and rejoice with the wife of your youth. Let her be as the loving hind and pleasant roe; let her breasts satisfy you at all times; and be ravished with her love. And why will you, my son, be ravished with a strange woman, and embrace the bosom of a stranger? For the ways of man are before the eyes of the Lord, and he ponders all his goings" (Prov. 5:15-21).


Several comments on this passage are in order. Please pay special attention to the divine writers' emphasis on the exclusiveness of the sexual relationship. "Drink waters out of your own fountain, and running waters out of your own well....Let them be only your own, and not a stranger's with you." God intended for husbands and wives to fully enjoy their intimate time together. "Rejoice with the wife of your youth....Be ravished with her love." The word "ravished" means intoxicated, exhilarated, infatuated or captivated. Husbands and wives should find fulfillment in their married partners. If they cultivate their intimate relationship, they will find joy and satisfaction, as God intended. Is that the message the entertainment media give to our young people? Do they not show how men and women find greater excitement and fulfillment outside the bonds of holy matrimony?


The Bible could not be plainer in its condemnation of sex outside marriage. The New Testament uses the word pornos (translated either "fornicator" or "whoremonger") ten times. The word pome (translated "harlot" or "whore") appears twelve times in the Greek New Testament. The New Testament uses the word porneia (always translated "fornication") twenty-six times and the verb proneuo (to commit fornication) eight times. Before we look at some of the times these words appear in the sacred text, it is in order to define the word "fornication." Many preachers define "adultery" as extramarital sex and "fornication" as premarital sex. The scriptures simply do not sustain that approach. The word "fornication" (porneia in the Greek) comes from the Greek pornos or porne meaning a prostitute. The word "fornication means any and every form of sexual immorality.


In our Lord's discussion of marriage, divorce and remarriage, he used the word "fornication" to describe extramarital sex (Mt. 19:9). The church at Corinth had in its fellowship a man who was guilty of incest. Paul castigated the Corinthian Christians for their indifference toward sin. "It is commonly reported that there is fornication among you, and such fornication as is not so named among the Gentiles, that a man should have his father's wife" (1 Cor. 5:1). Paul used the word "fornication" of premarital sex. Please listen. "Now concerning the things whereof you wrote unto me, it is good for a man not to touch a woman. Nevertheless, to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband" (1 Cor. 7:1-2). Jude employs the word of homosexual sin of the people of Sodom and Gomorrah. "Even as Sodom and Gomorrah, and the cities about them, giving themselves over to fornication, and going after strange flesh, are set forth for an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire" (Jude 7). Incidentally, the word "fornication" in this verse is an intensified form of the word "fornication." The New American Standard Bible renders the word "gross immorality. I would translate the Greek "perverted fornication."


Parents and preachers often warn young people about the dangers of sexually transmitted diseases. When we realize that more than twenty-five million of America's young people have genital herpes—an incurable disease—and millions more are afflicted with syphilis, gonorrhea, Chlamydia and other venereal diseases, it is time we inform young people of the physical and emotional dangers of illicit sex. And AIDS is a sure killer. But the Bible generally does not   condemn sexual immorality because of the physical or emotional scars it leaves.


We parents and preachers also warn of the dangers of out-of-wedlock pregnancies. That, too, is a legitimate approach to teaching our children about sex. One million girls become pregnant out-of-wedlock every year—one million. Four hundred thousand of those girls abort their babies. Will the girls who abort their babies suffer from emotional scars for the rest of their lives? But again, this is not the approach to sexual behavior the Bible writers use in warning of the dangers of sex outside the marriage bond


What do inspired writers of the Bible teach about sex outside the marriage bond? Paul lists fornication among the lusts of the flesh and then says, "They who do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God" (Gal. 5:21). In other words, the unrepentant fornicator is going to hell. Paul warned the Ephesian Christians: "But fornication, and all uncleanness, or covetousness, let it not be once named among you, as becomes saints. For this you know, that no whoremonger, nor unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God" (Eph. 5:3, 5). Paul demanded of the Corinthians: "Flee fornication" (1 Cor. 6:18). The word "flee" is a present imperative. That means to make a habit of fleeing.


Paul asked the Corinthians, many of whom had been grossly immoral: "What? Do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit which is in you, which you have of God, and you are not your own? For you are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God's" (1 Cor. 6:19-20). Even if you are not a Christian, these verses ought to make an impression you. You are a creature of God almighty. You should take care of your body and not destroy it and your spirit on sexual immorality. You only have one body to last you to the end of your life. Take care of it and avoid any activity that will shorten your time with your family.

I close with these very troubling words. "But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone: which is the second death" (Rev. 21:8).


Winford Claiborne

The International Gospel Hour

P.O. Box 118

Fayetteville, TN 37334