The headline in the latest Education Week caught my attention: “Abstinence Programs Don’t Work, Largest Study to Date Concludes.” The article went on to say that students who participated in sexual-abstinence programs were just as likely to have sex and had the same number of sexual partners as those who did not take part in the program. Both groups had a median age of first intercourse of 14 years and 9 months – yikes I said to myself as I recalled my state of maturation when I was 14.9! I began to ponder why abstinence programs didn’t seem to be making a difference in student behavior. I also began to consider why some teens I know are keeping their vow of abstinence before marriage. What is different in the lives of the teens who are abstaining?
Barna’s research has found that Christians with a well developed Christian worldview, are more likely to have their beliefs impact their behaviors than the general population, including evangelical Christians. One of the best places to develop a Christian worldview is within the Christian school setting. I would love to see the data in the report mentioned in this article disaggregated by students and their connection to a Christian worldview. I do believe that students who have a more mature development of a Christian worldview and see the connection between their beliefs and actions would show a more positive abstinence rate result. If the concept of abstinence is not connected to a larger worldview that helps students see themselves as imagebearers of God and their bodies as temples of the Holy Spirit, it is easy to understand why abstinence is ineffective. In other words, if as a student my stand on abstinence is grounded in a larger belief system or worldview, then I have larger reasons for remaining sexually responsible.
When meting out consequences for the misbehavior of middle school students in a public school, they used to ask me, “Why should I be good?” In the absence of being able address that question from a spiritual perspective, the best answers I could come up with were limited and not as compelling. Rob Bell states in his latest book, Sex God: Exploring the Endless Connections Between Sexuality and Spirituality: “And when we begin to sort through all of the issues surrounding our sexuality, we quickly end up in the spiritual, because this is always about that…you can’t talk about sexuality without talking about how we were made. And that will inevitably lead you to who made us. At some point you have to talk about God.” I really appreciate his thought that we live between the animals and the angels: “When we deny the spiritual dimension to our existence, we end up living like animals. And when we deny the physical, sexual dimension to our existence we end up living like angels (a being with a spirit but without a body.) And both ways are destructive, because God made us human.”
We desire in Christian schools and churches to show kids who they really are in God’s eyes. They are imagebearers of great worth as Bell reminds us using Paul’s statements from the book of Ephesians: “…they’re blessed, chosen, predestined, given, redeemed, forgiven, included, marked, been made alive, saved, raised up, seated with, created, brought near; they are fellow citizens, they are members, they are being built together.”
Sexuality is a precious gift, a gift God designed to be saved and given exclusively to the person with whom one chooses to enter into the sacred bond of marriage. If we are able to help our students connect how they are viewed by God with how they live their lives, I cannot help but believe that we will see a more positive abstinence result.
Other links I have run across recently which may be of some help with understanding our students better are:
(Girls growing up too fast) Sexualizing Girls: Liberals and conservatives can agree that this is no good at all by Mona Charen, National Review, February 23, 2007.
Sexually Active Teenagers Are More Likely to Be Depressed and to Attempt Suicide by Robert E. Rector, Kirk A. Johnson, Ph.D., and Lauren R. Noyes on The Heritage Foundation website, June 3, 2003
Carolina-led study examines sexual content of several media, affect on teens’ sexual behavior, University of North Carolina, April 3, 2006.
A Cock-and-Bull Story: Explaining the huge rise in teen oral sexSlate, Saturday, Sept. 2, 2006.
After Hours on Campus: The Sexualization of the American College by Vigen Guroian, Breakpoint, March 27, 2007.