"Flee sexual immorality. Every sin that a man does is outside the body, but he who commits sexual immorality sins against his own body" (I Corinthians 6:18).
Perhaps no precept of scripture is as widely ignored as this one. Our society is absolutely obsessed with sex. Advertising, movies and television, printed material, popular music -- it all is filled to the brim with sex, lust, fornication, and adultery. Unfortunately, our young people are deeply affected by their environment. A Center for Disease Control study found that among ninth-graders 40% had committed fornication, with the numbers rising to 72% by the time children had reached the twelfth grade. The consequences of this behavior are staggering. Every year 3 million teens acquire a sexually transmitted disease. Every year more than one million teens become pregnant (that is 1 out of every 9 women aged 15-19).
If you are thinking "our" kids escape these statistics by virtue of their association with the Lord's church you can quit fooling yourself. Studies indicate that while "our" kids do not participate in sexual activity at quite the rate worldly children do, "our" children only lag about 20 points behind national averages. Satan is preaching a sermon about sex that kids want to hear, and they are willingly falling into his trap of lies and deception. What can be done?
With children, it is very important that we help them focus on the consequences of their behavior. Kids simply are not mature enough to always be obedient simply because they know they should do right, or out of love for mom and dad. Punishment works as a means to help children discipline themselves because it is a clearly spelled out consequence that they can understand and think about before they act (see Proverbs 23:13-14; 29:15). Unfortunately, some parents seem to think the only punishment applicable to premarital sex is hellfire. While fornicators will be so punished (Hebrews 13:4), it is not the only consequence of this sin. Solomon tells us the way of transgressors is hard (Proverbs 13:15) and never has this been more true than with sexual sin. As we help our children understand the painful consequences of fornication in the here and now, we help them stand strong for abstinence until they are old enough to trust God and submit to His will simply because "God said so."
What kind of consequences are there to premarital sex? Plenty! For example, children need to be told how sex before marriage can cause them to have false feelings of "love." One expert remarked "Sexual encounters outside of marriage . . . give an illusion of intimacy that can be mistaken for the lasting commitment that makes a marriage work." How many teens have gotten involved sexually, thought they had something great and so they married. Then they awaken in a nightmare -- trying to make a marriage work that has no foundation at all. See how God's law protects us?
Children also need to be told how sexual involvement before marriage will wreck their future relationships. Sex is such a powerful experience it cannot be forgotten. Then, once a person is married, it is inevitable that there will be comparisons to past relationships. Making matters worse, past memories have a tendency to become idealized. This results in young people who have frustration in their marriage because the physical relationship cannot possibly be as "good" as their romanticized past experiences. Now, one partner feels inadequate or haunted by the ghosts of the past -- does that sound like a solid, strong marriage? Hebrews 13:4 warns us not to defile the marriage bed, and that would include not defiling it with past relationships.
Another consequence of fornication is that it destroys our ability to be an influence for good. When we commit fornication we have compromised all that Christianity stands for. How is it possible for us to influence our boyfriend or girlfriend for Christ when we have shown that we are nothing but a hypocrite? What shame, humiliation, guilt, and problems fornication always brings. Your child may think he or she is a long way from hell's fires but these problems are here and now and can be understood. Use them to help your child understand why he or she should say "No!" to sex before marriage.
Clearly, a focus on consequence is the keystone of our defense against fornication. However, let me point out several other areas that need our attention as well. You need to love your child in a way that your child understands and can relate to. 93% of teen girls said having loving parents reduced the risks they'd have sex. Kids need love, acceptance, and understanding. If you don't give it to them they will find it elsewhere, even if it means trading sex for "love." You need to expect purity. The world is constantly preaching that children cannot possibly restrain themselves and that sex is inevitable. Stand out from that crowd. Be frank, be honest and be real -- but be clear that you expect that your child can do this and will do this.
My stomach still turns when I recall a conversation with a Christian who admitted he had given his boys contraceptives because he "just knew boys would be boys." What kind of attitude is this? How can we expect to win this battle when we have already thrown in the towel? You need to keep talking, keep trying, and keep loving your kids. Study after study reveals that parents have a powerful impact on their children, even when parents think they aren't "getting through." But just as you didn't teach table manners in one sitting, so you can't train in sexual purity in one talk either. Don't give up. Keep praying, keep talking, and keep working. You can do it -- because God will bless you when you teach your children to stand for righteousness and holiness.