“Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise: When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost. Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a publick example, was minded to put her away privily. But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost.” Matt 1:18-20
The Joseph story is sometimes lost in our joy about Christmas. He was quite a guy because he was willing to accept Mary’s claim that she was a virgin even though she was obviously pregnant. He was willing to put aside all that he had been taught about how a devout Jewish man should respond in these circumstances and deal with the public ridicule he certainly experienced because the woman he planned to marry was pregnant.
There is a lot that we can learn from that story about how we deal with the whole subject of sex education today.
An interesting study was recently published by Pediatrics journal. It examined how effective abstinence-only sex education programs are. What it found is that those who participated in those programs, as indicated by their willingness to pledge to retain their virginity until marriage, ultimately do engage in pre-marital sex at more or less the same rate as the rest of the population.
That in itself wouldn’t be all that disturbing, but the study also examined the use of contraceptives. It discovered that those who pledged virginity, once they did become sexually active, were 12% less likely to use contraceptives compared to the general population.
One explanation for this difference is that abstinence-only programs either deliberately or inadvertently create negative associations with contraceptives.
The only difference that the study found is that those who had participated in the abstinence programs did tend to delay their first sexual contact longer than the rest of the population. Some who have analyzed the data suggest there is a greater correlation for this delay with the conservative families these people came from (restricted/controlled contact with the opposite sex, same sex schooling, conservative colleges, etc.) than their participation in a particular type of sex education course.
Ultimately, though, what this study states is the obvious. The natural drives to procreate that lead young people to explore and experiment with their sexuality are very strong.
What it also says loud and clear is that the money poured into abstinence-only education programs over the past eight years has not had the desired effect. In fact, the “standard” sex education programs which don’t attempt to place a value judgement on pre-marital sex, but simply educate teenagers about how to responsibly manage their sexuality, appear to be more effective in encouraging young men and women to use contraceptives.
What I’m interested in finding out is whether this makes any difference to those conservative Christians who pushed for abstinence-only programs.
My sense is that it won’t because they will view this as a moral choice rather than an attempt to reduce unwanted pregnancies. It is about pregnancy being an appropriate consequence for pre-marital sex. It is the hubris which suggests that parents can protect not only their own children, but the children of less pious parents, from bad choices by imposing a particular set of religious values.
Jesus spent a lot of time criticizing a similar pride of the conservative Jewish aristocracy.
“And he spake this parable unto certain which trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others: Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess. And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner. I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.” Luke 18:9-14
It is the humility of the publican that leads to the recognition that God directs the lives of all of His children, not us. At the end of the day, it is our responsibility as parents to provide our children with ALL the information that they need to become responsible adults. They are the ones who ultimately make the choices about their own sexuality, just as they make choices about the values they are going to use to guide their lives. God is looking for our children to choose Him on their own terms and not as the result of a choices we or any other set of parents have already made.
We have the great privilege to guide. They have the responsibility to choose.