The Failure Rate of Abstinence

A new issue of BodyLife, is up on the Lifestream website. This one has to do with sexual freedom in the midst of a sexually obsessed culture.

Interestingly enough there is a new study out by the National Institute of Health and the Center for Disease Control pledges about teens who take virginity pledges. On the upside the study found that those who take virginity pledges delay their first sexual encounter by 18 months over those who do not take the pledge. They tend to marry and younger ages and have fewer sex partners. On the downside, those who take an abstinence pledge are just as likely to get sexually transmitted diseases as their counterparts because they experiment with risky alternative sexual activities that they don’t consider are included in the pledge and are less likely to use condoms.

Abstinence educators have dismissed the study and its conclusions as politically motivated. That’s sad, because there is much to be learned here. I hate seeing this turned into a political football, and both sides do it, rather than learn something from this study that will actually help us in our struggle to communicate sexual realities to our children. Do we unwittingly put kids of faith at risk of contracting a destructive STD, because we think telling them to say no is enough? A few years ago someone introduced me to the failure rate of abstinence. I was shocked to hear the term because I though abstinence until marriage is pretty foolproof. But the failure rate of abstinence is how many Christian teens in a hot and heavy moment on a Friday night fall of the abstinence wagon. And because they have to convince themselves the encounter was unplanned for guilt purposes, they rarely use any kind of protection. I’ve talked to a lot of kids in their twenties from Christian homes who confessed to this kind of struggle in their teens and their parents had no idea.

The study only points to something Paul makes said in Romans 5-8, that where law increases sin increases all the more. The focus on a pledge alone, without a relationship to the living God that sustains that pledge and transforms the life from within will have a limited effect. The mind set on abstaining from the flesh is still a mind set on the flesh and it can only produce death. We certainly have to give our children more tools than a vow of abstinence if we’re going to help them value one of the greatest gifts God gave and use it with absolute safety in the way God designed it.

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10 Comments
  1. Allen March 22, 2005 at 5:58 am

    Good Post. Too much time and attention of religion is focused on the negative — sin avoidance — and too little spent on learning to hear the sohepard’s voice. If we focus on sin avoidance, we must, of neccessity, be more focused on sin than on Christ. That may have Peter’s problem at his aborted attempt to walk on water. At first he saw only Jesus. But then he started seeing the waves and focusing on not sinking.

  2. maryann March 22, 2005 at 6:51 am

    nice timing…going thru a deconstruction/detox phase right now with an 18 year old daughter and 15 year old son.

    Point blank I told them…you need to work on your relationship with God. I know we spent time in the church telling you all the rules and such…but in the end you need to have a one on one relationship with God. He will lead you and guide you in all things. Sexually, life is very hard when you are single in our society. The best advice I can give you is PURITY….it avoids all the pain and guilt later. (they both know my story-not a pretty one) they have both committed to be virgins. although..as the article states…we have had to revise the definition of "virginity"…seems there are alot of definitions out there…once i sat down and ran down the long list of possibilities and told them why it wasnt really "virginity" any more after experiencing all those other things, they got a better picture of what the concept of purity and innocence and virginity REALLY is.

    they need to have a relationship with Christ that they can lean on.

    thanks again Wayne.

  3. Allen March 22, 2005 at 8:58 am

    Good Post. Too much time and attention of religion is focused on the negative — sin avoidance — and too little spent on learning to hear the sohepard’s voice. If we focus on sin avoidance, we must, of neccessity, be more focused on sin than on Christ. That may have Peter’s problem at his aborted attempt to walk on water. At first he saw only Jesus. But then he started seeing the waves and focusing on not sinking.

  4. maryann March 22, 2005 at 9:51 am

    nice timing…going thru a deconstruction/detox phase right now with an 18 year old daughter and 15 year old son.

    Point blank I told them…you need to work on your relationship with God. I know we spent time in the church telling you all the rules and such…but in the end you need to have a one on one relationship with God. He will lead you and guide you in all things. Sexually, life is very hard when you are single in our society. The best advice I can give you is PURITY….it avoids all the pain and guilt later. (they both know my story-not a pretty one) they have both committed to be virgins. although..as the article states…we have had to revise the definition of "virginity"…seems there are alot of definitions out there…once i sat down and ran down the long list of possibilities and told them why it wasnt really "virginity" any more after experiencing all those other things, they got a better picture of what the concept of purity and innocence and virginity REALLY is.

    they need to have a relationship with Christ that they can lean on.

    thanks again Wayne.

  5. Betty T. March 24, 2005 at 9:35 am

    I agree Wayne. I experienced the same thing as a

    teen. Teaching abstinence is great. I believe

    in it. But the reality is that teens fall too.

    It’s better to cover all the bases.

  6. Betty T. March 24, 2005 at 12:35 pm

    I agree Wayne. I experienced the same thing as a

    teen. Teaching abstinence is great. I believe

    in it. But the reality is that teens fall too.

    It’s better to cover all the bases.

  7. Gary April 3, 2005 at 9:23 am

    The failure rate of "saying no" is because all the responsibility is placed on the child. The parent says to the child, "just say no," and then sends him or her off on a "date." Many children will fall off the "abstinence wagon" in this scenario. It’s the parents’ fault.

    It is an established legal principle that parents are wholly or partly responsible for the misdemeanors of their children. Is this not also true spiritually and privately as it relates to the consequences of "dating?" Indeed, if I were apportioning blame for falling off the "abstinence wagon," I would apportion very little to the kids involved.

    One of the things a good parent does is protect his child. He protects him most as an infant (when the child is helpless), and the protection is gradually reduced until one day the adolescent reaches adulthood and is expected to stand on his own, spiritually speaking. In my opinion allowing an adolescent to "date" is insufficiently protecting him or her. Even most adults will succumb to sexual pressures in the "dating" scenario! (As another example of parents failing to protect their children, I do not believe sending your kids to the public schools is protecting them, either.)

    I am not writing this to promote courtship per se, though I believe courtship is a godly alternative to "dating." The beliefs that motivate courtship are more important. First, that a father is given responsibility by God to protect his daughter prior to marriage. 1 Corinthians 7:36-38. Second, Christians are supposed to live separated lives, with transformed minds and hearts. This means we think differently than the world does. We do not try to "Christianize" the world’s way of doing things, which in this particular case means we do not try to "Christianize" the institution of "dating." We don’t modify the world’s ways, we do things differently. We raise our children differently.

    If all Christian fathers were protecting their daughters, there would be a failure rate of zero among Christians kids "saying no." Christian boys are supposed to marry Christian girls. Therefore they will court Christian girls. If those girls are protected by their fathers, the boys are also protected from acting on sexual temptation. The boys are thus encouraged to act in accord with how they,too, have been raised. By protection, I mean that courtship takes place in the context of family life and not in a car at the drive-in.

    Protection does not seem to be a very important element of parenting today, in the world or in the church. Rather, it seems that, in the name of "developing self-reliance" we want to test our kids at the earliest age. See how our kids respond to corrupting influences. At the age of thirteen. Or seven. Or three! And then, when they reach sixteen or so, we subject them to the test of "dating." Perhaps we ought to put more emphasis on bringing up our children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, and leave more of the spiritual testing for later. It strikes me that this preoccupation with testing our children is akin to hastily erecting a house in order to see how it withstands a storm, without building a proper foundation to secure it. What’s the hurry?

    I am all for giving grace to Christian kids who fail the "dating game" and feel the appropriate remorse. We all fail in many ways. And I am all for giving grace to Christian parents who learn the hard way the error of their parenting ways. We all learn many things the hard way. But I have no patience for complacent and worldly Christians who believe, when their kid comes home pregnant one day, that they did all they could when they taught them to "just say no."

    I agree with you, Wayne, that a person’s relationship with Christ avails him of real power to resist sin, whereas there is no power to resist sin inherent in the law, which is why just "saying no" is not enough. However the problem of sexual purity and abstinence in young Christians is in my opinion much more a parenting problem than it is a problem of our children’s. Put another way, it is more due to the parent’s spiritual problem, than it is the kid’s.

    A kid’s spiritual problem is, in part, that he is not yet grown up. This is normal and understandable. The parent’s spiritual problem is that he remains conformed to the world and has not yet been transformed by the renewing of his mind. Romans 12:2. This is tragic and avoidable. It is, after all, why many of us have left the institutional church in order that we might walk with the Lord rather than continue to be discouraged from doing so.

  8. Gary April 3, 2005 at 12:23 pm

    The failure rate of "saying no" is because all the responsibility is placed on the child. The parent says to the child, "just say no," and then sends him or her off on a "date." Many children will fall off the "abstinence wagon" in this scenario. It’s the parents’ fault.

    It is an established legal principle that parents are wholly or partly responsible for the misdemeanors of their children. Is this not also true spiritually and privately as it relates to the consequences of "dating?" Indeed, if I were apportioning blame for falling off the "abstinence wagon," I would apportion very little to the kids involved.

    One of the things a good parent does is protect his child. He protects him most as an infant (when the child is helpless), and the protection is gradually reduced until one day the adolescent reaches adulthood and is expected to stand on his own, spiritually speaking. In my opinion allowing an adolescent to "date" is insufficiently protecting him or her. Even most adults will succumb to sexual pressures in the "dating" scenario! (As another example of parents failing to protect their children, I do not believe sending your kids to the public schools is protecting them, either.)

    I am not writing this to promote courtship per se, though I believe courtship is a godly alternative to "dating." The beliefs that motivate courtship are more important. First, that a father is given responsibility by God to protect his daughter prior to marriage. 1 Corinthians 7:36-38. Second, Christians are supposed to live separated lives, with transformed minds and hearts. This means we think differently than the world does. We do not try to "Christianize" the world’s way of doing things, which in this particular case means we do not try to "Christianize" the institution of "dating." We don’t modify the world’s ways, we do things differently. We raise our children differently.

    If all Christian fathers were protecting their daughters, there would be a failure rate of zero among Christians kids "saying no." Christian boys are supposed to marry Christian girls. Therefore they will court Christian girls. If those girls are protected by their fathers, the boys are also protected from acting on sexual temptation. The boys are thus encouraged to act in accord with how they,too, have been raised. By protection, I mean that courtship takes place in the context of family life and not in a car at the drive-in.

    Protection does not seem to be a very important element of parenting today, in the world or in the church. Rather, it seems that, in the name of "developing self-reliance" we want to test our kids at the earliest age. See how our kids respond to corrupting influences. At the age of thirteen. Or seven. Or three! And then, when they reach sixteen or so, we subject them to the test of "dating." Perhaps we ought to put more emphasis on bringing up our children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, and leave more of the spiritual testing for later. It strikes me that this preoccupation with testing our children is akin to hastily erecting a house in order to see how it withstands a storm, without building a proper foundation to secure it. What’s the hurry?

    I am all for giving grace to Christian kids who fail the "dating game" and feel the appropriate remorse. We all fail in many ways. And I am all for giving grace to Christian parents who learn the hard way the error of their parenting ways. We all learn many things the hard way. But I have no patience for complacent and worldly Christians who believe, when their kid comes home pregnant one day, that they did all they could when they taught them to "just say no."

    I agree with you, Wayne, that a person’s relationship with Christ avails him of real power to resist sin, whereas there is no power to resist sin inherent in the law, which is why just "saying no" is not enough. However the problem of sexual purity and abstinence in young Christians is in my opinion much more a parenting problem than it is a problem of our children’s. Put another way, it is more due to the parent’s spiritual problem, than it is the kid’s.

    A kid’s spiritual problem is, in part, that he is not yet grown up. This is normal and understandable. The parent’s spiritual problem is that he remains conformed to the world and has not yet been transformed by the renewing of his mind. Romans 12:2. This is tragic and avoidable. It is, after all, why many of us have left the institutional church in order that we might walk with the Lord rather than continue to be discouraged from doing so.

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