Teens Ponder Purity: Q&A With Expert Doug Herman
- 2004 11 May
Author and international speaker Doug Herman spent time on our Crosswalk forums a few weeks ago discussing purity with Christian teens. They had an opportunity to ask him some of their most pressing questions about abstinence education and the ultimate meaning of sex. Here's a glimpse into some of the most common concerns - and Doug's answers -- that range from "what's the big deal about sex outside marriage?" to criticisms on the way the abstinence message is currently taught.
First, what's the big deal about sex outside marriage?
Q: If someone is in a long-term relationship and planning on marriage with their partner, then there's nothing that can convince me that it's dangerous or emotionally unhealthy.
Doug: the only SAFE SEX is a safe partner. Period. ONE person, who's ONLY been with you, and will stay with you (read: faithful) until one of you dies. So, by your definitions, they fit. But...is there more than physical safety? Let's see....
Q: Of course sex can make one more attached to their partner. A husband becomes more attached to his wife; a woman becomes more attached to the man she plans on marrying--in both ways, the relationships go stronger and more loving. And if the relationship does fail, it's not the end of the world - God can still redeem it. Right?
Doug: Emotional attachment is very real - again, created by God and backed up with scientific study and psychological research.
My question then is WHY? Why continue in a sexual relationship when you're not married? GET MARRIED! Unless of course, "commitment" is not important. Which implies, love is not there. Which implies, why have SEX?
Certainly God redeems relationships that are failed. Whose isn't? I lost a wife to AIDS and remarried. I'm renewed too. But it's better to choose to abstain from sex until commitment is enacted in a real, tangible way. (i.e. "kill your single life for them")
Q: Okay so abstinence isn't a bad message but -- we're sick of the STD/pregnancy scare tactics used to get us to abstain. Why not just tell us the truth?
Doug: God is truth - hard truth, not relevant truth. And as scientific study slowly advances, we are finding His truth in our research. When Paul wrote, "everything is permissible, but not everything is beneficial," it alludes to the damage that sex outside marriage can cause.
Puh-Lease! While I'm completely aware that there are those who focus on the negative and try to scare you into holy living, I disagree with those measures. But every assembly I conduct simply lists the facts; every choice has a consequence, every action has a reaction (Newton's 3rd Law of Motion). Scripturally, you reap what you sow.
Sadly though, I look into mascara-streaked faces of teens who've been raped, molested, date-raped who wonder if there's a chance they're infected with an STD. Then there are faces of those who've signed abstinence pledge cards who do "everything else but" and think they're still safe and can't understand why the "safer sex" message and "church messages" didn't tell the truth about HPV or herpes (HSV2) contracted in the mouth/throat.
They deserved to be told the truth, correct?
But when they heard the truth, it rattled them (dare I say "Scared?"). It wasn't for the purpose of changing behavior through fear, but of sharing the truth.
Q: What if you've already had sex? Why do those who take abstinence pledges have to show off their rings and rub into our faces that they're virgins?
Doug: That's probably what makes me so effective and in so much demand. I don't rub choices in anyone's face.
Losing a wife and daughter to AIDS was tough. Forgiving a blood donor who lied on his donor form of his sexual past (before blood was tested in America) that infected and killed 1/2 my family was also tough. But, I think I'm only able to speak as passionately as I do today because of God prompting and leading me to forgive.
I think we need to be extremely redemptive in our discussions and ministry.
AND, to realize how there is no one perfect as an example - except Christ. And in that, we love those who've made choices contrary to scripture (you can find one in the mirror).
That's why I speak of Pure Revolution - not "perfect" revolution. We can all be made pure!
Q: Is purity overrated? I mean there are people...who believe that anything less than saving a kiss for the altar won't cut it between them and God. I just don't feel convicted to do that.
Doug: Maybe it would be good to define what we mean when we say "purity." It's not "virgin" - although they can be pure. I look it as the simple definitions you'd use for other articles such as pure sugar, pure gold, pure joy or love.
Who doesn't want to be a pure man or pure woman, with pure minds and pure bodies, involved in pure relationships that are purely respectful, and to have pure hearts? All of this comes from a Pure God.
That understood, I think we can say that purity is not overrated. Do ya think?
AND! I am not one of the "kissed dating goodbye" junkies. I will say that we need to have our eyes open though when it comes to dating. I'm proud of those who don't want to kiss until the marriage ceremony. But, I am willing to help people navigate healthy spirituality among the perilous sexual culture in which we live. So, your statement is understood.
Q: Back to abstinence pledges. When should teens sign an abstinence pledge? A lot of teens may sign them say, in 9th grade, but only because their friends did, and then they have four years of high school to survive. They throw the pledge in their backpack and forget about it, or perhaps never understand what they signed.
Doug: I guess we need to look at the bigger picture. What is it that makes someone make choices? It's their values/beliefs. And what is it that shapes those? I believe it's their identity. So "who we are" shapes what we believe. And to help people make choices (such as commitments) that last a long time, we need to help shape their identity (thus, our spiritual lives with Christ) and help them understand the power of commitments.
Let me explain. If I leave my house and kiss my wife goodbye before I leave, what does she say? "Honey, I'm your wife. Be faithful. But just in case you won't, then take these condoms."????? NO! And WHY do we not say that? WHY do you not cheat on your boyfriend? Simple...commitment. You see, abstinence is called "FAITHFULNESS training." We train to be faithful.
If you've ever fasted and prayed, you controlled a very natural hunger drive (God-given) to force your relationship with God deep into issues of spirit and character. In the same way, if you fast from sexual activity before marriage, you drive the relationship deep into levels of character and soul which builds the foundation of your relationship. It trains you to be faithful! In fact, it's one of the Fruits of the Spirit.
So we can offer sex education, but without offering character development in public schools (and the spiritual dynamics to that in our Churches and Christian schools), then we're only offering a cheap and half-truthed approach that will never stop behaviors that are damaging. What abstinence offers is the character-level power that comes in levels of respect. It's what every relationship must have.
Q: The Bible says not to have sex, and the reality is, having sex before marriage is wrong. Shouldn't this information be enough for Christians to abstain?
Doug: Yes, it's wrong. Scripture is clear. But for some reason, teens in the church are not drastically different than those non-churched in respect to STD rates or pregnancy. Yes, there are some differences. But I'm spending my life to make a greater impact.
For years, we've said, "all you need is Jesus" but we never discipled them to truly follow him. We say "save yourself for marriage" but never show them how and the powerful reasons WHY God wants us to wait. Families have such a huge impact, but they have to do more than "A Talk." Perhaps we need lifelong conversations that integrate our faith into the sin-laced culture that we live in.
Q: If you don't have a relationship with God, you're not going to be motivated to stay abstinent no matter what pledge you sign. Why can't we just focus on our walk with Christ instead of have this "purity education" thrown at us? The more you push the issue, the more teens will just turn around and have sex out of spite.
Doug: I do think our walk with Christ is vital. Without question!
I would disagree with you saying teens hear "don't do this" and then turn around and do it in spite. Just yesterday and today I spoke in public schools in Denver and Colorado Springs -- edgy, tough schools. And after hearing the STD truths, I had them line up to talk to me. They wanted to know if oral sex (with a condom) was dangerous. They wanted to know if they contracted chlamydia but had it treated, if it still would scar their uterus and fallopian tubes. They hugged me for telling the truth. So, not all teens rebel in spite. (Sure, there are those select few).
We need a balance of everything; First, we must be walking with (obeying) Christ, learn the truth about "why" God said "no," the facts of what consequences can be from sexual activity (I think Satan would want you to not know those), and Pledge/Commitment cards that we and our family and friends reinforce every day.
Author and international speaker Doug Herman has spent over 20 years in youth and family work. Currently, Doug speaks to over 250,000 teens and adults yearly about character development, sexual abstinence, and spiritual passion. He is the founder of Integrated Community Events, Inc., a non-profit organization linking community networks for strategic efforts. The Pure Revolution Project is one of those efforts created by Doug to bring the message of sexual postponement until marriage to students, families, and communities.
Doug is author of Time For A Pure Revolution which offers parents insights into teaching abstinence and connecting with their children, accompanied with his teen-oriented book titled Come Clean.