Why You Can’t Teach Just Abstinence
Jim Daly Jim Daly is president and chief executive officer of Focus on the Family, a non-profit organization dedicated to helping families thrive.
- 2013 Jul 23
Do you remember Elizabeth Smart? Her story certainly broke my heart. In 2002, she was kidnapped from her own bedroom in Utah and held captive for nine months. During that time, Smart, then 14, was repeatedly raped by her captor.
Smart was recently part of a panel at an event on human trafficking at Johns Hopkins University where she shared her story. When explaining why she didn’t try to escape, she said it went beyond fear, and shared this experience:
“I remember in school one time, I had a teacher who was talking about abstinence. And she said, ‘Imagine you’re a stick of gum. When you engage in sex, that’s like getting chewed. And if you do that lots of times, you’re going to become an old piece of gum, and who is going to want you after that?’
“Well, that’s terrible. No one should ever say that. For me, I thought, ‘Oh my gosh. I’m that chewed-up piece of gum. No one re-chews a piece of gum. You throw it away. And that’s how easy it is to feel like you no longer have worth.”
The logical conclusion of the “chewed gum” analogy (and all the others like it) is precisely what Smart struggled with. That analogy reduces the why God cares about our sexuality and our bodies to the singular physical act of sex. That’s wrong – and it leaves little room for grace.
If our worth can be boiled down to just this one act, where does that leave the rape victim, or the young man who has endured years of sexual abuse, or the couple that succumbed to temptation? If it’s just about an act, these people would have no worth. We know that’s far from true.
By the same measure, if the only thing that matters is abstaining from sex, does that exonerate the young man who views porn online? Does that mean that the married woman who is flirting with her co-worker honors God because she’s technically not having an affair? No, of course not. These things are still wrong and damaging.
This is why, while the abstinence message is a vital one to communicate to singles, it’s also important to understand and appreciate that message within the larger context of God’s design for sexuality.
As Christian parents, educators and mentors, we have a responsibility to do the hard work of communicating the virtues of chastity and God’s intent for sex in age-appropriate and positive ways. Give them the gift of a comprehensive view of sexuality that includes the body, mind and spirit. Teach them spiritual truths that will help them know both what to think and how to think about sexuality. Help them understand that purity is also a heart-issue.
One last thing – when talking about sexuality, we would be wise to couch the lessons in the Gospel message. We are created in the image of God. We have an intrinsic value because God made us. No one can add to this value, or take away from it. Furthermore, there is forgiveness in Christ for all of us as believers who have fallen short of the mark. This redemption includes those who have sinned sexually, like the woman at the well, the woman caught in the act of adultery, and the members of the church in Corinth. These truths give hope to those who have been sinned against, or who have sinned.
If you want general information on talking to your children about sex, there is a section dedicated to the topic on our website, which you can access by clicking here. For more detailed information on sexuality, visit Focus’ Pure Intimacy website.
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