A Light Topic for Today – Teenage Pregnancy

My husband just forwarded me an article from The New Yorker entitled Red Sex, Blue SexWhy do so many evangelical teen-agers become pregnant?

It’s basically comparing the views and practices of pre-marital sex between liberals and conservatives.  I don’t have time to write a thoughtful commentary on the information, so I’ll just pull out some quotes that I found interesting and leave you to read the article and share your thoughts in the comments.

First, a comforting statistic.

Close-knit families make a difference. Teen-agers who live
with both biological parents are more likely to be virgins than those
who do not. And adolescents who say that their families understand
them, pay attention to their concerns, and have fun with them are more
likely to delay intercourse, regardless of religiosity.

Now for a more startling statistic.

According to Add
Health data, evangelical teen-agers are more sexually active than
Mormons, mainline Protestants, and Jews. On average, white evangelical
Protestants make their "sexual début"—to use the festive term of
social-science researchers—shortly after turning sixteen. Among major
religious groups, only black Protestants begin having sex earlier.

Although, keep this in mind.

belief apparently does make a potent difference in behavior for one
group of evangelical teen-agers: those who score highest on measures of
religiosity—such as how often they go to church, or how often they pray
at home. But many Americans who identify themselves as evangelicals,
and who hold socially conservative beliefs, aren’t deeply observant.

Particularly interesting to me is the story of the teenage girl in the 2005 documentary, "The Education of Shelby Knox."  This is a teenager sworn to sexual purity who ended up becoming an activist
for comprehensive sex education because…

while abstinence pledges are lovely in the abstract,
they don’t acknowledge "reality."

This kind of sums it up.

Like other American teens,
young evangelicals live in a world of Internet porn, celebrity sex
scandals, and raunchy reality TV, and they have the same hormonal urges
that their peers have. Yet they come from families and communities in
which sexual life is supposed to be forestalled until the first night
of a transcendent honeymoon. Regnerus writes, "In such an atmosphere,
attitudes about sex may formally remain unchanged (and
restrictive) while sexual activity becomes increasingly common.


Of all variables,
the age at marriage may be the pivotal difference between red and blue


…women who marry before their mid-twenties
are significantly more likely to divorce than those who marry later.
And younger couples are more likely to be contending with two of the
biggest stressors on a marriage: financial struggles and the birth of a
baby before, or soon after, the wedding.

Back to the teenage activist Shelby Knox:

She testified that it’s possible
to "believe in abstinence in a religious sense," but still understand
that abstinence-only education is dangerous "for students who simply
are not abstaining." As Knox’s approach makes clear, you don’t need to
break out the sex toys to teach sex ed—you can encourage teen-agers to
postpone sex for all kinds of practical, emotional, and moral reasons.
A new "abstinence-plus" curriculum, now growing in popularity, urges
abstinence while providing accurate information about contraception and
reproduction for those who have sex anyway. "Abstinence works," Knox
said at the hearing. "Abstinence-only-until-marriage does not."

I’m tempted to agree.  What say you? 

The article is long, but well worth a read.  Let me know what you think!

Join The Conversation

21 Responses

  1. Yes, and that disclaimer was made in the article. There were so many quotes I wanted to pull that I didn’t in the interest of time. It’s a worthwhile article to read.

  2. My take is that you can’t just say, “don’t do it.”
    I feel I would have made wiser decisions with MORE information, not less. I was so naive that I wasn’t able to make informed decisions beforehand – teenagers aren’t that great at making wise decisions on the spot. 😉

    I agree with the line of thought that families need to be closer, parents need to be more understanding, better listeners, etc. The scary thing is that I look at my little girls, knowing that begins now, and knowing how often I tire of their chatter and send them away to play.

  3. Deep thoughts for Halloween. I believe abstinence only is not the way to teach – I believe in it whole heartedly – but I agree the reality is that the fear, the hiding, and the deceit that can go along with other choices can be very scary if safe sex is not taught along side.

    I could ramble on for hours but have to get he forgotten reatainer case off to school (1st day with it and mommy said she’d grab it then left it on the counter!)


  4. As someone who married at 20 I hear the ‘marriages in the early 20’s tend to fail’ alot. Fortunately it is not a guarantee of failure.

    I would definitely say that teaching safe sex is essential regardless of whether abstinence is the reality for that person or not. Even after marriage taking control of and responsibility for fertility is important.

  5. Trendy and ‘normal’ though it may be, I will never, ever agree with premarital sex. It’s so depressing how many girls have babies because they had sex before they were ready to have children. And it’s SO easy to stop. But people are too selfish. Too short-sighted. Too concerned about what other people think and do. And to ask or expect educators (or anyone, really) to imply that it’s acceptable to have sex whenever, with whomever, to weigh in on whether or not it’s ‘wrong’, is crossing a serious line, in my book. Why is it the place of an educator, an ‘activist,’ or ANYONE other than me, to decide what my child hears about sex?

  6. Wow – great topic and good debate.

    I think the whole “waiting for marriage” thing isn’t realistic when people are waiting til their 30’s to get married.

    I don’t believe in teaching abstinence – I don’t think its realistic. From what I’ve read and experienced, kids brought up with a solid sense of self-esteem and self-worth wait much longer than kids solely taught abstinence.

    The kids I knew who did wait ended up married with 2 or 3 kids by the time they were 22 and divorced a few years later. Is that the better option?

  7. As a former abstinence educator (and someone who waited until they were married to have sex), I can definitely attest to the fact that tons of teens are having sex, and many of them are blatantly not using protection. They don’t even care about protection!

    Our program encouraged abstinence and gave real facts about why abstinence is the only fool proof way to not have to deal with the consequences of having premarital sex. We didn’t use scare tactics like some programs, and failure rates all forms of birth control were given. The scariest thing that I heard time and again was the misconception that if one condom wasn’t foolproof, they would just use two. They had no idea how misleading that line of thinking was.

    Many of the teens I taught honestly did not know abstinence was a choice. They just thought they “had” to have sex because their friends were.

    My son is only 2, and thankfully, I have a few more years before I even need to think about this with him.

  8. My issue is that people tend to think in terms of the two extremes…either saying “Don’t Do it!” and leaving it at that, or throwing condoms at the kids. I just wish that some sex ed advocates would ADMIT that abstinence IS an option, and it IS possible. I firmly do not believe in abstinence only education. Abstinence Plus is a GREAT way to put it.

  9. I am a huge advocate for education. With parents who are willing to speak honestly and educate their children on the realities of sex along with their spiritual beliefs, I believe a strength is able to be born and maintained. The problem is, in many Christian families this isn’t done. Most of the time sex is simply portrayed as this very bad and dirty thing. The teens resolve to abstain from it is born out of fear of disappointing family or fear of getting in trouble. There is no foundational strength…

  10. I’m wondering whether social conservatives would be better off if they married even younger (like 17, 18), but delayed childbearing for five or six years after marrying. That way, if the marriage fails, no kids would be harmed.

    Obviously this wouldn’t work for people opposed to contraception within marriage.

  11. I can attest to many evangelical kids having sex. Kids in my youth group (20+ years ago) were having sex all the time. I even had someone ask that I would pray that they would not get pregnant as they continued to have sex.

    You have to be very open and honest with your kids (be age appropriate of course). We have had very open conversations with our girls. They know that we were virgins when we got married but it was VERY difficult. They continue to ask me questions about sex and I give them an honest answer.

    Wow – that is a deep subject for a Friday!


  12. I think the issue with abstinence only education is that the programs try to do it in the schools outside of a Godly framework, and only address the physical issues, not the emotional or spiritual ones.

    “Don’t do it” doesn’t work when you don’t understand why not. And fear of something that *might happen isn’t enough to balance our sexual culture, “love” and hormones.

    I think it should be taught in the biblical context that God is our creator and He knows us better than anyone. He is not trying to be our killjoy by saying “Don’t do it”; He loves us and is trying to tell us that there are beautiful rewards to waiting until you are married. The focus shouldn’t be “Don’t do it”; it should be “Wait for the beautiful moment.”

    Have you seen Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants? Do you remember Bridget asking: “How can something that is supposed to make you feel so complete make you feel so empty?”

    I struggle with this issue. I really don’t want to say to my kids: “Wait, but if you choose not to here’s the way out.” On the other hand, if Sleeping Beauty had been taught what a spinning wheel was and told of the danger to her, it’s likely she would not have gotten her finger pricked.

    So, I think I ultimately come down on the side of kids have to be taught the complete picture- the risks and that there are ways to protect themselves, even if not foolproof. And I personally think that part of teaching protection is teaching them to pay attention to the situations they choose to put themselves in in the first place. If purity is something they desire, then they should not be alone for hours at a time with someone. Or drink too much. That is just setting themselves up. Don’t we all know someone that was planning to wait, but ending up in an emotional moment making a decision they regretted?

  13. Weavermom, I appaud you. You said EVERYTHING I was thinking, and then some. The thing is, Christians are taught that sex has a purpose, it’s a mirror image, if you will, of the relationship that God has with his children. Left up to the public school system, it’s turned into nothing more than a simple pleasure-filled act. In which you may or may not contract an STD, in which a (young) woman may or may not end up pregnant. The problem I have with sex education is that it is in the hands of “educators”. When did parents stop parenting? When did it become the responsibility of the education system to teach our kids about social issues? Schools should stick to what they were designed for-reading, math, science etc. Let the parents deal with everything else. THAT is what will build family unity – parents being involved in their kid’s worlds and kids feeling valued as a result.

  14. This quote from the article sums it up for me:
    Social liberals in the country’s “blue states” tend to support sex education and are not particularly troubled by the idea that many teen-agers have sex before marriage, but would regard a teen-age daughter’s pregnancy as devastating news. And the social conservatives in “red states” generally advocate abstinence-only education and denounce sex before marriage, but are relatively unruffled if a teen-ager becomes pregnant, as long as she doesn’t choose to have an abortion.

    It is obvious that people need a reality check in this country. They think STDs and/or teen pregnancy is a problem you can solve with a condom. And it isn’t. (Even kids whose parents tell them to have sex, just be safe, can end up pregnant or with an STD. And for some reason that’s devastating??? I don’t get that at all.)

    Just like the solution to other health issues is meds, the solution to teen pregnancy is condoms.

    Take diabetes for instance. (Hopefully this generalization won’t offend anyone!) Some diabetes is preventable. But in order to prevent it a person may have to ABSTAIN from certain dietary practices.

    Is that what most people do?

    No. They live their “lifestyle” eat what they want, and end up with the disease.

    I guess all I am saying is that our entitlement attitude is the main problem with this issue, imo.

    I personally do not think you need to tell your kids to totally abstain from everything sexual, which is my understand of the whole “abstinence only” way of teaching. Cuz if you are HONEST, and I think parents should be HONEST, can you tell them YOU abstained from everything sexual until your honeymoon?? And besides, they are obviously going to have these sexual urges. The BIBLE says so!!

    I just had a talk about this with my 13 yo today. Is that weird or what? haha And here is the main point I tried to tell my dd about sex as a teen: I respected my body. I wanted to be healthy. I wanted to be respectful of my parents and I did not want to be ashamed of myself.

    Just like I do not want to get diabetes. I do not want to get STDs. And there is a chart in the Health department that shows that if you are having sex with two people, you have had sex with all their partners in essence. It is a good chart, imo!

    To me it is common sense… keep yourself from stuff that could harm your body and your self-esteem.

    So, are you glad I read your blog today? That was slightly long winded of me! LOL

  15. This is a great discussion with so many good opinions! I agree with the Abstinence plus program. We live in a day and age of information and its only fair to be honest with our kids.

    I also think that parents should not have “the talk” on one particular day but instead have an ongoing dialogue about sex. I want my daughters to be able to ask and/or talk to me about anything.

  16. I think that teens need to get all the facts. I believe that abstinence needs to be taught but I believe that all the facts need to be given. I am a born again Christian and grew up in a PCA church with plenty of girls and guys who were having sex. I agree with the comments that say that sex needs to be taught not as forbidden but with it’s true biblical purpose to glorify God inside marriage.

    I have a young daughter and I am already praying that when she is old enough, God will give me the words to correctly talk about sex with her.

  17. Great topic. Just because the schools teach sex ed, doesn’t mean it is only in their hands. We parents should be sure that we are teaching it at home, with the emphasis on what we believe and why. Unfortunately, so many parents don’t talk to their kids, and so the schools really do have to somehow provide some information to the kids. It’s definitely not ideal, but some kids would never have decent information otherwise.

    Today, kids are encouraged to wait until they are almost 30 to get married, and we just aren’t wired to stay celibate that long. I’m not saying it’s impossible of course, but that most will find it much harder to remain pure that long. And of course fertility sometimes becomes an issue later in life too. I think many kids feel a huge pressure to marry later to be socially acceptable, and they realize they won’t want to wait that long. It’s sad. If they knew it was alright to marry at say 22 instead, the wait might not look so unending.

    We’ve raised our kids telling them that God expects us to enjoy sex within marriage and to not cheapen it by having partners outside marriage. That said, we also gave them all the practical information so they would know that too. They are living in such a suggestive society that I think it would be irresponsible to not give them all the information they need to make wise decisions. And we realize that if they wait, they will probably be married at a younger age.

  18. I have read most of the article, as time has permitted today! I was intrigued by the catorizing of how “blue v. red” states feel about premarital sex and the possible end result of pregnancy. As a more liberal reader of this blog, I want to add that while I agree there should be sex education, which includes a thorough explanation of why abstinence is important, I also want to point out that there are many people in our country who don’t attend church or daily rely on God’s wisdom and the bible to guide them. This doesn’t make them a poor role model for their child, but it does limit some concrete (per se) foundation on which to offer their child of why to wait. I don’t believe that it is the school’s place to teach sex education which includes references to the bible as there is separation of church and state within the public school system. I do, agree, however, that parents need to take the lead (as with every other aspect of their children’s upbringing) and discuss sexuality as it pertains their beliefs along with the realities of our world. We must not forget about those children who are raised in a less than ideal situation and don’t have families on which to rely on for support and guidance. Ultimately open communication from an early age will help our children succeed in life and strong, confident individuals.

  19. Great comments so far! Here’s my opinion as a former youth minister and now a mom:

    Sex education cannot be one dimensional. It should take place in the home, the church, and the school. We always did a sex talk with our youth group kids.

    Abstinence until marriage (even marriage in your 30s!) DOES WORK! But God has to be the center of it. We cannot expect kids to be scared away from the forbidden fruit. We need to tell them why God wants them to remain pure until marriage. How much better it is emotionally, spiritually, and physically to only experience sex in the marriage bed.

    Evangelicals need to get their heads out of the sand and start being real with their kids about sex. Teenage sex does happen, and we cannot expect our kids to be equipped with the proper knowledge if we are not talking to them as parents. Yes, there are tons of temptations and mixed messages out there, but that doesn’t mean that a well-informed Christian teenager needs to be ignorant or ill-informed about such things.

    The key – parents, talk to your kids about sex. Our little one is only 17 months old and Hubby and I are already discussing how we will discuss this topic with her. It’s never too early or too late, parents!

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