According to an article in the October issue of Relevant magazine, there is an implication that young, unmarried Christians are having premarital sex almost as much as their non-Christian peers.
Titled “(Almost) Everyone’s Doing it”, the article examines various studies surrounding the topic of the sexual behavior of Christians. It outlines what challenges abstinence movements face in addition to exploring the reasons behind the challenges Christians today are facing.
According to a December 2009 study conducted by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, 80 percent of unmarried Christians have had sex and two-thirds have been sexually active in the last year despite a recent Gallup poll that said 76 percent of evangelicals believe sex outside of marriage is morally wrong.
Article author Tyler Charles told The Christian Post his research was kicked off with two major questions -- “If these statistics are accurate, what needs to change? and “Why are our actions different from our beliefs”?
Charles is a freelance writer and campus minister at Ohio Wesleyan with the Coalition for Christian Outreach. His work allows him to interact with Christians struggling with abstinence or not trying to be abstinent at all. A big proponent for the dispersal of honest communication, Charles reached out to cultural anthropologists, abstinence education experts, religious professors and young men and woman who shared their stories about sex with the Relevant magazine contributor.
CNN’s religion blog Belief discussed Charles’ piece on Tuesday and the blog post has already received close to 2,000 comments.
One commenter “BRC” said, “I MIGHT know one person who is actually waiting till marriage, and good for her. All of my other friends did what they were comfortable doing in the relationships they were in, and all are quite happy/successful in their lives. Some have married and even had kids, others went their separate ways; but none of them have horrible diseases or crippling esteem issues. They were smart and responsible and enjoyed the relationships they had.”
Another CNN commenter “Chris” had a different experience.
He said, “I waited until marriage, as did my wife. I was 28, she was 21. It was absolutely worth it. I regret nothing. I've heard countless stories of first time experiences where there is nothing but regret. One of them was drunk, pregnancy fears, the relationship falls apart, etc. They all remember their first time and many have admitted to me, "I shouldn't have done it that way probably." When I look back on my first time, it is a triumph. I fought the battles, denied temptation and look at my wife and know she was the first and I smile every time I remember my first time, and she smiles right back at me. I was meant for her, and she for me and she was worth waiting for.”
Possibly the most interesting point the Relevant article raises is statistical facts about marriage as it relates to modern society.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the average age for first marriages for both men and women has been increasing for the last 45 years. 1965, the average man first married at age 22.8; the average woman, 20.6. In 2010, the average age was 28.1 for men and 26.1 for women.
Scot McKnight, biblical scholar and author of “One Life” was quoted in Charles’ piece and points out that avoiding premarital sex has gotten a lot harder than it was in biblical times.
“Sociologically speaking, the one big difference –- and it's monstrous –- between the biblical teaching and our culture is the arranged marriages of very young people. If you get married when you're 13, you don't have 15 years of temptation,” Mcknight said in Relevant.
CNN commenter “AmazingSteve” jumped on that portion of the article with his comment that said, “Wait a minute... are the publishers of this study REALLY yearning for "the good old days" of 13-year-old arranged marriages?
However, Mcknight is referring to changing viewpoints on marriage. His quotes also address the fact that abstinence messages are usually geared toward high school students.
McKnight argues that as young Christians mature into their 20s, it’s natural for them to reevaluate their beliefs. He said, “We are dealing with a very serious issue that needs to be treated from a variety of perspectives and not simply the moral angle that it’s wrong outside of marriage.”
Charles’ warns readers to think critically and be careful not to distort anything. “It’s valuable to recognize it as a struggle but not to go so far that it means what the Bible teachers is no longer relevant to us,” he said a phone interview with CP this afternoon.
Arguably the most compelling comment comes from anthropologist Dr. Jenell Williams Paris who authored “End of Sexual Identity: Why Sex is Too Important to Define Who We Are”. Paris poses the challenge for Christians to look beyond mere rules but rather reasons why the rules exist.
She uses a young child crossing the street as a metaphor. “A young child may follow this rule solely because of the power of her parent’s authority, which is appropriate. As she grows, the child continues to look both ways but for a deeper reason that she owns for herself. She sees the broader context of traffic, understands the benefits and dangers and makes choices accordingly.
Charles told CP, “It’s helpful to remember, as we get older, everyone else is still going through that stage and what is acceptable in terms of sexual relationships outside of marriage. It’s important to continue to have those conversations.”