Let’s set aside our inhibitions and have a real conversation about sex, relationships, and abstinence.
Despite biblical teachings (1 Thessalonians 4:3), tons of people would argue that, in today’s society, it’s almost unrealistic to think that anyone would wait to have sex until marriage. The world we live in today tells us that abstinence is an antiquated practice or that no one in their right mind would marry someone without determining whether the sexual chemistry is there first. The list goes on and on, but luckily, some people out there still advocate for waiting until marriage to share something so intimate with their future spouse.
Before we really dive in, I would first like to point out that there is, in fact, a distinction between abstaining from sex and just not having sex. A person might not be sexually active for a variety of reasons. However, abstinence is defined as an intentional and deliberate action to refrain from sexual activity; it is making the decision to save all sexual acts until marriage.
In her book The Naked Truth: About Sex, Love and Relationships, abstinence advocate Lakita Garth says that “abstinence is the art of self-control, self-discipline and delayed gratification.” I get it. You’re probably thinking, Who wants to work that hard for something that is supposed to bring you pleasure? But Garth reminds her readers that there is, in fact, a wonderful reward in the end.
“The fact is, the happiest sex lives are found among those who wait until marriage to have sex,” Garth says. “Those who wait are richly rewarded.”
Waiting to have sex has so many benefits, but here are a few points to start:
Abstinence is more common than you think.
Studies show that only 3%, or 1 in 30 Americans, waited until marriage to have sex. Sure, this number sounds a bit disheartening, but if you stop to think about just how many people that is, it’s not too bad. In fact, that figure means that about 10 million people in America, as we speak, have abstained until marriage. And of course, these stats are even greater within religious groups.
Secondary virginity is a real thing.
Yes, secondary virginity is “a thing.” More and more singles have made the decision to rededicate their lives—and bodies—to God by abstaining from sex. Regardless of their past, they made the decision to start over and choose abstinence even though they initially made the decision to be sexually active in the past. It’s no secret that having sex before marriage has its own negative consequences, including unplanned pregnancy, higher chances of being a single parent, sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), the list goes on and on.
In fact, studies show that 40 percent of children were born to unwed mothers, with nearly two-thirds of those mothers under the age of 30. Nine million new cases of STDs are reported among teens and young adults each year. And regardless of whether you have experienced these negative consequences, making the decision to be a secondary virgin means you can look forward to a future free from exposure to these previous hazards. After all, who has time to stress about an unplanned pregnancy or STDs?
“The Wait” is so worth it.
Making the decision to be abstinent is so much deeper than the physical. It provides the opportunity for your relationship to become stronger mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. It’s the beauty in sharing something so intimate with your spouse and the idea of knowing that you are both truly committed to one another.
Hollywood couple Meagan Good and DeVon Franklin wrote an entire book on the power of abstinence in The Wait. In addition to being more spiritually and emotionally grounded, the couple is open about how amazing sex can be with your partner after making the decision to abstain until marriage. “There is nothing wrong with sex and sexuality,” the couple says in a recent interview with Essence magazine. “God created both for the enjoyment of married couples.”
The intimacy that happens within one’s marriage is much greater knowing that sex is something that is only shared between you and your spouse. It’s definitely the icing on the cake.
Can you think of a better option?
Let’s face it, you might have already tried other options besides abstinence, and none of them have worked. Then again, you might be one of those people who made the decision to be abstinent from the very beginning and chose to stick with it until your wedding day. Meagan Good actually chose the former and initially opted to do it her way instead of God’s way. “God had let me make my mistakes,” she says. “Now it was time to do it [His] way.”
In a society of instant gratification, abstinence certainly doesn’t seem ideal for today’s couples, especially people who are seriously attracted to one another. However, I think we all can agree that waiting to have sex until marriage just might be the best decision of your life.
Did you catch Meagan Good and DeVon Franklin on Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday? Check out what they had to say about the benefits of abstinence below:
Is it unrealistic to expect people to wait to have sex before marriage? Share your thoughts below.
Remember the days when Christians used to blush over conversations about sex? Sermons on the Song of Solomon left us avoiding eye contact with our pastors and safe sex talks in public school meant guaranteed giggling after class. I guess we’re all grown up now. The generation of kids who once kissed dating goodbye and held fast to the promise that True Love Waits is no longer hanging its moral hat on the hook of sexual purity.
According to the National Association of Evangelicals, 80 percent of unmarried evangelical Christians between ages 18-29 admit to having had premarital sex, a shocking figure when measured against the number of pledges made in youth ministries and wristbands worn endorsing abstinence around the country throughout the late ’80s and early ’90s. For a generation fed a steady diet of “just wait until you’re married for sex,” why are so many of us losing our virginity before we say “I do”? What is causing the growing chasm between our Christian belief and sexual purity?
I suspect much of our early understanding of sexuality is at fault, being reduced to just saying no instead of developing a holistic view of human sexuality through a person’s entire lifespan, fully integrating it with God’s plan.
When I moved to New York City in the years following college, I was devastated to learn how many of my Christian friends were regularly hooking up at bars and sleeping with boyfriends and girlfriends with no plans for marriage. And more than that, they didn’t seem to feel bad about it. The subcultural sentiment was that abstinence is worth preaching through the college years as parental influence wanes and students bumble through the early years of adulthood. But for twenty and thirtysomething Christians, for mature adults who had yet to find the one and had been battling hormones for a decade-plus, waiting was child’s play. Celibacy amongst my Christian peer group was viewed as cute and commendable, but certainly not crucial.
Despite the disappointment I felt over my friends’ behavior, there wasn’t much room for judgment. At the core they were simply living out the compartmentalization of sexuality that was also present in my heart. From the day I received my True Love Waits Bible in junior high school, I locked up my sexual desire to be opened only in case of marriage. Like Prisca Bird wrote for the Good Women Project, I wore my virginity as a badge of honor, latching onto “the image of myself as the radical abstinence practitioner” and one who would remain chaste to “fight the good fight.” I was unable to view human sexuality as a gift, holy and blessed by God. By failing to embrace my sexual identity in the midst of tempering my desire, I inadvertently called evil what God had deemed good.
You see, promiscuity and abstinence can be two sides of the same coin. Both can hint at an insufficient understanding of God’s intention for sex, his blessing of it in the context of marriage, and his creation of his people as sexual beings. So preaching only abstinence is not the answer.
Harder Than the Olympics
We need a new conversation around sexuality in the church — one that doesn’t insist on the wait without the while. We need a conversation that acknowledges our sexuality along a continuum and prepares men and women of Christ to engage in their own sexual development, desire, and growth while they move throughout the seasons of life and relationship. It can’t be left at telling 15-year-olds to “just say no.” We need an open discussion around what it looks like to abstain at 33 when marriage is nowhere on the horizon or at 27 when engaged and just days from saying I do.
That’s why it’s helpful to have a new wave of Christians coming forward to reengage the public on the topics of sexuality and faith. This past May, when 29-year-old Olympic hurdler Lolo Jones talked about the difficulty of being a virgin into her late twenties, saying it was the hardest thing she’s ever done in her life — “harder than training for the Olympics” — we could almost hear the shouts of “could the Church get an Amen!” (See the video below.)
Jones’ acknowledgment of the tension of feeling sexual desire while also affirming a commitment to abstinence revealed an important dynamic in the vow of purity: it’s not easy. There will be temptation and desire while waiting. But as believers, we endure the struggle because we know that the testing of our faith always produces perseverance leading to godly character and a hope for the future (James 1:3, Romans 5:4).
Good Enough to Wait For
On the flipside, there can be joyful anticipation while waiting. One of the best examples in recent years of this is bombshell actress Meagan Good, who has long since been a movie vixen playing sexy roles in Jumping the Broom and most recently Think Like A Man. This spring Good, a Christian, publicly shared her commitment to abstain from sex until she wed her Seventh Day Adventist pastor and film executive husband DeVon Franklin. Despite her commitment, for the past year she has been able to exude sex appeal onscreen. Chastity doesn’t have to mean wearing a habit and ignoring our sexual identity. Though we exercise self-control, as responsible adults we are free to tap into our sexuality, own our appeal, and recognize our desire. Good’s story shows us that true love doesn’t wait; it develops.
Christian adults must carry on the conversation of abstinence to the next phase. It’s not just a youth issue. If we could more openly discuss the tingling we feel, the occasional knockout attraction we have to the opposite sex or the times where our sex drives lull, I believe we might find that we’re able to maintain purity much later into adulthood. Because when we don’t talk about it, we allow the normal ebb and flow of sexual desire to become associated with shame and guilt over what we’re experiencing. And since the desire won’t go away, we’re forced to relieve the shame by separating our morality from our behavior.
We’ve got to get talking and see ourselves afresh as sexual beings, moving gradually and prayerfully through stages of sexual expression until marriage where it’s fulfilled. Because “not yet” is much easier to digest than “no.” Our sexuality, today, is an integral part of who God has created us to be, and like all things must be celebrated while also put in submission to Christ.
On February 10, 2012, rapper Too $hort posted a video on XXLMag.com, a hip-hop website, where he gave “Fatherly Advice” to middle-school and high-school boys on sexuality. The disgusting, misogynistic, dehumanizing, and graphic nature of his comments do not bear repeating here, but his comments made me wonder about the consequences of reducing sexuality to merely a physical concept in the absence of virtue. Thankfully, the video was removed and Too $hort offered an apology for offending people. The rapper, however, offered no apology for the way in which he advised young men to touch the bodies of young girls.
The whole episode reminded me that I am not convinced that Christians do a good job of telling young people what to do with their bodies other than say “no” to them. As a result, I am beginning to wonder if abstinence programs are even helpful for developing moral maturity. While abstinence rightly places sexual intercourse within its proper context — marriage — it fails to construct a moral theology of the body. Perhaps this is a good opportunity for Christians to return to teaching chastity.
Some of the early teachings on chastity date back to church Fathers like Tertullian (c. 160 – c. 225 A.D.) who made a serious case for bodily self-control (some argue he went too far). The teaching has faded, but some contemporary authors continue to make a case for chastity. For example, Duke Divinity School scholar Lauren Winner sought to reintroduce the ancient subject for a postmodern generation in her 2006 book, Real Sex: The Naked Truth about Chastityand Bible teacher Paul Tripp offers a challenging perspective on the reality of sex and commitment in his 2010 book, What Did You Expect?: Redeeming the Realities of Marriage.
For the sake of brevity, the Roman Catholic Catechism provides a useful and succinct introduction to chastity that is helpful even if one does not agree with Catholic doctrine (I will adapt the teaching in this article). The Catholic teaching begins with the recognition that we are sexual beings whose “physical, moral, and spiritual difference and complementarity are oriented toward the goods of marriage and the flourishing of family life.” That is, the mutual support between the sexes is lived out as we recognized are complimentary need for mutuality.
The vocation of chastity, then, is defined as “the successful integration of sexuality within the person and thus the inner unity of man in his bodily and spiritual being. Sexuality, in which man’s belonging to the bodily and biological world is expressed, becomes personal and truly human when it is integrated into the relationship of one person to another, in the complete and lifelong mutual gift of a man and a woman.” Chastity as a vocation does not require that one divorce one’s body from one’s passions but that one strive for maturity in the virtue of self-control — a skill needed before and after marriage (Prov. 25:28; 1 Cor. 7:5; Gal. 5:23; Titus 2:6; 1 Pet. 5:8). In fact, “the chaste person maintains the integrity of the powers of life and love placed in him. … Chastity includes an apprenticeship in self-mastery which is a training in human freedom. The alternative is clear: either man governs his passions and finds peace, or he lets himself be dominated by them and becomes unhappy.” What develops and matures young people in their moral reasoning and virtue is the conscious and free choice to use one’s body for the good. Not simply to say “no” to sin but “yes” to holiness (Deut. 7:6). Moreover, we are not to be mastered by any sin but are called to intentionally pursue holiness (1 Cor. 6:12). Abstinence does not teach this virtue.
For Christian young people, the knowledge of one’s union with Christ, a commitment to obedience to God’s commandments, exercise of the moral virtues, fidelity to prayer, and a daily requesting and reliance on the Holy Spirit, and so on, gives one what is needed to inaugurate one into the vocation of chastity. The active work of the Holy Spirit enables us to permeate the passions and appetites with mature moral reasoning that is consistent with what the Bible teaches.
“Self-mastery is a long and exacting work,” says the Catechism. “One can never consider it acquired once and for all. It presupposes renewed effort at all stages of life. The effort required can be more intense in certain periods, such as when the personality is being formed during childhood and adolescence.” Self-mastery is ordered to the gift of freedom. Our union with Christ in the pursuit of chastity enables us, then, to be fully human. Chastity leads those who practice it to become witnesses to their neighbors of God’s fidelity, loving kindness, and the power of the gospel (Rom. 1:16). The call to chastity is simply a fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23).
Chastity is for everyone.
All baptized men and women, single or married, are called to the vocation of chastity. Sexual wholeness is living according to God’s articulated design for human beings and applies to married couples and singles in the same way. Abstinence does not teach this. As a man who can relate to sexual temptation (Heb. 4:15), but who never sinned against His call to a chaste life, Jesus Christ is the perfect example of living out the vocation of chastity.
Growth in chastity includes the reality of failure, repentance, and renewal. This is why the gospel and work of the Holy Spirit is so central to the sustaining of such a vocation and why it is unsustainable in the best possible way outside of one’s union with Christ. Chastity is violated with things like adultery, pornography, rape, sex outside of marriage, sexual abuse, and so on.
In the end, if chastity were a dominant teaching in urban America, it would not only address sex before marriage but would create a culture of sexual virtue that honors God, best fits with how God designed human beings to live, and would serve as a powerful example of what is means to live knowing God’s Word is true. Abstinence education is well intentioned but fails to develop young people into morally mature followers of Christ. True love does not wait. True love loves God and neighbor by saying “yes” to God’s better way (Matt. 22:36-40).
Just weeks before Thanksgiving, taking in a film at a movie theater, I saw it.
Intrigued, at that moment, I was sucked into the phenomenon. The it that I saw was the preview for Breaking Dawn, the latest release from The Twilight Saga based on the bestselling series of young-adult novels by Stephenie Meyer.
Though familiar with the hit series, I hadn’t seen the other films or read the novels. Yet after seeing the preview I wanted to see the matrimonial bliss birthed from a forbidden love affair between Edward and Bella. I was even more curious about the fate of Bella and the half-human, half-vampire child she carried inside her womb.
Lured by the preview, there was a part of me that wondered if this movie was something I should even want to see as Christian. Vampires, werewolves, humans marrying vampires, complicated love triangles and a half-human and half-vampire child, it just seemed so dark on the surface. But those concerns were the furthest thing from the minds of the swarms of mostly tween, teen, and female fans who flocked to see The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn—Part 1 when it opened last month. After just four weeks, the film has brought in more than $633 million in global ticket sales.
The day before the movie hit theaters I listened to a Moody Radio program and heard an expert talk about the hidden spiritual themes in the series. Dr. Beth Felker Jones, an associate professor of theology at Wheaton College and author of Touched by a Vampire: Discovering the Hidden Messages in the Twilight Saga, talked about the relationship between Bella and Edward and gave insight into their backstories. Bella came from a broken home. She moved to Forks, Washington, to live with her father. She is an outsider trying to fit in. Then comes Edward, who sweeps Bella off her feet. But there was something different about Edward; he was a vampire—albeit a good one. Bella and Edward practice abstinence in their relationship — a direct reflection, no doubt, of author Stephenie Meyer’s Mormon faith.
It all sounds harmless at first. A true coming-of-age love story that promotes celibacy, but there’s another side to look at. Edward is drawn to Bella’s blood and has to fight his own urges to have it—and ultimately her. He even sneaks into her bedroom at night and watches her while she sleeps. Bella is so desperate to become like Edward, she is ready to willingly forgo her humanity. After hearing all of this, I had more questions about The Twilight Saga. Was Edward really controlling? Was Bella insecure? Was she losing herself in a toxic and abusive relationship? Was I reading too deeply into this?
Despite my questions, I admit, I succumbed to the invisible force that so cunningly reeled me in and I saw Breaking Dawn. Later, I watched the third film from the series and quickly realized that many of the points raised in that Moody interview were valid. While many of the messages in the series are subtle, it reminded me about the subtle way in which the enemy works. In Genesis 3:1 we see this played out with the cunningly sly serpent and Eve in the Garden of Eden. The serpent didn’t force feed Eve fruit from the tree. He merely asked Eve a question that caught her attention. Intrigued, a seed of doubt was planted within in her and she ate from the tree—convincing Adam to do the same.
Like Eve, we too are enticed with all types of fruit (in the form of media) that contain both good and bad messages—some subtle and some not so subtle. In Ephesians 6:12 the apostle Paul says, “ … we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world …” This is not to say that you should stick your head in the sand and never read a secular book or see a secular movie. And it’s surely not to pass judgment if you like the Twilight series. However, with all that said, we can certainly be informed and prepared to take a closer look at what we are watching—and reading. After all, what really are werewolves or vampires and are they all that bad?
In European folklore a werewolf is a man who turns into a wolf at night and devours animals, people, or corpses. By definition a vampire is a supernatural being, commonly believed to be a reanimated corpse that sucks the blood of people while they sleep at night. Another description refers to the vampire as a demon that periodically leaves the grave and disturbs the living. In the Twilight series, Edward is portrayed as a good vampire because he only hunts the blood of animals. Jacob is the werewolf friend of Bella who would do anything to protect her and win her love. They sound like really good guys that just happen to have the wrong DNA, right? But wouldn’t that be like saying, if you’re a good demon you’re okay. Which when you think about it would be like saying if you’re a good sinner you don’t need a Savior, your own desire to be good and exercise self-control is enough. And if we could save ourselves we wouldn’t need Jesus. Though you may not be a vampire or werewolf, we’re all born into sin and in need of a Savior.
Maybe movies like these serve as good talking points and avenues to open up conversations about the true Light of the world — Jesus Christ. But what expense does it take on our souls when we open ourselves up to films like Breaking Dawn? These are just a few things to consider as we navigate through a world where blood-sucking vampires and bare-chested werewolves woo the hearts and minds of fans — both young and old.
Let’s be realistic: There’s no way we’re going to curb the fanaticism of the throngs of young girls — many of them in our own households — who have pledged allegiance to either “Team Edward” or “Team Jacob.” But perhaps we can be more discerning about the messages found in these popular books and films.
What do you think? Should we search for light in the darkness of the Twilight series, or is it best for Christians to keep their distance?
Late last month, The Misfit Tour, featuring Christian Hip-Hop′s biggest artists stopped in
Chicago. We caught up with heavyweights like The Ambassador, Da′ T.R.U.T.H., Mali Music and more, backstage for exclusive interviews. The term “misfit” isn′t just for
show. Several artists have raw stories of scandal that have been made quite public recently,
but they are back with a battle cry of redemption and they are recruiting soldiers left on the
field. Watch the video below!
Music video featuring Ambassador, Sean Simmonds, Da′ Truth, Mali Music and more below!