Living in today’s culture, it seems as if one can’t escape the constant exposure to the world’s many sensual messages. One such message that has permeated almost every aspect of influence (our churches, schools, TV programs, etc.) is that sex before marriage is OK. Not just OK, but desirable. Today’s younger members of society -- particularly teenagers -- have been exposed to this message since they were children. Therefore, they are the most susceptible to its influence. After all, it’s just sex, right? How bad could it really be?
What my generation might not realize is that there actually are harmful (and sometimes devastating) consequences for choosing to have sex before marriage. However, today’s society goes so far as to glorify it. TV shows like 16 and Pregnant, Teen Mom 2, and Pregnant and Dating would like to tell me and my peers that there are few (or no) negative consequences for sex outside of marriage. It could serve to get you a glamorous spot on TV!
In a depraved and confused world that glorifies sex before marriage, is there really even still a place for sexual risk avoidance, aka abstinence? I believe there is. I think we can and should applaud the reality that young women are choosing to carry their pregnancy to term, rather than choosing an abortion. However, we do our sisters, daughters, and friends a disservice if we pretend that sex outside of marriage is the same as sex inside marriage.
I realize that not everyone reading this post is a teenager facing the pressure of having sex before marriage, but more than likely most everyone reading at least knows a teenager who is. Either directly or indirectly, most people are, in some way, affected by the choice to avoid the risk of extra-marital sex.
So my next question is, why choose abstinence?
One practical reason for choosing abstinence is the decreased risk of receiving a STD/STI. According to the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, “Nearly half of all STIs (48%) occur in youth 15 to 24 years of age. Human Papillomavirus accounts for half of STI infections among adolescents.” One plausible explanation is that this particular age group is the most susceptible to participating in “casual sex” -- and should, therefore, be made aware of the risks of sex before marriage.
Another practical reason to abstain from premarital sex is the reality that there is no guarantee that “protection” that is used will actually work. No protective measure has a 100% guarantee, so if you don’t want to risk having to deal with the consequences of the activity, don’t engage in the activity to begin with. Plain and simple.
However, there aren’t just “practical” reasons for choosing abstinence. While most people may not realize this, there are also psychological effects associated with engaging in premarital sex. According to Arina Grossu’s online publication “Sexual Risk-Avoidance Education,” “[s]exually active teenagers are more likely to be depressed and attempt suicide.” In the same article, Grossu cites a study that reveals the increase in negative psychological effects as the number of sexual partners also increases. In essence, those who engage in premarital sex are decreasing -- not increasing -- their likely overall happiness and well-being. Sure, random hook-ups may seem enjoyable in the moment, but the long-term effects far outweigh the temporary pleasure that is received.
Christians have even deeper, more compelling reasons to encourage sexual risk avoidance. More importantly than the practical and even the psychological reasons for choosing abstinence, there are spiritual reasons as well. What does God have to say about premarital sex? Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 6:18-20, “Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body” (English Standard Version). So, in the end, “choosing” abstinence isn’t a morally neutral choice: you either sin by having premarital sex, or you avoid sin by abstaining. Not only that, but God also indicates that sexual impurity isn’t simply a sin against any other person but, also a sin against one’s self… and fundamentally against God.
So, the question remains relevant: why choose abstinence? Not only do the physical and psychological health benefits of abstinence outweigh the “benefits” of premarital sex, but abstinence from sex outside of marriage is also a way to honor and obey the God who created sex in the first place. Our culture may turn sex upside down, but God promises to honor those who honor him.