Sex is a powerful drive, and for most of human history it has been firmly linked to marriage and childbearing. In modern history, the sexual revolution of the 60s and 70s accelerated the separation of sex from marriage and procreation. The development of modern contraceptives and the legalization of abortion were two key developments that prompted more people than ever before to move sexual expression outside the marriage boundary.
In addition, the rate of change in our sexual mores has greatly increased. The liberal media, a decade of privacy with personal computers in the home and the rapid growth in small electronics have resulted in an explosion of sexual content being accessed by family members.
Today, the issue of abstinence from sexual behaviors before marriage is most often discussed within the context of sex education in the public schools. And the ensuing debate over the most effective and appropriate method of sex education for students is a logical by-product of an ever-increasing sexualized society. Fundamentally, abstinence is viewed as refraining from sexual activity, but it would be better understood in the larger context of God's plan for relationships and intimacy.
As Christians, the concept of reserving sex for marriage is a part of God's original plan. In fact, it was an integral product of creation. Indeed, during creation, the gift of sex was among those things God declared to be "very good." In the beginning, God created man and woman, ordained marriage and gave sex, both as a gift and a responsibility, to mankind.
Notice that sex – more correctly identified as one's sexuality – was given to all mankind and not just married couples. The act itself is confined to marriage. Only then, when done according to God's plan, can sex be physically enjoyed to its fullest extent, emotionally satisfying, psychologically fulfilling and spiritually meaningful.
If the act of sex is meant for marriage, it begs the question: What is the practical application for those who are not married? We are to remain celibate and to offer ourselves completely up to God for His service, something that's very difficult when married.
For those who follow God's plan, He offers up His blessings. We see these blessings even from a purely secular context. Abstinence prevents unwed pregnancies 100 percent of the time and will prevent sexually transmitted infections if all behaviors are reserved for marriage.
Multiple studies have shown that individuals who remain abstinent before marriage have a better chance of remaining faithful in their marriage. When spouses are faithful within marriage, it allows the couple, and specifically the male, to build, save, protect, plan and prosper. So abstinence before marriage and faithfulness within marriage have historically protected the individual and society.
While sexual intimacy is the exclusive privilege of a husband and wife within the context of marriage, sexual morality is the concern of individuals, families and society. When approached in accordance with God's plan, the benefits of abstinence are innumerable.
Our global society has become increasingly more liberal, with a substantial change since the late 1990s. The American home has been profoundly affected with the use of multiple personal computers and cell phones per household, all accessing the Internet. Much of the information streaming into our personal spaces each day is very useful. But, some of the information is sexually explicit and harmful to both children and adults.
Today, it is not unusual to hear sexual topics talked about on elementary school playgrounds by the children themselves. Most young students have no context in which to process the information they're hearing. Sadly, traditional sexual values are disintegrating in our culture, causing confusion and many social ills to vastly increase.
Less than half of high school teens have had sex.1 The percentage of teens having intercourse over the past several years has decreased, in part, because of the abstinence messages they're hearing in schools and in their homes. And the percentage of teens becoming pregnant has dropped from 15 percent in 1990 to 10 percent in 2009.2 Even though teen birth rates have declined since the early 1990s, unwed births in the United States continue to climb.3
According to research, few teens have sexual intercourse in their early teen years, but the older they are the more sexually active they become. By the age of 24, 89 percent of males and 92 percent of females have had intercourse.4 If we are to keep teens and young adults healthy physically, emotionally and spiritually, we need to assist far more than 11 percent of youth to remain abstinent until marriage.
In addition to the health risks of teen pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections affect a disproportionate number of youth per year, and, in some cases, may cause life-long consequences. In the U.S. alone, there are 19 million new cases of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) reported each year, with half of these cases occurring among 15-24-year-olds.5
Teaching the use of contraceptives and condoms has been the solution of some sex educators to keep sexual practices safer for teens and adults. Focus on the Family does not support sexual activity outside of marriage because this practice does not support God's design for sexuality. Eliminating or avoiding the risks of out-of-wedlock sexual behaviors is the highest standard, and God does not stand for simply avoiding some of the risks. He wants only the best for humanity. It's also vital to understand that teaching condom use is not the same as correct or consistent condom use. A 2005 study of 509 adolescent girls found that only 35 percent used condoms, and, of those girls, only about half used them correctly.6
Abstinence from sexual behavior before marriage helps build a solid foundation upon which one can build a family and a society. Our primary concern with sexual activity outside the bounds of marriage is that it violates God's plan. We were not placed on this earth for our own enjoyment or with the ability to be our own judge. God is our creator, our sustainer and our judge. Behaving in such a way as to cast aside His guidance leads us down a path of spiritual devastation. But God's plan is perfect and increases blessings in all lives.
Focus on the Family is dedicated to defending the permanence of marriage and traditional families. We believe that the institution of marriage is a sacred covenant, meant to be the basic building block of human civilization.
Research has found that marriages and families tend to survive for a lifetime when entered into by two loving, heterosexual, mutually monogamous individuals who have saved themselves sexually for each other and remain faithful to one another. This is in accordance with God's plan.
Sex is beautiful and holy. The purpose of sex is for procreation, union (bonding), mutual delight between husband and wife, and celibacy (if single). Sex is unselfish and centered on the other spouse, not on oneself. When we remain sexually abstinent before marriage and faithful within marriage, we are not simply saying "no" to sex but rather "yes" to God's unique plan. Therefore, abstinence before marriage and faithfulness within marriage have historically protected and will continue to protect individuals and society.
Like married people, singles are called to steward their sexuality as a gift from God. They do so through faithful devotion to Christ. By foregoing or awaiting the intimacies of marriage, a single person affirms the exclusive and covenantal relationship of marriage and all it symbolizes. Celibacy is a worthy state for mature men and women.
Remaining abstinent until marriage manifests a number of immediate benefits for the individual who follows God's plan, and it also lays a foundation of blessings for the individual's future spouse, children and extended family. God's moral standards are meant for ultimate freedom and protection in sexual expression.
Parents are charged with teaching the next generation the sexual morals and values given to them by God. Parents are responsible for staying involved with their children to keep communication open so that they can continually educate them in God-centered sexuality. Children, teens and young adults need to know the implications of sexual sin for themselves and others. It's essential that they realize Christ's forgiveness if they have made mistakes, along with the need for repentance under Christ's mercy and grace. But they must also realize that the consequences of sexual sin cannot always be erased in this life.
Sexuality is a glorious gift from God meant to honor Him either in marriage or in celibacy. Unmarried singles who abstain from sex are as pleasing to God as faithful persons in marriage. All people – even unmarried teenagers – can rely on God's strength to abstain from sex before marriage. Abstinence outside of marriage supports God's design for sexual intimacy.