“For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.” – Psalm 139:13
Summarizing research from Douglas Kirby, Donna Freitas, and Karen McClintock in Sex, God, and the Conservative Church, Dr. Tina Schermer Sellers points out that:
- “…many Christian young adults may have grown up in a culture of abstinence-only sex education, which research shows does not lower the incidence of sexual intercourse and increases the incidence of unwanted pregnancy, thanks to the decreased use of contraception in this population (Kirby 2007, 15
- “[Christian students] are more likely to delay sex, yes, but when they do engage in sex, they are more likely to have unprotected sex” (Freitas 2008, 124-5).
- “Research on the effect of the purity pledge indicated a slight delay (12 to 18 months) in the onset of sexual activity, a reduced use of contraception when young persons did engage in intercourse, and a significant increase in shame, condemnation, and self-loathing” (McClintock 2001, 30; SIECUS 2005).
Sometimes reports like this can fuel a sort of fatalism, which says, “Well, if so many of them are going to have sex before marriage anyway, we may as well buy condoms for them.” But we agree with Nancy Pearcey in Love Thy Body, when she says, “The loving way to treat young people is not to hand out contraceptives, which amounts to collusion in impersonal and ultimately unfulfilling sexual encounters. It is far more loving to inspire them with a higher view of sexuality.”
Perhaps the real issue with the sort of abstinence-only sex education that Dr. Sellers critiques is not that students were encouraged not to have sex, but that all they heard about sex were catchphrases like “Just say no.” There was no explanation of how their bodies worked, maybe no deeper exploration of the meaning of God’s design, and his higher and more beautiful purpose for sex. Maybe there was no discussion of grace for failures either.
Some parents may not want to talk about contraception because they don’t want to consider that there could ever be a situation where that information could become relevant for their teens. Others may feel like the consequences of sexual immorality should remain as fearfully high as possible, and so might want to leave this partial solution undiscussed. Others may want to talk about it, but aren’t sure how they could do so without incentivizing their teens to act out sexually.
Of course, some married couples use contraceptives as part of family planning, so this isn’t just a premarital issue. Regardless, our goal is for you to become your kids’ go-to resource for all their questions about every aspect of sexuality. We want your kids to know that no topic is off-limits with you, and that you can be trusted to give them a real, honest answer about anything.
Most sources which share information about contraceptives also come with a built-in secular worldview, one which espouses that sexual activity should happen whenever you feel like doing it, and with whomever. But if you as the parent were to breach this topic, you could pre-empt and reframe the conversation. You might say something like, “Yes, there are ways to protect yourself from some of the physical consequences of sex, like accidental pregnancy or STIs, and some kinds of protection work better than other kinds. But contraception only deals with the physical side of things, and we’ve never believed that sex was only physical. It’s also emotional, spiritual, and relational. This is part of why we believe sex should be reserved for marriage, because the consequences of going outside of God’s design go way deeper than just the physical.”
In an article called, “In Texas, Abstinence-Only Programs May Contribute to Teen Pregnancies,” Laura Silverman writes, “For years, California has invested in comprehensive sex education and access to contraception… There, the teenage birth rate dropped by 74 percent from 1991 to 2012. The teen birth rate in Texas also fell, but only by 56 percent.”
Although Gen Z’s sexual experience has become more digitized, pregnancy still remains a real possibility. One (difficult) question that’s worth asking is, “If the unthinkable happened, and one of our teens got (or got someone) pregnant, would they know that it was still better to carry the baby to term than to terminate the pregnancy?” Maybe then the baby could be put up for adoption, so a family in a more mature life-situation could give the baby the care he or she truly needed. But if teens believe their ultimate goal should be maintaining the appearance of righteousness before others, abortion may present itself as a way to keep reality covered up. So then the question becomes, “How good is our community at offering grace for mistakes? Or have we conveyed the message that looking put together is the most important thing?”
For many Christians, it’s easy to talk in abstract terms about abortion being wrong. It’s much harder to create an environment where teens know that some things are more important than looking perfect. As a friend of ours once put it, the crucial question for parents to ask themselves is this: “Are you raising a sin concealer or a sin confessor?” When it comes down to it, a teen’s willingness to be open about their current life situation hinges on the amount of trust established with the ones who want to know.
One of the best ways to raise a sin confessor is to model sin confession, which brings to something we talked about in our Laying the Foundation track: sharing your own story. If you haven’t already done so, take some time to think through (and/or talk through with your spouse) the major points of your story that have informed your convictions. How much detail would you want to share if an opportunity presented itself?
Then, sometime today, or as soon as you’re able, ask your son or daughter this question: “What have you heard or learned about abortion? What do you think leads people to get an abortion, or to decide not to get one?”
For more on this topic, check out our Parent’s Guide to Talking About Abortion.
“Father, when I am weak, you are strong. When I am nervous, you are secure. Thank you that you have come, not just to cover my past, but to lend me power for my future. I pray that your Holy Spirit would prompt me to ask the questions which uncover my son/daughter’s heart. Help me to align myself with you and what you’re doing in his/her life. In Jesus’ name, amen.”