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Wednesday, August 08, 2012

The Problem of Abstinence

And the beat goes on. One side continues to pound that drum that we need to teach "abstinence only" to our young people (and the age definition of "young people" seems to keep dropping) and the other continues to pound their drum saying we need to teach "safe sex" because everyone knows that very few will remain abstinent. Indeed, the statistics side with the "safe sex" side. The concept of the "20-year-old virgin" has all but vanished and that age continues to drop. According to some estimates, the average age for first sexual contact in the U.S. is somewhere between 16 to 18 years old. And the suggestion is that we tend to be higher than many other countries. China is around 22 years old while Iceland is down at 15(.6, like that matters). But we Christians keep beating on that drum. "No, no! We need to teach abstinence!" I would like to suggest that perhaps we are missing the point as much as they are missing the mark.

In 2009, Mark Regnerus wrote a piece for the Washington Post on marrying early. In 2009, the average age for men to marry the first time was 28, up 5 years from 1970. According to the CDC, the age of first marriage keeps rising. This, they claim, is somewhat due to the large numbers of people living together before marriage which delays marriage. Then there is the whole pressure of "get an education" and "get a career" and all that -- "Make something of yourself before you settle down and give away your time and energy to a spouse and children." If nothing else, you need to have "the necessities of life" to marry. You know, a good job, good income, two cars, four TVs, a house, the Internet ... necessities. You don't want to be lacking when you get married, you know. So Regnerus suggested a different line of thinking. Of course, it depends on the person, but maybe, just maybe, people might consider getting married younger.

He met with stiff resistance, of course. Marrying young these days is considered taboo. Living with your "significant other", trying out the "marriage bed" before "marriage", self-absorption, self-interest, and personal pleasure of all varieties are considered normal, acceptable, even commendable. But marrying young? No!

It is my suspicion that, again, we've missed the point. Is marriage about love, self-fulfillment, pleasure, and a good sex life, or is it about something else? If it is, we will find it impossible to stand against those who are arguing for changing the concept of marriage because that's exactly their argument. And that is not a biblical understanding of marriage.

That, then, is the problem with the abstinence program. It is attempting to solve a problem -- premarital sex and teen pregnancy -- with a solution that doesn't match the real difficulty. What we are telling kids, essentially, is "Put off your personal pleasure until later." That's because marriage, you see, is for "personal pleasure", right? See the problem?

The Bible says, "It is better to marry than to burn" (1 Cor 7:9). The NASB adds in italics (meaning it's not in the text, but inferred) "with passion". Every commentary I could find agrees. The text is saying "It is better to marry than to burn with lust." Now, I ask you. When does a young man "burn with lust"? I can assure you it is long before 28 years old. The Bible, then, would seem to suggest here that marriage should occur at a younger age than our current culture accepts.

Oh, of course this isn't a biblical command. Of course it's not for everyone. And, of course it might not work at all today, given the fact that adulthood -- the level of mature responsibility required to be considered an adult -- doesn't occur until much later these days than in days gone by. But isn't that a different problem? Parents that aimed at maturing their children young enough to act as responsible adults by mid to late teens would do well in my opinion.

Of course, my opinion is seasoned with biblical views and is certainly not the modern one. Still, I would suggest that a biblical perspective on marriage is not one of self-fulfillment, personal pleasure, or warm affection, but matters that produce far better results and satisfaction. And I would suggest that we are not doing our children any favors by urging them to remain irresponsible children longer while immersing them in a sex-soaked world and telling them "Wait!" without good cause. Statistics for abstinence programs suggest that it's not working very well. Oddly enough, there are no statistics about the success of people who take a biblical stance, train up their children to be responsible adults at the earliest possible time, and marry with a biblical perspective of self-sacrifice, respect, and the love that Christ has for the Church. I wonder why?


Mike said...

Hey stan, I just realized I can comment on your post through this app on my phone.

getting married at 17 a month out of high school agree with you 100%. I was shocked at all the people ( church, and school) that disagreed with me and my wife getting married so young. They figured we must be hiding a child under our shirt that would pop up after the wedding.

I was surprised at how much the church seemed to be opposed to it but would rather see us be in a relationship even longer and eventually have a baby out of premarital sex. not that they would rather but they seemed to think the latter choice was normal attempted to convince us we should wait till were older.

I am glad we got married when we did and have been marries for two years with no major problems.

one question I have for you if I could change the subject a little. what about those who are too immature and would not be able to handle it? divorce seems too easy now where people seem to think " oh well if this doesn't work I could always just divorce and find someone new".

Of course it would help if they were trained up in the way they should go, but would you think it better for them to not marry?

Mike A.

Stan said...

That Christians and churches are more offended that a person would marry young than that they would engage in premarital sex is so very sad to me. True, but so very sad. And why they would be far more willing to counsel a young couple not to marry young than to not live together or engage in sex before marriage is beyond me. There really is no wonder that marriage is in its decline when the keepers of God's Truth are so far from it.

In the post I wrote, "Of course it's not for everyone. And, of course it might not work at all today, given the fact that adulthood -- the level of mature responsibility required to be considered an adult -- doesn't occur until much later these days than in days gone by." This is not a commentary on whether or not someone should marry early, but a commentary on poor parenting and churches failing to hold their people accountable. Some people are not capable of marrying young; they lack any sort of maturity. They shouldn't marry. On the other hand, I know of some who were immature and irresponsible, married, and found themselves maturing and becoming responsible because they married.

On the problem of divorce, if divorce is an option, marriage should not be. But, then again, since devotion to Christ is so poor, the understanding of marriage is so poor, and the societal drive to do whatever feels good is so high -- leading to premarital sex -- there are lots of problems here to handle. And an "Abstinence Program" is pitifully short-sighted at this point.

Glenn E. Chatfield said...

I am a history buff. I see that throughout history, people were marrying in their mid-teens; guys often at 16 and girls as young as 13. There are even marriages like that in my own family tree.

God designed the human body to be ready for marriage in our teens. Societies used to marry in their teens often, but today we do not raise our children to be adults (as we raised OUR kids), rather we raise our children to be children well into college. And that is that is the problem.

Even the public education system, which we borrowed from the 1800s Prussian system, sorts kids by age so that they are peer-oriented. And it keeps everyone at the same level as others of their age group no matter who advanced they may be in their education. Homeschoolers (responsible ones and not those who just homeschool as a protest against the gov't or laziness, etc) routinely have their young people attending college in their mid-teens, if only at the community colleges.

As long as our society educates our kids to be kids, and as long as parents raise kids to be kids instead of adults, marriage will usually be when they are at least early to mid-20s.

Our son married two months before his 20th birthday to a young lady who had turned 18 two weeks prior. They have four children and have been married for 11 years.

Abstinence training is exactly what we need, but it is hard to keep raging hormones in check when your body says to get married.

The western world is all about entertainment and acting like children. Raising children to be adults is a rarity.

Stan said...

Glenn, I agreed with almost all that you said. Abstinence training, though, misses the point. Well, perhaps it is necessary today because parents refuse to parent. I still say, though, that parents refusing to be what God commands them to be is a far bigger problem than the resulting necessity of abstinence training. It's like saying, "We need to teach people how to do body work on their cars ... because we are not going to teach them how to drive."