A few years ago when I was writing What Are You Waiting For: The One Thing No One Ever Tells You About Sex, I interviewed a handful of female students at Penn State. One—a Christian with a former commitment to purity— had been caught up in the party and sex scene and didn’t really like how it made her feel. When she stopped having sex and drinking, her “friends” ridiculed her. This prompted her to ask me, “Why is there tolerance for everything but abstinence here?” I will never forget the look of pleading in her eyes.
It’s a good question. A recent collegiate news source stated that virginity is the last great social stigma associated with sex. On a social level, it seems all energy is directed at erasing virginity to remove this stigma. I find this a great contradiction to the banner of tolerance that’s often waved over sexual choice.
Here’s the truth: there are more virgins than ever on college campuses. According to author and researcher Donna Freitas, about 19 percent of students on state campuses are virgins. That means there are about 8,000 of the supposedly rare specimens actually in existence at each of the big universities. And here’s a little something to tuck into your mind for when you’re helping your child decide which school to go to: Frietas reports that at Christian campuses this jumps to approximately 79 percent of the student body still holding on to their virginity. (Makes me very thankful that my daughter is tucked away at my alma mater, Cedarville University.)
But here’s the rest of the truth: those students who are having sex … well, they’re having a lot of sex. The average male will graduate from college with 9.7 sexual partners. The average female: 7.1. Moms, we can’t take this lightly. The risks of sexually transmitted diseases are so much greater and more consequential than when you and I were in college.
The two leading STDs have grave consequences. Chalmydia? A girl might never know she has it until the pelvic inflammatory disease sets in and she is infertile. HPV? Even if your child is vaccinated, there is still a risk of cancer because Gardisil only vaccinates against 4 of 100 strains of the virus–reducing but not eliminating the risk.
What can you do to prepare your high school student and your college student for the pressure they’ll face?
1. Talk about sex! When was the last time you had a conversation with your teenager about sex? Dug in to God’s word to define a sexual theology with your child? Talked about how much sex is talked about? At each stage of development, your maturing child needs to know that you’re the expert and you have the answers. And really, you do know stuff. You just need to communicate it.
2. Affirm the practical benefits of virginity. Don’t make this just a faith-based conversation. Talk about the practical social, emotional and physical benefits of waiting for marriage. I just had the honor of delivering a TED Talk debunking the myths surrounding virginity. Maybe the greatest myth is that a person who chooses to refrain from the hook up culture and save sex for a lifelong, mutually-monogamous partnership is doomed to bad sex. The evidence strongly suggests otherwise. Make sure you explore the non-religious evidence that favors faithfulness and waiting.
3. Listen! Sometimes the best thing you can say is nothing at all. Maybe ask a question here and there, but if you’ve raised up a child in the way they should go God’s word promises that they won’t depart from it. They may stray or wonder or be confused just like you were, but they’ve got the ability to think it through. They just need your time to listen while they do just that.
4. Teach them to fall in love with Jesus. So often we reach out for sexual fulfillment because we aren’t full of the only love that really satisfies: God’s love. It seems that our world focuses so much on the romance of Hollywood that we have forgotten the fact that earthly romance is just a momentary picture of the love of Christ for his Church. Lead your children into a love relationship with Jesus by being in love with him yourself!
Ironically, this fuels the sexual relationship in marriage, too. A University of Illinois study found that those having both the hottest and most frequent sex were not college coeds with a variety of sexual partners but middle-aged people in lifelong monogamous partnerships. And the highest satisfaction went to those who were religiously-active evangelicals. This speaks less of sexual satisfaction and more to spiritual satisfaction. These couples were already full. They had the love of Jesus and the physical exchange between them was just a bonus.
Dannah Gresh has just released a new book called Get Lost: Your Guide To Finding True Love which guides the reader through a ten day love feast with Jesus. And you can listen to Dannah’s session from True Woman to find out 6 ways we fight for our families by helping our children learn to live above the culture.