To Condemn or to Condom?

Last week my wife and I watched a TV show where a student was expelled from school for protesting an abstinence assembly by playing George Michael’s song “I Want Your Sex” over a boombox. In this fictional prime time TV drama, the student and her lawyer preached that “abstinence sex education” was an oxy-moron. They jested that it was setting up kids for failure by telling them to not use condoms and not telling them the whole story.

This is not to far off from Planned Parenhood’s claim that  “…the national policy of promoting abstinence-only programs is a $1.5 billion failure, and teenage girls are paying the real price.”

I was frustrated watching the TV show. After all, I’ve seen good and bad abstinence education. At the beginning of this season of American Idol we saw two ludicrous examples. We saw a young girl contestant who claimed that she taught abstinence education. Simon skeptically asked her, “Go ahead and share a little bit of your pitch.”

She began her weak, inarticulate case that sounded something like, “uh… well you just shouldn’t. There is so much other stuff to do instead like sports. So don’t do it.”

A week later an awkward middle-aged man too old for the competition claimed that he had a song that kids needed to hear. This goofy little man began singing his rediculous song, “No sex allowed! I don’t want to be part of that crowd!” (Randy and Paula joined in, jesting)

Is this what the world thinks of the message of abstinence? A bunch of homely losers who can’t “get laid” anyway so we are telling others, “Just clench your knees together and everything will be alright!”

I don’t think that’s a true representation of abstinence education. But we would be ignorant to not search for answers to this epidemic. (yes… I call 1 in 4 teenage girls getting a disease an epidemic). After all, whether we agree with it or not… whether we like it or not… we’ve been teaching abstinence in schools and churches for the last few years, and the problem is not better.

Hence yesterday’s blog asking for answers.

The world’s answer is to swing the pendulum all the way back and claim, “Bush’s program isn’t working. So instead, let’s get excited about Trojan’s new ‘Evolve’ campaign: Use a condom every time.”

I don’t think that a false sense of security is the answer.

But the church seems to be saying that condoms are never the answer.

In yesterday’s blog someone had the guts to bring up that tough question in their comments. Randi asked:

“…if the statistics I’m reading are correct and 70% of teens DO have sex before they are 18, then at least 5 of the girls in my youth group are going to have sex before they are 18, and some of them might get STD’s or end up pregnant too.

That in mind, this is my question: is it inappropriate to discuss using condoms or other such things at church? I’m torn because on the one hand, I definitely DO NOT want to go there and then have the youth think that we are saying “Hey, if you use a condom, that’s a free pass to go have sex”

Randi asked the question that abstinence-education is being criticized for not asking. (and note: she just asked a question- that’s not a sin, you know!)

Chuck responded to this saying, “I think we need to talk about condom use. However, only from the standpoint of their unaffectiveness.”

“Pilgrim” responded like this: “It’s not only condoning, but capitulating to the lies of the culture that helped get us here! Would we tell teens that because they are already going to drink alcohol, they should choose a designated driver to cut down their chances of a DUI?”

Todd said this: “I agree with pilgrim. The Bible is so clear on this and honestly I get sick to my stomach when I see churches and pastors begin to compromise BIBLICAL STANDARDS for cultural opinions. There is just no place for it. Why stop at sex and drinking, what about cheating, drugs, murder…remember when sin was sin???”

Are they right?

In New York Times’ recent article about Harvard’s “Students of Virginity” (an excellent article that presents a case for a Harvard club that believes waiting is the answer) mentioned some sobering facts:

“…those who took virginity pledges preserved their technical virginity about 18 months longer than teenagers who didn’t pledge, yet they were six times more likely to engage in oral sex than virgins who hadn’t taken a pledge. They were also much less likely to use condoms during their first sexual experience or to be tested for sexually transmitted diseases.”

Fact: Kids who have taken abstinence pledges tend to be more in danger of teen pregnancy than those who haven’t.

I’m simply asking… how can we equip our kids NOT to fail?

And people are asking a good question: if a kid listens to the abstinence message and says, “Nope, I’m gonna have sex.” Should we say… “Well, still don’t buy a condom because that would just be admitting to the fact that you’re going to do it!”???

It’s hard for me to get excited about this when I know condoms aren’t the answer. But all facts considered… is Randi’s question bad?

About Jonathan McKee

president of The Source for Youth Ministry, is the author of over twenty books including the brand new If I Had a Parenting Do Over, 52 Ways to Connect with Your Smartphone Obsessed Kid; Sex Matters; The Amazon Best Seller - The Guy's Guide to God, Girls and the Phone in Your Pocket; and youth ministry books like Ministry By Teenagers; Connect; and the 10-Minute Talks series. He has over 20 years youth ministry experience and speaks to parents and leaders worldwide, all while providing free resources for youth workers and parents on his websites, TheSource4YM.com and TheSource4Parents.com. You can follow Jonathan on his blog, getting a regular dose of youth culture and parenting help. Jonathan, his wife Lori, and their three kids live in California.
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23 Responses to To Condemn or to Condom?

  1. Todd says:

    First of all I love the conversation. Anything that makes me this uncomfortable, that stretches me this much, is a good thing.

    So let me ask, Can you unpack your question, “how can we equip our kids NOT to fail?” What is your definition of success? of failure?

  2. Great question Todd. And I’m glad that I’m getting you uncomfortable. We should be. Our kids are literally dying.

    I guess I’m asking several questions:

    1. Why aren’t kids listening to the abstinence message? By this I mean, most kids are ill informed. They simply don’t know. Do they have cotton in their ears? Rap music in their headphones? Or is someone not telling them all they need to know? (which is back to the question I proposed with yesterday’s blog)

    2.I’m also re-asking the tough question, expanding on the question that Randi asked0 I’ll ask it another way. Is there EVER a time to recommend a condom for pre-marital sex?

  3. pilgrim says:

    If I’m reading between the lines correctly here Jonathan, I think you are trying to say that en masse, as the church, we haven’t been teaching about sex and have shyed away from the whole topic, or have thrown pledges at our kids which haven’t helped them.

    It seems like with our peers there is a general famine of teaching the Bible in clear and relevant ways that doesn’t compromise the truth but that still reaches the culture.

    On one hand we can abandon what the Bible says: that God created sex, but only in the context of marriage can it be truly satisfying AND God-glorifying. We can abandon the truth to try and tickle itching ears.

    On the other hand, we can draw a line in the sand and be staunch Pharisees who refuse to answer the questions everyone is asking, with our arms crossed and our Bibles tucked away, while kids turn to someone who WILL answer them.

    Maybe there is a third option, one that teaches AND reaches. That’s what I’m striving for.

  4. Joe says:

    WOW, I missed a lot after I wrote my comment yesterday morning. Just went back and read through them all, and GREAT discussion from all angles.
    Sorry if this is off topic too much, but when sharing with middle schoolers, how much info is too graphic for them? I know all youth groups are different. Mine is split in half with kids that still think the opposite sex has cooties, and the other half wants to be all over the opposite sex. What’s appropriate content/graphic level for this mixed group of mine?

  5. Trevor Dunham says:

    Joe:
    I think you have really asked a tough question there. Middle school is so tough that way. I have, for 4 years now, been blessed with not a lot of trouble in this area for the middle school though I don’t know if that’s just because I have some work to do in my ministry to appeal to those who are more “up that path” or if I’ve just been “lucky”;) I guess we have to be wary of what our parents are going to say about a discussion like this with their middle schoolers but I am of the opinion that the more we can be open in our discussion the less they are going to miss or make a mistake on because they simply didn’t know. Good question and I guess its one that needs to be answered to your group but at the same time knowledge is power and all that jazz.

  6. Trevor Dunham says:

    Now that I’ve added my two cents to Joe I would also like to weigh in on the question of abstinence versus sex ed. My wife and I were talking about this last night. We talked briefly about this blog and came to the same conclusion (as we often do in these kinds of questions).

    That conclusion is that keeping kids in the dark is not the same as keeping things biblical. I believe that we are doing our teens a disservice by leaving out information because we are worried about “appearing” to endorse premarital sex. If we are able to stand strong and not be afraid of telling the truth well and with a background of love and noncapitulation in areas of truth in the bible then our teens are not going to take our addition of education on safety to mean that we are suddenly saying “okay now that we’ve said you shouldn’t get out there and do it!”

    There are always going to be those teens who may use this extra education or advice as a “reason” to go and do it. After all “the youth worker said I should” is a mantra for this kind of activity. But lets be honest. You know who those teens are in your group and would they not have done it anyway? The one who has decided to save themselves until marriage is unlikely to go out and find some random loser just because we told them that condoms exist.

    This is a tough situation in our culture today that we are not going to solve in this blog discussion as much as all of us would love to be able to. However I think that we need to realize that our teens are going to see more about sex than any generation before them long before they are (hopefully) engaging in it and if planned parenthood is the only place they are getting half of the story from then we are failing our teens in a way that will cost them not only emotionally and physically but also spiritually.

    So I suppose my two cents turned into about a dollar ninety-two but there you have it.

  7. Karen says:

    May I throw out my perspective as an “abstinence educator”? In most sex ed. the concern is prevention of physical consequences, hence “protection” is all there is to offer. HOWEVER, we do expect married people to BE FAITHFUL and to be successful at resisting temptation. When do we teach THAT?

    I have seen really BAD (ala American Idol) abstinence ed, in fact so bad that I don’t use that term to refer to what I teach. I tell students I’m teaching “sexual self-control.” I want them to know sex is awesome, powerful and has consequences. I also want them to know that controlling it, instead of letting it control them, is the REAL act of love. “If it costs me something to be near you and still keep you safe, I will pay that cost…” has power among young people.

    What is frustrating is the extremes: either, teens are dogs — give ’em condoms, or “just say no” and you won’t even want to have sex.

    Christian kids believe “its ok if you don’t go all the way” because they think God is concerned about them being technical virgins when they get married. They aren’t being told the fantasies and feelings for other people STILL continue after marriage, therefore you must practice gaining control of them before marriage. They aren’t being told, saving their first experiences will help them to bond and remain faithful. And they aren’t being told that failing to control of their passion reflects they are moving away from Christ-likeness.

    If the only problems with teen sex were physical, then a condom would do the trick. But sex is so much more and to work it needs a carefully crafted message. Teens don’t process information like adults, so giving them facts/data and expecting them to weigh the risks against the consequences and make the right decisions is very very foolish.

  8. Todd says:

    Now it’s my turn to make you uncomfortable…

    Would you give your daughter a condom before a date?

  9. First… Trevor and Karen… great comments! Thanks.

    As for Todd… sorry… but let me try to real you back in from ‘la la land.’ You’re still way out in left field. Read above again. You’ll notice that I said, “IF a kid says, ‘I’m going to go ahead and have sex anyway…’ what then?”

    My daughter has already made the decision that God’s way is the best way and I’ve been talking with her for years about not setting herself up for failure. She’s not a good example. She has a parent that cares and has had an ongoing conversation with her about the subject. So no, she doesn’t need a condom on a date. But she’s a minorty today. Most kids don’t have these conversations and don’t have the information that she has received.

    Now… if you would like to jump back into our conversation with a linear argument, you might want to answer the question I asked? Is there EVER a time to recommend a condom for pre-marital sex?

  10. Wow… check out the comment that Lindsey just posted at 12:58 PM on April 16th on yesterday’s blog.

  11. Todd says:

    My answer is still no.

    You said “She has a parent that cares and has had an ongoing conversation with her about the subject. So no, she doesn’t need a condom on a date. But she’s a minority today. Most kids don’t have these conversations and don’t have the information that she has received.”

    As a dad, I couldn’t agree with you more. I guess all I want is to love my students like I love my daughter, for all youth pastors to love their students that way and to have those conversations so they “won’t need condoms” either.

    Am I asking too much…am i in La La Land??

  12. Ha… la la land was where you were when you were avoiding the question. And in a way, you’re still there. Because you are saying that you love all “your students” like your daughter.

    Todd… we’re all there.

    But do you go on campus?

    Do you see the thousands of students that aren’t attending your youth group or heeding your council?

    I’m simply asking you, what about them?

    More specifically, if you guest spoke on the subject of abstinence on campus and a group of students came together and said, “Hell no, we aren’t listening to this ‘bulls***!'” How do we get through to them? How do you respond to Lindsey’s recent comment on yesterday’s blog?

  13. Todd says:

    First of all, I punch those kids in the throat!!!

    As far as Linsey’s comment, I simply can not agree with her doesn’t Paul say, “What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means!”

    God hates all sin…of course He knows we are going to sin that why He sent Jesus. To say God must have know we were going to get a divorce or have pre-martial sex…so go for it…is contrary to scripture.

    PS I was only kidding about punching those kids.

  14. Jamie Locklin says:

    I’ve got to say that I love this conversation. The fact is that kids are having sex. The church is teaching (and I agree with it) that the best answer is to simply avoid it until marriage.

    The problem we find is that our students have friends who are having sex and talking about it in graphic detail to each other. We’ve set up our kids in an impossible situation. Through our preaching on abstinence we can miscommunicate condemnation for those who have already had sex. As a result or students have all this knowledge about sex from the “world” but are afraid to even bring it up in the context of church because of the fear of condemnation.

    Is this conversation really about “abstinence” or is it about an environment that we’ve created in our churches that promote unhealthy condemning views of certain sins over others?

    Are we having a boomerang effect by talking about “abstinence” as the “only way” and as a result of that language cutting off the conversations that really need to happen before they can even begin?

    I love you Jonathon. I need to get back in on all this conversation!

  15. briana says:

    I run a Christian drop-in center, so my perspective differs from that of a youth pastor. Nearly all of the kids I work with are having or have had sex… some as young as 11. Most of these kids are neglected and have very few, if any caring adults speaking into their lives. Yet, at the same time, every one of them knows where to get a thousand free condoms and how to use them. The problem is definitely not that they need more sex education. The kids who are having sex are probably more aware of the consequences than we are… and they don’t care.

    How do we get them to care? Will handing them a condom and quoting shocking statistics open their eyes? No, I don’t believe it will. Because they have one and they’ve heard it. Will we demonstrate that we care for them by providing them with a condom? Maybe. But, what is the message we’re sending? Is it that we’ve given up on them ever getting it right?

    What exactly is at the heart of this issue?

  16. Jimothy says:

    “How do we get them to care? Will handing them a condom and quoting shocking statistics open their eyes? No, I don’t believe it will. Because they have one and they’ve heard it. Will we demonstrate that we care for them by providing them with a condom? Maybe. But, what is the message we’re sending? Is it that we’ve given up on them ever getting it right?”

    I think Brianna is hitting on a big point that we’re forgetting…a greater number of teens (and adults) are engaging in self-destructive behavior not because they don’t have an alternative, but because, in a culture that goes for the “cheap thrill”, they want to feel more alive…despite the consequences.
    The epidemic of STDs may be tied more to the same nihilistic world view that rise of self mutilation than a general lack of knowledge that can be treated with a proper sexual education and access to condoms. If they like the feel of unprotected sex, they’ll engage in it, despite the long-range ramifications, much like cutting yourself gives a numbing rush, and helps you forget the deep psychological pain that takes a lot of professional help to be led out.

  17. Rachael says:

    The fact that 1 in 4 girls has an STD is a symptom of non-communication and their search for people who “care”. We need to communicate with our kids on a much deeper and more profound level then just preaching at them or scaring them with statistics. Kids will always feel invincible so we need to appeal to them in different ways… I don’t think by giving facts, positive and negative about condoms that we are giving them permission to have sex… When we teach gun safety we are not condoning murder. It’s a necessary talk to have with your kids. The church and school should be there to back up what is already being taught at home. You can teach children about ALL the facts without giving them “permission” to have sex. You can make it very clear to them what is expected of them and why it is in their best interest to wait, but they need to know the facts too. It is our job to raise aware, thoughtful adults, and at some point we have to trust that with all the information we have given to them and all the self confidence we have helped to instill, that they are capable of making wise decisions. Does that mean we say it once and turn our backs? Of course not. Life is a process of successes and failures and it is our duty as parents to be a part of our children’s experiences and to help guide them… we can’t leave it up to the church and the schools. They don’t know our children the way we do, and there can’t be a blanket class for this very individual life lesson.

  18. Jeff says:

    I have a question about the “1 in 4” stat: Is this based on a sampling of all girls (those sexually active and those not) and what ages are we talking about? (middle school and high school?) I think the answer to this question makes the statistic even more frightening.

    If it considers girls who aren’t sexually active, that means the stat is more like 1 in 2 girls who are sexually active are getting an STD! That speaks to what some have mentioned previously about the ineffectiveness of “safe sex” and to the issues of whether they even use a condom (because of various reasons).

    Finding the balance between including discussions about condom use in our abstinence curriculum vs simply focusing on the benefits of abstinence is the trick. We’re in the beginning of a series on sex and dating right now and I’m thankful for the timing of this discussion — although I’d appreciate it if someone would provide a simple solution with the wave of their magic wand 😉

  19. Ryan White says:

    I just heard some great school abtinence ed the other day in Central Michigan at a high school/junior high assembly from Pam Stenzel. If you want to check her or her info out go to pamstenzel.com She gave some great info.

    Using a condom or not isn’t really the issue, from my point of view.

    There are a LOT of STD’s that don’t require genital to gential contact. Did you know that HPV (human papilloma virus) is shared from SKIN TO SKIN contact? Is almost impossible to know if you have it and causes you to have genital warts that need to be burned off? Or can cause cancer! Forget the dangers of a pregnancy…you can DIE from this virus. You will have it for life and pass it along to your future husband or wife!

    How about chlamydia that can cause sterility? If you have sex without getting pregnant, later in life when you want to have a child, you won’t be able to due to the scarring from the bacteria.

    How about the facts that holes in condoms (yes they are not a perfect shielding device) are the relative size of a beach ball and the size of an STD (bacteria or virus) is the relative size of a tic-tic! There is NO SAFE SEX. If you think that the worst thing that can happen to you is getting pregnant, we better rethink that thought.

    I think the key to helping teens make right decisions is to develop a loving relationship with them so that you can be real and honest with them.

    Then we can share the blessings and the cursings of having sex before marriage, so that our teens will know how devastating STD’s and the poverty associated with teenage pregnancy is, as well as the most important part of the equation, which is that a loving God has designed sex to be a virgin guy and a virgin girl getting married and staying faithful to each other til death.

    You don’t get STD’s that way…ever.

    The blessings of doing things God’s way are incredible.

    Let’s be real, honest, caring, and compassion with our teens. They are not mammals who need to breed. They are image bearers of God who need to live a life obedient to Him and enjoy Him forever.

  20. Nick O'Donnell says:

    I talked to my Pastor and a youth pastor friend of mine on this subject because there was an division in this topic.
    Here is what we (me, Pastor, youth pastor friend) came up with.

    “Do we really need to education kids or teens on safe sex? The United States spends millions of dollars on this topic, let me sum it up for you are you able to put a stocking camp on your head? Good then you are able to put a condom on your penis!”

    Here is the reason why teens don’t use a condom, THEY DON’T WANT TOO!

    We don’t really need to educate because they (teens) already know what they should do, they just chose not to do it!

    We as youth pastor have an oblogation with what the bible say to tell teens to not to have sex until they are married why do we say that because that is what the bible say!

    Again do we need to tell them to use a condom know because they know they should and chose not too do it. Just like when I tell teens to not watch porn, a lot of them well, even through they know it is wrong!

    We just need to teach what the bible say an pray that the teens will make the right choice that is all we can do!

    We don’t need to tell them use a condom, or teach them how to put it on, its not rocket sicence!

  21. Randi says:

    First of all…I really miss a lot when I don’t check this blog for a few days! 🙂

    Secondly – reading all of these comments has been great, to see so many perspectives and to hear other people’s views. And although I am still weighing out the issue of speaking only of abstinence or also including safe sex, the one thing that I whole heartedly agree with on these comments is the fact that our kids just plain don’t care and at the root of it all – we need to figure out how to get them to care!! My students (and their generation in general) have HUGE APATHY in TONS of areas: sex, school, parents, respect, etc. I could go on for days naming the things that they just don’t seem to care about.

    The fact is: somewhere, somewhere deep inside, they really do care, it’s just a matter of bringing that out. For years people were saying “Be different. Stand out from the crowd. Don’t care about what other people think of you.” And now? None of them do. They don’t care what parents think or youth pastors think or teachers, they’re just going to do what they want to do – regardless of consequences or the scars that will be left on their minds or bodies when it’s all said and done.

    All of that said – the one thing I DO know is that my God is big enough to combat that and any other thing, and we just have to trust and pray that the words we are speaking to our kids every Sunday/Wednesday/whatever are spirit filled and that the love of Jesus through us will somehow penetrate this generation of “cheap thrills” and “instant gratification.”

  22. Chico says:

    I’m not positive but I think we may be missing the point or maybe thinking too much “in the box.” OR perhaps I’m the one missing the point/question. Either way, here’s my 2 cents. I agree with everyone who says that we don’t really need to slam the kids with statistics because they hear that information all the time. At the same time, I don’t think abstinence ed really works because it more often than not comes down to “just don’t do it because the Bible says so.” Which, to most mature Christians is even a stretch. I honestly think that the best way to combat this is to on a weekly (or however often you meet) basis teach these kids WHO they are, because of WHOSE they are. It’s been my experience that teen sex is a direct result of the teen reaching for SOMETHING. Some feeling of acceptance, or attention, or a feeling of fitting in. But the bottom line I think is that the kids who really “get it” and have a strong relationship with Jesus do not need to take some abstinence pledge or anything “formal” like that. They know who and whose they are. They will come to that conclusion on their own through the Holy Spirit. I know kids who have done that. I don’t think the problem is that teens are sexually active. I think that’s a SYMPTOM of a heart issue.

    Now I’m really going to take it on the head when I say that I don’t think it’s our job as youth workers or even parents for that matter to ensure that our kids are not having premarital sex. Rather, I feel like it’s my job to prepare them to go out and face this world. To be IN it and not OF it. Should we give them all the information we possibly can? Absolutely. They need to be prepared for what they’re going to face. But at the end of the day, we can talk ’til we’re blue in the face and it’s still going to come down to their heart attitudes.

    Am I WAY off base here?

  23. matman says:

    to me the question is not about virginity, because so many teens claim virginity when they’ve done everything but. We need to advocate purity, which encompasses mind, spirit, and body. We need to teach the need to think consequentially, we need to teach them what boundaries are, how to set them, and why the need to set them, and teach them what to do when those boundaries are compromised. We need to do more than tell them to wait, we need to give them every reason in the book as to why they should wait, and share what are the consequences of not waiting. We need to provide for them media alternatives that advocate the pure lifestyle and teach them to use discernment when they are engaged in secular media. We need to share with them the truth about condoms, their ineffectiveness against skin to skin diseases, their low protection rate against bacterial diseases, and their primary role as reduction and not prevention. Above all, we need to do this between the ages of 10-12 because once they become a teenager the battle for purity is all uphill.