If you were raised in a Christian home, and went to a church big enough to have a youth group, then chances are you did some type of abstinence class. For many youth groups you had a whole month dedicated to something called “True Love Waits.” This is usually a time to call hormonally charged adolescents into a covenant of celibacy until marriage. In other words, they want you to say you promise you won’t have sex until you are married.
These classes are usually great and have a lot of relevant information in them, but there are some things that are usually not talked about. You know, the things that are a little awkward and difficult to discuss with students who barely started wearing deodorant. The problem is, the things that are often skipped over are incredibly important and will have massive implications later in life. Working with students over the years as a youth pastor, and then seeing those same students transition into married life, I have observed a few things.
1. Your wedding night may not be all that great.
Ok, so you have been waiting for this day for a long time. You make your way to the hotel bed where it is all about to go down. Boyz II Men is playing on low in the background, and you got one of those special smelly candles lit to set the appropriate mood. You take off the purity ring that you have been wearing… because the time has now arrived. In your mind, you always believed this would be some mind blowing, existential, earth shattering experience. A time where you and your love would be united in body, soul, and spirit. The pleasure would be unparalleled, and the experience would last until the early hours of morning.
Ok, here is the truth: For many people, their first time together is incredibly awkward, weird, and frustrating. This is not to say that many people who waited until marriage do not have an incredible first night together, many do. However, there are countless stories of people who felt let down, because they thought if they did the right thing, then God would reward them with at least 15 minutes of unspeakable passion.
Reasons why your first time may be a letdown, awkward, or incredibly short: Number one, you are tired. You just had a long wedding day. If you are an introvert, you are over social interactions. The life of the party sucked the life out of you. Chances are both husband and wife either overate or under-ate that day and now you feel a little lethargic. Number two, you might actually be uncomfortable being naked in front of each other. If you were a straight up class act, you didn't find ways to cheat while pretending your purity ring still meant something. This means you may be going from 0 to 100 mph incredibly fast. For some, this may not be a problem, for others, it will take some getting use to. Our bodies are sacred and significant, it is not easy to uncover yourself and bare all before someone whom you desperately want to impress. Number three, the fact is dudes, you have been waiting a long time for this and have not learned much about the art of pleasing your wife sexually. You are going to go in thinking you are going to hit a home-run, and may be at the end of the road before that first Boyz II Men song is over.
Just because you waited, does not mean your sex life will have a special anointing.
You have to work at it. Thank God, that in the context of marriage you get to practice it with one partner for the rest of your life. The best sex of your life will not happen on your wedding day, but in and through a shared life with years of experience and love for each other. What a casual sexual culture does not understand and will never experience, is the beauty that takes places between two people who not only love each other, but completely trust themselves with their spouse, so that they are willing and able to lose themselves in the other’s embrace. There is a oneness that takes place that few will experience because they have settled for cheap sex and casual encounters.
The bad news for those who waited for sex until marriage is that the first night may be a letdown. The good news is that you get to practice the rest of your life when the one you love most, and it will get better.
2. It may be a really, really, long time before you have sex.
Many of these classes ask for the commitments to be made by Jr. Highers. While encouraging a Jr Higher to participate in something like this is not bad in and of itself, the problem is that that a Jr. Higher probably has no clue on how long his or her wait for sex might actually be. See, for most of human history, and in most cultures, people married young. If you were 13 years old, you could honestly say that you or your parents were really starting to think about marriage. Even in our culture, just a few decades ago people got married in their very early 20’s. Just go ask your parents, and chances are they fall right into this category.
However, living in America in this current cultural context, we, for the most part, see people waiting till their late 20’s for marriage. There are many reasons for this; from the economy, to changing of values, to the fact that boys do not know how to grow up into men, and countless others. The point of all of this is that the Jr Higher who just pledged him or herself to abstain from sex before marriage really has no clue how long of a battle this is going to be. Does that 13 year old know that he may wait 15 years before he or she gets married? Does a 13 year old know what 15 years of sexuality purity will take from him or her?
3. If you screwed up, it is ok.
One of the saddest mistakes in abstinence classes is that they sometimes unknowingly heap an immense amount of guilt upon those who have already crossed the line. I remember a skit that was done that related sexual experiences to petals on a flower. The analogy went like this, God made you a flower with tons of beautiful petals. Every time you have sex before marriage, a petal will fall off. The skit worked its way through the experience of a girl who had so many sexual encounters that by the time she was ready to marry the man of her dreams, she was a rose without petals. She had nothing to offer. She was once beautiful but is now empty with little to offer. The question the skit leaves you to ponder is this, “who would want that ugly flower?”
Now I want to be very clear at this next point. I know countless people who have screwed up countless times, I know people who have been sexually abused and already feel like they are damaged goods, I know countless people without father figures who just wanted to feel loved. Let me tell you this one thing, you do not ever have to wonder “who would ever want that ugly flower?” Jesus does. Jesus wants that flower, and Jesus can restore the flower to its original image.
How many people have sat through church abstinence classes and had their guilt and shame multiplied? How many victims of abuse, have had their worst thoughts about themselves given credit by the very people they look up to? A Pastor named Matt Chandler brings this out when commenting on a very similar illustration to the flower skit that I just mentioned.
It is good to encourage moral behavior, it is good to teach kids what the Bible says about sex outside of marriage, but it must be done in a way that points people to Jesus. It must be done in a way that helps the ones who have crossed the line run to the loving embrace and forgiveness of Jesus. It must also be done in a way that helps those who have not crossed the line know that they have no hope in honoring their commitment unless they cling to Jesus.
Sex is a tough thing to talk about, and it is really tough to talk about with teens. Due to the taboo nature of it in conservative circles, there often isn’t much talk about it at all. Abstinence and “true love waits” programs should be commended for pushing us forward. We have come along way in the last several decades.
We can do better though.
We can be real with students and young people. Young people need to know that sex with your spouse will be a journey and not an event. A journey where you know each other more with each experience. A journey where you learn that sex is ultimately about satisfying your love and not yourself. We can also be real with young people and tell them that it is going to be a long and arduous journey; it may be a decade or more before you get married. Lastly, we can also be real with those who have already made mistakes and have shame and guilt in their past. We can let them know they don’t have to carry that alone. Jesus is in the business of making thing things new.