Abstinence: Is It Really a Dirty Word?

By: Dr. John Ankerberg, Dr. John Weldon; ©2003
Literally millions of teenagers across the country are uncertain about how to deal with the sexual pressure they face and are asking for help. It is up to parents and society to help them—or face the consequences. Christian parents often fail to educate their children spiritually and biblically. Rather than rearing their children to love Jesus above all else and to be committed to Bible study, they have not made Christian education in the home their priority. In the end, they may find they have raised children with worldly standards who, not surprisingly, adopt the world’s set of priorities—often bringing heartache to themselves and to their parents.

Why the Cultural Elite Thinks So

In their best-selling Why Wait? What You Need to Know About the Teen Sexuality Crisis, Josh McDowell and Dick Day provide many illustrations from the lives of teens concerning the problems they face as adolescents and the consequences they encounter for poor decision making in the area of sexuality. Noting that the consequences of premarital sex can be devastating, they cite a young woman who commented, “The reality of pregnancy outside of marriage is scary and lonely. To have premarital sex was my choice one hot June night, forcing many decisions I thought I would never have to make. Those decisions radically changed my life.”

Another young woman writes, “The reason I’m writing this is I am alone and confused. My boyfriend kept pursuing me for sex. . . . I had sex with him thinking that I owed it to him. . . . Later when I learned I was pregnant, he blew up, said to get an abortion, and that it was all my fault. So to save my parents heartache and to keep Matt, I had an abortion. Now, Matt has left me.”

Literally millions of teenagers across the country are uncertain about how to deal with the sexual pressure they face and are asking for help. It is up to parents and society to help them—or face the consequences.


The real cause of the nation’s sexual pandemic—teenage pregnancy, AIDS, abortion, STDs, and broken lives—largely results from the American preoccupation with sex and the biased and false assumptions about sexuality that permeate society (see chap. 12). These falsehoods have resulted in unworkable “solutions” to the very problems they created. Consider the false assumption that teenagers are going to practice sex and there is nothing anyone can do about it. That is one of the biggest myths being propagated, because 33 to 50 percent of all teenagers are now practicing abstinence. And studies prove that given accurate information and proper encouragement, many sexually active teens will also adopt a lifestyle of abstinence. Abstinence-based sex education works, as many studies now prove.

But aren’t many parents equally to blame for the current situation? Has their own sexual behavior communicated wrong sexual attitudes to their children? Even parents with high moral standards have caved in to the sexual permissiveness of the times.

Consider the case of Harold and June who upheld strong moral values and had been married for ten years before Harold entered into an extended mid-life crisis, which began to compromise his convictions. Feeling bored with his marriage and knowing it was wrong to enter into an adulterous relationship, Harold did so anyway in a reckless attempt to prove to himself that he was still attractive to younger women. “I was desperate,” he recalls. “Anyway, you see it everywhere—on TV, in the movies, among your friends. I couldn’t escape it.”

Unknown to him, his wife had also felt an increasing insecurity in their relationship and was already engaging in an extramarital affair in an attempt to find someone who understood her. She too thought she needed to prove to herself that she was still attractive to men.

But soon after their affairs, their marriage relationship began to suffer in unexpected ways. Almost intuitively neither trusted the other. Tempers were short, and problems once easily resolved became major barriers to communication. Things got worse and worse.

The children also knew something was wrong but didn’t know what it was or what to do about it. Finally, Harold decided that the stress was too much. He moved out of the house to live with another woman—his former lover. His son and daughter were crushed, but his wife felt the worst pain she had ever experienced.

Ironically, until their initial extramarital affairs, both parents had attempted to instill a moral perspective in their children regarding sexual behavior. They realized that sex was something that would be difficult for children to handle as they entered their teenage years.

But after experiencing sexual infidelity personally, they found it more and more difficult to present moral values to their teenagers. In fact, Harold even decided that his son and daughter were probably going to get sexually involved anyway and there was nothing he could do about it. As a result, he abandoned the dating standards he had set, giving as his only counsel the advice to “make certain no one gets pregnant.” Harold eventually divorced his wife, who ended up living with another man.

Several years down the road, the repercussions of the parents’ sin had finally worked its way into their children’s lives. By seventeen, their son had gotten his girlfriend pregnant (she had an abortion) and their daughter had contracted herpes and PID, which brought sterility.

Almost without realizing it, both parents, who had begun their marriage with the finest of intentions, had let slip away what was truly important in life. They had adopted the values they saw in their culture rather than standing against them. They learned a sad lesson and so had their children: sexual promiscuity can exact a terrible price.

Illicit sex is glamorized in movies, television programs, and magazines. We have accepted it as part of modern life. Peer pressure compounds the problem. Parents who refuse to accept moral absolutes compound it further. Then liberal educators put the final nail in the coffin.


Although many Christian parents desire to educate their children biblically, they often fail. For their part, the children often regret it, even though the parents rarely discover this until years later. What a terrible waste! At no time is a person more susceptible to being taught spiritual things than as a child or young adult. Here are statements made by teenagers themselves:

I wish my parents knew how much I want to become a stronger Christian! Both my parents are Christians, but we don’t talk about it much. We all go to church and we pray, and they have taught me well. I just wish we could talk about the Lord more!
Dad—I love you, and I wish when I was younger we had spent more time together. Although you and Mom are both Christians, I wish you would have been a stronger spiritual influence in my life.
Dad, why did you quit after-dinner devotions after only a week just because we complained that we wanted to play instead? We were only kids!
I think parents need to inform kids about what sex is in the beginning, and also should tell them the Scriptures. When you are young, it is really confusing, because there are so many things you don’t know, and you need to have some backup help like the Bible. But I think sometimes parents don’t want to talk about it.
I wish my parents knew how much it would have meant to me if our home had been more dedicated to the study of God’s word. I wish they would renew their own devotion to each other and to God. I wish my dad would put Christ first in his life. I wish they knew how important these things are to me.
Most teenagers aren’t properly educated in sexual matters. They know what comes naturally, but they don’t understand God’s interpretation of sexual love. They don’t know they are doing wrong because they haven’t been exposed to the right. They have no religious background or else it isn’t a firmly sound background. They are ignorant in a highly promoted subject, thus, they tend to make unwise choices.

In the authors’ personal experience, among the saddest circumstances they have encountered are the consequences of Christian parents failing to educate their children spiritually and biblically. Rather than rearing their children to love Jesus above all else and to be committed to Bible study, they have not made Christian education in the home their priority. In the end, they may find they have raised children with worldly standards who, not surprisingly, adopt the world’s set of priorities—often bringing heartache to themselves and to their parents.

Thus, the evolutionary “man as higher animal” assumption about human sexuality has conditioned teenage sexual education in the schools—and the consequences are everywhere. Educators who tell teenagers that sex is just part of growing up and that it can be a “loving and learning” experience outside of marriage don’t understand that men and women are created by God “in His image” and are not the result of an amoral, animalistic, evolutionary process. God teaches that sex outside of marriage is wrong and that there will be consequences for such actions (1 Thessalonians 4:6).

Yet, of all the possible solutions to the sexual disaster of America, the most rational, most effective, and most powerful—abstinence—is frequently the most opposed and maligned. Why, for example, does the American Civil Liberties Union attempt to challenge abstinence-based programs on constitutional grounds when a personal decision to be abstinent is not necessarily related to religious beliefs at all?

Is it really unrealistic to expect young people to wait? Isn’t it our modern attitudes and habits of sexuality that are unrealistic and dangerous? Isn’t proof of this everywhere? 1Wo generations ago abstinence was not considered “impossible,” “unreasonable,” or “dangerous.” It was considered good and moral, and it was expected of young people.

And isn’t it absurd to say that abstinence is unrealistic when non-abstinence can be fatal? In truth, isn’t it those who have encouraged sexual permissiveness who are partly responsible for the suffering and deaths of others—and not those who have upheld abstinence?

A report on ABC News’s “American Agenda” (April 1, 1992) was condescending to the abstinence-based national “Sex-Respect” program because it was supposedly based on “fear.” Yet the same program described as “frightening” the great increase in AIDS and other STDs among teens. Eric Zorn, a columnist for the Chicago Tribune, in the September 20, 1992, issue also criticized abstinence promoting ads sponsored by Focus on the Family as being fear-based. Abstinence programs, however, are not based on fear, but they do warn about the serious consequences facing the sexually active. There are indeed things to fear today. To fail to warn teens about real dangers is not acting in their best interest.

To attack those who teach restraint as being foolish and unenlightened only worsens the problem. Further, in teaching that abstinence is only one of several approaches to containment, we help undermine the power of abstinence. Why? Because abstinence is less easily chosen when the more pleasant alternative of safe sex is held out as a “responsible” option.

What safe sex means is that activities God considers wrong and sinful—activities that frequently harm people regardless of what one thinks of them—are held out as safe and moral. But “safe anal intercourse,” “safe fornication,” and “safe adultery” are still anal intercourse, fornication, and adultery—and it is these activities that will continue to bring the consequences of the AIDS/STD plague upon us—physically, emotionally, socially, and economically.

What many sex educators and parents forget is that, in an age where the sex act can literally be lethal, premarital abstinence is the only guarantee of our children’s safety. Teaching this is neither unrealistic nor moralistic and repressive. It is teaching a medical fact.

Does the problem lie at the door of adults for accepting the idea that their children can’t control their sexual urges and then permitting sex educators to powerfully reinforce such a belief in the schools? If society treats kids like biological animals who have sexual instincts that cannot be controlled, should we be surprised at the outcome? But if society treats them as responsible young adults who are morally bound to control their sexual natures for their own welfare and that of society in general, then that is how they will model their behavior.

How do we know kids can say no? Because for most of human history the vast majority of teenagers have waited for sex until marriage. Even today one-third to one-half of all American teenagers are already saying no—they are not sexually involved. They could be if they wanted to, but they aren’t. Teenagers adopt this behavior all over the world. In China the vast majority of teenagers-95 percent—remain chaste until marriage. The same is true in many other countries. Perhaps it is not true in America because we won’t let it be true.

But there is no reason why things can’t change. Shari and Tim are an example of an attitude and commitment to sane sexuality that can be found among thousands of teenagers across the country. In this case, both have been raised in strong Christian homes where biblical values are both taught and lived. Sexual issues have been discussed frankly, and the strong love that both teens feel from their parents has provided a foundation to resist temptations to sexual experimentation.

Both Tim and Shari had made personal commitments: first, to obeying God’s will in their lives, and, second, to honoring their parents’ instruction. Both were committed to being abstinent until marriage. And both succeeded. They are now happily married, beginning healthy families of their own.

Modern Cultural Attitudes

Few will deny that how children are raised will play a crucial role in how they view sexual intercourse. But so will cultural attitudes. Whereas a good upbringing can inhibit peer pressure toward sexual experimentation, a poor home environment only tends to exacerbate the situation.

Social statistics reveal the wide range of sexual behavior among teenagers—in Sweden 90 percent have had sex before their twentieth birthday, but in Japan only 17 percent have had sex before age twenty (in America it’s 65 percent).

What makes the difference? As McDowell points out, certainly it is not that the young women in Japan have more character or power to say no than young women in Sweden or America. The issue isn’t ability; teenagers are the same everywhere—they are all young adults with equal ability, morally speaking. The real issue is the social and peer pressure teenagers face in American culture and the failure of adults to educate them in making the responsible choice of abstinence.

Isn’t proof of this the fact that 30 years ago we had almost no problem with teenage abortion, widespread venereal disease, AIDS and sexual promiscuity? Teenagers who were pregnant were shunned and there was a general moral consensus giving virginity a positive social value. Moral standards were not only clearly defined; they were clearly spoken throughout the culture. Virginity was prized, not demeaned, and greater willingness existed from those in positions of power and influence to promote sexual chastity. But today, because of the “sexual freedom” groups, we have caved in to their agenda for society. Instead of acting wisely and with conviction, we have permitted them to dictate the rules of the game and offered no resistance.

In the 1950s to have a baby out of wedlock was a personal disgrace—the government would never have subsidized such a scandal. Today, the government does so, and the public demands it. The government also supports homosexuality, lesbianism, and the murder of children in the womb. Then it expects the public to fund the consequences of such activity—along with a failing Social Security system, AFDC (Aid to Families with Dependent Children), Medicaid, Savings and Loan scandals, bank failures, the FDIC, and so on.

To think that the government can now solve the sexual problems of the country by pouring billions of dollars into education—without fundamental attitude and behavior changes at all levels of society—represents a basic misunderstanding of human nature.

Why haven’t billions of dollars spent on education and treatment programs significantly affected drug abuse in our country? Because we teach the wrong message. Illegal drugs are bad—but not bad enough to require sufficient penalties to curtail personal use. Millions of people enjoy drugs, and society is currently unwilling to take the necessary measures—stiff penalties for users—that would stop the epidemic.

Why haven’t billions of dollars spent on “criminal justice,” counseling, and legal services for offenders stopped crime in our country? Because we teach the wrong message. Crime is bad, but not so bad that we can’t let murderers and other criminals out of jail on technicalities or reduce their sentences to just a few years because our jails are so overcrowded. So we let criminals out of jail (frequently after penalizing the victim) and then complain that crime is on the rise. What is the message to criminals? That chances are good they can get away with it. We give them this message and we then wonder why we have such a problem with repeat offenders.

In Italy the Mafia is so powerful that even though police have proof that some individuals have murdered as many as one-hundred-fifty to two-hundred people, yet they are powerless to stop them because of political corruption and liberal social policies. Given current policy in the United States, one only wonders how long it might be before America walks down a similar road.

We teach that religious values are good but simultaneously undermine their influence in society. Liberal social elements, such as the ACLU, work to prohibit religion and protect pornography and we wonder why we have a problem with child molestation, rape and other forms of violence against women.

The Clarence Thomas/Anita Hill debacle during Justice Thomas’s confirmation hearings and the Navy’s “Tailhook” scandal involving sexual harassment are illustrations of the problem. Many women’s organizations around the country have, rightly, expressed concern over the subject of sexual harassment. Certainly, any nation that respects its women will not condone their mistreatment.

But we think that too many people are attacking symptoms rather than the problem. Perhaps consideration should also be given to garnering political power to confront the attitudes of sexual freedom in this country illustrated in such things as men’s magazines and hard core pornography—or confronting the lack of concern for the sexual sanctity of marriage, seen in our adultery rates. Unfortunately, it appears that many of today’s “liberated” men and women want to have their sexual freedom and so find it difficult to confront the root issues that give rise to problems like sexual harassment, rape, divorce, and child abuse.

If there had continued a culture consensus—as was close to existing forty years ago—in accepting the biblical view of sexual morality, then as a nation, we would not have had to face either the root cause of our problems or its symptoms. As it stands, tremendous amounts of individual and political energy are being expended in attempting to deal with symptoms while root causes remain unaddressed. Until there is a return to promoting absolute moral standards in all segments of society, especially on the part of those who advocate moral change, we fear that such change will escape us.

Somehow we don’t make a connection between children who are abducted, raped and murdered and the amoral sexual permissiveness in society. We accept tens of millions of abortions and then wonder why there are so few kids in school—complaining all the while that the government must subsidize schools to make up for declining enrollment. We officially reject religion-based morality, demand that discipline be removed from the school system and then complain about violence and absenteeism. And we wonder why there are thousands of illiterate children who never graduate from high school.

We say fiscal responsibility is good, but we encourage debt at every level of society—and then can’t understand the bank failures, Savings and Loan scandals or a national debt that could produce a depression.

Now let’s return to sex education. Is an “enjoy sex, but do it safely” mentality really educational? Or is it the problem? Can we tell kids that sex is entirely their own business and then expect them to behave responsibly at a young age?

Is it fair to educate our children in every aspect of sex—telling them in specific detail how to engage in the sexual act—and then expect them to be chaste? If our own children die of AIDS, whom should we blame? If we have ignored common sense, not to mention God, to whom do we turn for advice?

We cannot accept greed as a national standard and then wonder at the collapse of the stock market. We cannot accept politicians who reject absolute moral values and then wonder why the government is corrupt.

All these problems are symptoms of a two-faced morality that requires radical solution. Until the nation again adopts absolute moral values and widely promotes them, we will not see a change for the better.

In his November 6, 1992 interview on the Oprah Winfrey show, even Magic Johnson now says, “Abstinence is the key.” In today’s world, teaching abstinence is the only sane option. In the next several chapters we will reveal some of the consequences of adopting any other position.


You will not get a sexually transmitted disease such as herpes, syphilis, Chlamydia, NGU, AIDS, etc.

Your boyfriend, girlfriend or spouse will find it easier to trust you.

God commands that sex is to be reserved for marriage.

Premarital sex may make future courtship more problematic. It may also ruin what had previously been a good friendship, leaving pain, bitterness and mistrust. Abstinence permits freedom to develop a stronger friendship.

Those who wait may find that the sexual relationship is perceived as being more special in marriage than those who do not wait.

You will not have to deal with guilt, problems with self-esteem, or resentment on the part of another partner.

Premarital sex will damage your relationship and walk with God.

Ending a relationship after having premarital sex often leaves scars that are difficult to heal. It may also make it more difficult to break up with someone even if this is the best course of action.

Premarital sex may break down communication within the relationship. Once begun, sex may be difficult to stop, and the desire for sex, rather than love, becomes predominant.

You will not have to deal with the tremendous problem of unwanted pregnancy and abortion or the difficult task of raising children as a teenager or single parent.

There is only one “first time.”

Studies have indicated that those who reserve sex for marriage often enjoy more satisfying sex and more stability in their marriage. Premarital sex may actually damage sexual fulfillment later in life.

You will not have disobeyed God or be subject to His judgment.

Those who have premarital sex have higher divorce rates.

Premarital sex frequently makes it easier to justify extramarital sex. Your partner will be more confident that you will not engage in extramarital sex if you have not engaged in premarital sex.

Premarital sex frequently harms your relationship with your parents.

Premarital sex is a sin against your body (1 Corinthians 6:18). Waiting will bring God’s blessing and self control and produce a feeling of personal self respect and dignity.

Premarital sex may lead to further experimentation and even to various sexual addictions (e.g., pornography).

Your sexual standards tend to influence those of your friends and others around you, whether for good or evil.

Having premarital sex is a poor testimony for Christ.

Waiting for your marriage partner is proof to that person of how much you love him or her.

Those who have waited for sex until they are married have said they were not sorry they did so—yet countless numbers have regretted premarital sex.

Premarital sex may induce a “performance syndrome,” which unnecessarily complicates a relationship.

Bad memories of broken relationships and friendships tend to stay with you and may damage your ability to trust others.

Waiting brings true freedom.

Premarital sex may make it difficult to make wise decisions regarding your relationship.

Waiting until marriage will lead to good habit patterns in other areas of life.

Premarital sex may have negative effects on your children, such as your inability to be a good role model in encouraging your own sons’ and daughters’ chastity.

The consequences of premarital sex may hurt your reputation.

The consequences of premarital sex are extremely harmful to society as a whole.

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