Virginity: The New Realism (Jul – Dec 1995)

By Matt Dabbs

by Holly Allen
July – December, 1995

The spray-painted word “VIRGIN” in crude pink letters looks like graffiti on the Baltimore billboard. But underneath that word is the line “Teach your kids it’s not a dirty word.” The billboard is actually part of an advertising campaign designed to lower teenage pregnancy in Maryland. Hal Donofrio, chief executive of the ad agency, says, “We’ve chosen to promote the ‘not sexually active’ category.” And the campaign has been successful. Maryland has reported a five percent decrease in teenage pregnancy during each of the first two years of the five-year campaign.

Virginity is getting a fresh update on TV and in the print media also. Television shows such as Step by Step, Family Matters, and L. A. Law have created characters who are charming, mainstream, and openly virgins. A recent Newsweek article, titled “Virgin Cool,” suggests that there is a shift back to abstinence among the nation’s young. “Virgin geek” has become “virgin chic.”1

What is so astonishing is that just two or three years ago, television, the mainstream press, and national sex education experts were united in the message: “Pre-marital sex is OK. Just protect yourself.”

In 1991, on Beverly Hills 90210, 17-year-old Brenda lost her virginity with her high school beau. In the fall of 1992, Roseanne’s daughter, Becky, became a sexually active teen and Roseanne took her to a gynecologist for birth control pills. And, of course, Doogie Houser celebrated his 18th birthday by going to bed with his girl friend for the first time, saying, “A man is a lot of things, but he is not a virgin.” (A friend provided the condom.)

These shows reflected the late ‘80s-early ‘90s conventional wisdom, which went something like this: “Teens today are sexually active. Period. It’s up to us adults to provide them with the education and means to practice safe sex.”

This “realistic” view of teen sexuality did not spring from new sociological polls (see “Is Virginity Rare?” box) or scientific data. Rather, this belief is part of a radical ideology that has been actively promoted by family planning groups and other organizations which had their roots in the sexual revolution 25 years ago.

One 1973 national planning publication expressed this ideology clearly: “We must convince young people that sex and contraceptives are as natural and wholesome for them as learning how to brush their teeth and wash their ears.”2

Planned Parenthood’s Moylan Torruella says, “I wish there were more absolutes, that if I told teens to wait to have sex till they married, they would do it, but that is not going to happen.” She also admits that she is “not interested in repressing teen sexuality. I want to help give teenagers the skills needed to lead healthy sexual lives.”3

A recent brochure titled Teenager’s Bill of Rights4 includes the following:

    • I have the right to decide whether to have sex and who(m) to have it with.

 

  • I have the right to use protection when I have sex.

 

 

  • I have the right to buy and use condoms.

 

At a 1989 ETR (Education, Training, and Research Associates) Family Life Education Seminar a sex education expert proclaimed, “We can’t go back to the values we had because they don’t exist any more. For the most part, women are not virgins any more, so to teach virginity doesn’t work.”5

These voices have been loud and insistent. Tragically, schools have believed them, government has believed them, most of America has believed them. We have bought the notion that teens are going to have sex and that they can have safe sex, that is, sex with no consequences.

The United States has spent the last 25 years trying to eliminate the consequences of teen sexual activity. In the late 1990s, family planning agencies were established with the express purpose of lowering teen pregnancy. Teaching adolescents to use contraceptives has been the primary modus operandi.

In 1971, 11 million dollars was spent on these programs. By 1981, 442 million dollars was being spent annually. The clinics were seeing five times as many girls as in 1971 and spending 20 times the amount of money (in real dollars), but teen pregnancy rates were still increasing.6 The cry was for more money, school-based health clinics, and comprehensive sex education for all school children.

School-based clinics (same modus operandi) were established. Though some schools reported a reduction in birth rates (due to increased abortions), pregnancy rates either remained unchanged or grew larger.

In recent years, much of enlightened America has reached the conclusion that comprehensive sexuality education is the realistic way to reduce unwed childbearing and sexually transmitted diseases. It is currently mandated in 17 states and recommended in 30 more. Comprehensive sex education begins in the early grades helping children become comfortable with their sexuality and moves into the middle grades developing communication skills through discussions on such subjects as masturbation and safe petting. As puberty approaches, sex education facilitators share “value-free” information about homosexuality, pregnancy, and sexually transmitted diseases, and introduce the use of condoms and contraceptives as means of protection. The underlying assumption is that if teens acquire enough skills and knowledge about their sexuality, they will make responsible decisions, and teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases will decrease.

The problem is that comprehensive sex education has been tried for 10, 15, even 20 years in some states and has yet to yield the promised results. Barbara Dafoe Whitehead, in her seminal article “The Failure of Sex Education,” in Atlantic Monthly, definitively exposes the radical assumptions and false promises of comprehensive sex education. She says that knowledge-based sex education has had little effect on teenagers’ decision to engage in or postpone sex. She says teens need direction, not simply “value-free” information. She states, “Evidently sex education works best when it combines clear messages about behavior with strong moral…support for the behavior sought.”7 She is talking about promoting abstinence.

All of which brings us back to the Baltimore billboard. The truth is out. America is waking up. People are realizing that condoms are not going to save us from teen pregnancy, from AIDS, from child neglect, sexual abuse, disease, abortion, or death. Abstinence has new allies.

As recent TV shows reflect this “new” understanding of reality, and sex education directors scramble to adjust their safe sex messages to include lessons on abstinence, the teens of America are leading the way.

Groups promoting abstinence have sprung up from Washington, to Milwaukee, to Portland. In Akron, Ohio, the group is called CATS (Concerned About Teen Sexuality); in New Orleans, it’s called I’m Worth Waiting For; in Cincinnati, it’s TAPS (Teens Against Premarital Sex). Southern Baptists are promoting a program called True Love Waits. The goal is to encourage hundreds of thousands of teens to covenant to purity until marriage.

The 1988 Lewis/Dodd study of Church of Christ teens revealed that 32% of our high school seniors have had sexual intercourse. Compared to national statistics, we look pretty good. But, a third of our seniors should not have missed the true message. We would do well to emulate our Baptist friends.

We need to hold up God’s ideal for our teens. How do we do this? First, we will flash the news that sex was God’s idea in the first place. Then we will lay out God’s truth on sexuality, that God created man for woman and woman for man, that the marriage bed is to be undefiled, that the way of a man with a woman is a great mystery.

As we teach our children about the God of the Israelites and great characters like Ruth, we will ask, “Why did God give his people the law about gleaning?” And the answer will be, “because he loved them.” We will ask our children why God gave instructions about cleanliness, touching dead bodies, and other such things, and the answer again will be, “Because he loved them.” When our children are older, we will ask them why God has placed sex within marriage, and the answer will be the same, “Because he loves us.”

As adults, we live in awe of God’s great truths, and we will live our lives before our children as a reflection of those truths. We will embed in our young ones a strong desire to follow God’s truths, because we are his holy people, set apart for a purpose.

Though the world right now is seemingly heralding a long-forgotten Christian truth, we must not depend on the world. Even now, the government, through the Center for Disease Control, is promoting with TV advertising condoms for safe sex. The world will always obfuscate. It will never get the message right.

We are his church, a caravan of people traveling toward a destination, and, though we must tell our children about the ways of the world, even more, we must instruct them in the ways of the caravan. They are depending on us to teach them the truth. And we must do it.


1 Michele Ingrassia, “Virgin Cool,” Newsweek, October 17, 1994, pp. 59-69.

2 “NCFPS (National Center for Family Planning Services) Director Calls for Second Generation’ Services: Involve Hospitals, Serve Teenagers, Improve Sex Education,” Family Planning Digest 2 (May 1973), 3-4.

3 As quoted in “Abstinence: The Radical Choice for Sex Ed,” Christianity Today, February 8, 1993.

4 “Teens Have the Right” brochure printed by the Center for Disease Control.

5 Carol Cassell. In a speech given at ETR Family Life Education Institute, San Francisco, August 9, 1989.

6 Stan E Weed, “Curbing Births, No Pregnancies,” Wall Street Journal, Tuesday, October 14, 1986.

7 Barbara Dafoe Whitehead, “The Failure of Sex Education,” Atlantic Monthly, October 1994, pp. 55-80.Wineskins Magazine

Holly Allen

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Profile photo of Matt DabbsThis author published 1577 posts in this site.
Matt is the preaching minister at the Auburn Church of Christ in Auburn, Alabama. He and Missy have been married 12 years and are raising two wonderful boys, Jonah and Elijah. Matt is passionate about reaching and discipling young adults, small groups, and teaching. Matt is currently the editor and co-owner of Wineskins.org.

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