I’ve written several articles lately approving the new trends toward abstinence that have led to reductions in teen sexual activity, teen births and teen abortions. Expressing these views has brought howls of protest and filled my e-mail box to overflowing with verbal abuse from readers who hold the notion that uninhibited, promiscuous sexual activity is the key to the good life. They are happy to let me know, sometimes in the rudest possible terms, that I am unrealistic, prudish and sexually repressed.
The fact is that despite the wholesale repudiation of traditional Judeo-Christian moral values relating to sex and marriage by a large majority of the elites – as well as many of the general public – there are still some of us who think that chastity is a virtue and that virginity is one of the most priceless gifts a couple can give to each other in consummation of their nuptial vows.
The idea that valuing virginity equates to being sexually repressed is, of course, patent nonsense. One might as well try to make a logical argument that back in the 70s and 80s the avoidance of smoking meant that one was antisocial.
One recent correspondent was incensed when I reported a new study from the American Journal of Preventive Medicine that linked teen sex with depression. This person volunteered that he/she had been intent on getting rid of his/her virginity at the first opportunity. I wanted to ask how it was because magazines periodically run supposedly funny features recounting how various people “lost their virginity.” Inevitably, such features make for sad reading; the writers recount embarrassment, frustration, awkwardness and disgust for themselves and their partner.
Logically, the benefits of going into marriage unencumbered by the emotional fallout and the health consequences that often go with sexual experimentation and promiscuity have not changed. But we know – and have known since the days of the Greek philosopher Aristotle – that persons are persuaded not just by logic (logos) but by emotions as well (pathos). Moreover, the strongest arguments come from persons with credibility and charisma (ethos) who combine the force of logical arguments with emotional appeals.
Those who defend traditional morality today, however, are at a distinct disadvantage in terms of persuading teens who are living in today’s popular culture and not the logical, factually-based side of things. For teens willing to consider the evidence carefully and clearly, it is blindingly obvious that casual sexual experimentation (often fueled by drinking and drugs) is a terribly inferior proposition compared to the fantastic joys of experiencing sexual intimacy as the seal of a marriage commitment to the love of your life. However, this requires long-term thinking. It requires valuing an experience that you can only dimly imagine.
The persuasiveness of logic by itself is often insufficient in the face of the emotional counter forces with which young people have to deal. On the one hand, there is the strong temptation of the excitement associated with sexual experimentation, and on the other is the fear of group ridicule for sexual abstinence.
It would be bad enough if only peer group pressures drove teens in the wrong direction. However, far too many of today’s leaders promote the idea that “sex is no big deal.” These veterans of the sexual revolution of the 1960s, now aging Baby Boomers, have spent a long time telling themselves that their momentary sexual thrills were worth the bad stuff they’ve lived with ever since: the “complications” in their relationships with their spouses and children. The emotional wreckage littering the landscape for the last 30 to 40 years is like the elephant in the corner that everyone pretends not to see. Yet it doesn’t take a psychologist to recognize that avoidance is ineffective in dealing with the relationship messes and destroyed dreams. The trends show that many teenagers are seeing that “elephant” and thus are valuing virginity.
In an earlier era, one counterbalance to the forces pushing for sexual experimentation by teens and young adults was the moral authority of traditional Judeo-Christian teaching regarding the sanctity of sexual activity and the imperative for limiting sexual intercourse to the marriage bed. Sadly, rather than face the ridicule from those in the educated elites, many religious leaders have abandoned the teachings regarding moral purity before marriage and fidelity within marriage.
We must do a better job of instilling in young people a healthy fear – born from an awe of God’s Word as our human instruction book – of violating our God-given human dignity by ignoring the full realities involved in sexual intimacy, by truncating the multi-dimensional nature of sex, by robbing it of its significance and reducing it to merely a means of momentary physical pleasure rather than reserving intercourse to be the fantastic means of bonding a husband and wife into one flesh – making them both rapturous and whole – and providing a secure setting should the miracle of new life bless their union.
When we accept that human dignity is God-given, we have the logically persuasive reason to follow the moral law of the transcendent God, revealed by Him to us in Scripture, as it is the surest – and the only – safe path to happiness.
We also have the emotionally persuasive reason to be afraid of acting in violation of the boundaries laid down by the Creator of the Universe; in His universe we see the laws of cause and effect at work everywhere. Ignorance of, or indifference to, these boundaries brings consequences as surely, if not as swiftly, as jumping out the window of a 50-story building brings destruction. God’s moral laws are built into our humanity and the world we live in.
Best of all, we are made in His image, and when His law is instilled within us, we have the capacity to love.