Chastity Lifestyle Education

Did you hear the new statistic about premarital sex? 90% of people surveyed have had premarital sex.

The results of the analysis indicate that premarital sex is highly normative behavior. Almost all individuals of both sexes have intercourse before marrying, and the proportion has been roughly similar for the past 40 years.

As I understand it, the goals of sex education are to reduce the number of premarital (and perhaps extramarital) sexual encounters (define it as you may), reduce the number of STD cases, and/or reduce the frequency of school-aged mothers (again define as you may).

The U.S. already has many programs: abstinence only, give them the facts, a mixture of the last two, just give them a condom already, abortion as birth control, self-mutilation, and the morning after pill.

In my opinion, “Abstinence Only Education” is a step in the right direction; however, I would go further to the realm of “Chastity Lifestyle Education”.

Using fear in “Abstinence Only Education”, by forcing girls to make contracts with their fathers and wear promise jewelry, is not the way to go. These forces quickly come loose in anyone’s memory. (Same goes for the guys.)

Instead, with “Chastity Lifestyle Education” young people may come to understand that their body is not something to be used and discarded but something to be cherished and that physical, mental, and spiritual intimacy needs to be nurtured over a lifetime. This new life view taught by “Chastity Lifestyle Education” may not unravel as easily as the methods mentioned above. (But as I say, “Anybody is capable of anything at any time. Pray to God that He may help you.”)

Of course the “Why Chastity?” will be asked. That’s the catch with “Chastity Lifestyle Education”. God cannot enter into play for many schools, but the ultimate sex education comes from the Creator of sex (as wonderfully explained by Pope John Paul II). Until “Chastity Lifestyle Education” takes place, no real headway will be made toward the goals of sex education.

Can you tell I’m pessimistic about U.S. sex education curricula and outcomes?

What do you think?

33 thoughts on “Chastity Lifestyle Education

  1. Rob

    Typo: “Fathers’” That would be the plural possessive. What do the fathers possess? You didn’t say. From contact, I suspect you meant “fathers” (no need for the capitalized F, either).

    Sorry, I’ve been a pain since reading that book on punctuation. I highly recommend Eats, Shoots and Leaves, by the way.

    The actual statistic is a bit different (and more complicated) than simply saying 90%. You can read the whole paper here, but perhaps the most startling summary in the paper is:

    by age 44, 95% of respondents (94% of women, 96% of men, and 97% of those who had ever had sex) had had premarital sex.

    Your summary of current sex education programs is a bit absurd and improperly conflates birth control with sex education and abortion and emergency contraception with birth control. Hey, it’s your column and I’ve certainly been known to use hyperbole in my own posts, but I think your example should serve to me as a reminder of why it’s neither helpful nor particularly elegant.

    You claim “Chastity Lifestyle Education” needs to take place. Now, if I remember right, Catholics make up more than 5% of the U.S. population. Why hasn’t your church been doing this already? My experience with Catholics (and Protestants) is that a lot of churches are afraid to touch the subject, a lot of parents give the priests or ministers crap for bringing it up (they fired one in my church when I was in high school — kids should simply never learn about sex) and even when they do teach it, it doesn’t work.

    This isn’t a modern problem. A study of the relationship between first pregnancy and wedding date using available historical records for the United States (from colonial times until the 1920s) indicates that 50% of first births were severely premature and an extraordinary number should not have survived, even given decent medical care which was not available. A more plausible solution is that the pregnancies were the reason for the marriage. So you can’t blame this on God being taken out of the school system. If anything, the situation may have gotten marginally better since that landmark decision — a frightening concept.

    When it does work, those who remain virgins until marriage (or limit their sexual encounters) tend to wind up very messed up about marital sex, having been brainwashed into thinking it’s “wrong.” Somehow, the marriage ceremony doesn’t undo all the previous training.

    [Insert typical Rob complaint about St. Augustine, who was very messed up about sex.]

    In Biblical times, people tended to marry shortly after puberty. This eliminates a lot of the problems of waiting for marriage.

    In today’s society, most adults cannot get married before at least 21 years old, leaving a 10-15 year window minimum between the onset of puberty and marriage. Far too many people wind up marrying either because they had sex or because they can’t wait to have sex. This doesn’t do much for the divorce rate, either.

    I have no idea what the solution is. I could offer suggestions about hormone injections or genetic engineering to delay puberty, Depo Provera to eliminate sexual urges, or dropping the average age of marriage to something reasonable — say 12-15 years old, thus limiting the necessity for interminable opportunities for premarital sex before marriage.

    But that’s hyperbole, and I’m trying to avoid it. Even when it appears to be the only reasonable solution.

    Realistically, I have no solution.

  2. Rob

    BTW: Because of the underdevelopment of children’s brains (anyone under 25), reasoning is a bad approach. You don’t want them to think about why they don’t want to do something. They overthink problems and tend to get lost in the process. Contrary to what parents say, it’s not that the child wasn’t thinking; it’s that the child did think, but the brain just ain’t up to thinking well yet.

    Children are brain-damaged. Once you understand that, a lot of things make sense.

    Chastity Lifestyle Education should, according to neurology, make children more likely to engage in premarital sex.

    Informing the child that premarital sex will result in either expulsion from the family or death might work better, but you’d have to be prepared to invoke the death penalty a couple times before you’re believed.

    Fascinating: the advert down below is promoting this. Seriously!

  3. Jeff Miller

    Considering that the study was funded by Guttmaker institute, an arm of Planned Parenthood, I would not give it much credence – but the fact is truly that the trend in fornication is only moving upward.

  4. Rob


    The study was based on information recorded by the Federal Government that is available freely on the web. The study just took the available data and performed standard epidemiology-style analysis on it. A cursory look through several years of data shows the results are plausible. I didn’t feel like crunching the entire set of dataset, and my last course in SPSS was in 1978 using FORTRAN and JCL.

    If you’re going to argue the government dataset isn’t accurate because too many people refused to take the survey, that won’t work. The number refusing was small and not enough to change the overall results significantly.

    If you’re going to argue the people lied to the government, you’d find that, if anything, it should have made the rate of premarital sex appear lower than it truly is. The data in the data set must be adjusted to accommodate actual abortion rates. Not so with pre-marital sex.

    The definition of sex used is “penetrative vaginal sex more than a month prior to the wedding.” Using a less Clintonesque definition would make the results even worse. Using a definition that insisted on virginity on the wedding night would have the same effect.

    That it compares with data from historical records tends to further support it.

    The trend in fornication has been pretty stable over the past 200+ years. That’s interesting in its own right. There’s all the reasons cited for increased sexual activity — music, movie, video games, increased time between puberty and marriage, etc., but that hasn’t made a significant effect.

    Sticking your fingers in your ears and humming loudly won’t make it go away. If you’re going to say the study is suspect or wrong, you need to demonstrate it, not simply imply that it must be because of an association with Planned Parenthood.

  5. Rob

    The study by Dr. Lawrence Finer, published in January/February 2007 Public Health Reports is available online in .pdf format.

    Public Health Reports is available in the restricted catalog of the Carnegie Library in the Oakland section of Pittsburgh. I’d doubt there’d be any difference in the online and published papers, but if someone wants to check, you can.

    The National Survey of Family Growth web site has all the data used in the Finer study.

    The Statistical Package for the Social Sciences (SPSS) is available for Windows (SPSS® Base 15.0 for Windows®) for the small price of $1599. I’m not sure, but you might need the non-linear regression module, unless you can write your own. That’s only $799. Perhaps a less powerful package might work, but looking at the price list, I don’t have the cash, and if I did, I’d buy a USB microscope instead.

    I can’t remember who did the study on historical marriage dates and birth dates in the United States, and I’m not up for searching for it. This cold has now been going on 9 days, and I’d swear the medicine is making me crabby.

  6. Tom Smith

    “When it does work, those who remain virgins until marriage (or limit their sexual encounters) tend to wind up very messed up about marital sex, having been brainwashed into thinking it’s ‘wrong.’ Somehow, the marriage ceremony doesn’t undo all the previous training.”

    That seems a little weird. No one, at least to my knowledge, is out there teaching kids that sex is wrong. If your kid has sexual problems because you told him that he should wait until he’s married, you screwed up in the parenting process. That’s not a problem with the idea that sex is appropriate only in marriage, but with the getting across of the message.

    “Children are brain-damaged. Once you understand that, a lot of things make sense.”

    That seems like a bit of a severe statement. Are you sure it’s the children who are brain-damaged?

  7. Rob

    Teaching that sex is wrong before marriage often results in difficulties after. Augustine actually taught that it would be better for married couples to never have sex. The problem seems to be that the mental effort required to not have sex before marriage damages people’s attitudes toward it in marriage in unanticipated ways. This is known to psychologists, and I’ve had to deal with it personally.

    Children (25 and under, with some being older than 25, some younger, depending upon brain maturity) make impulsive decisions. Examination of the decision-making process in children vs. adults shows that the children tend to make poorer decisions than adults do, and even when they make the correct decisions, it tends to be much more difficult for them to do so. Neurology demonstrates that the brain is not fully formed in the child — important areas in the brain actually regress at the time of puberty and don’t recover until much later.

    People who don’t ever have that area of the brain mature tend to be criminals or make exceedingly poor life decisions throughout their lives.

    So yes, I am sure it’s the children that are off and not the adults.

    Referring to it as “brain damage” is an allusion to a Bill Cosby routine — a routine most neurologists also seem to reference, because it describes what they are trying to get across.

  8. Stuff

    I also don’t have sweeping answers for society as a whole, but I have to agree with Tom that much of the problem is a parenting one.

    I got a great book on this subject for Christmas from an author Funky knows – Greg Popcak. It’s called Beyond the Birds and the Bees, and it’s based heavily on the works of John Paul II, especially his Theology of the Body. It’s a guide written for parents to help them know how to teach their children from birth through adolescence about sexuality.

    I don’t have time for an indepth summary, but some of the point I found most important are that chastity (as a description both of sexual wholeness and sexual holiness) is something that is caught moreso than taught. I hope that since my own kids see my husband and I living chastely and joyfully in our marriage, they will be willing to trust us when we teach them what their bodies – sexual, spiritual, phsychological, etc. – are all about (simple answer being communion).

    I think (and I could be wrong) that the post itself sought to distinguish between teaching children/adolescents that “sex is wrong” before marriage (abstinence education), and teaching that sex is a beautiful gift best given in marriage. Mr. Popcak does a good job of describing it as a delicious fruit that does not ripen until a couple is grounded in solid, Christian friendship (meaning both help each other to be more of the person God created them to be) that is sealed with the lifelong commitment of marriage.

    this kind of teaching, I think, comes best from homes, not schools, but it is truly possible and worthwhile – I know many teens who are healthy, happy, and chaste because of their loving, joyfully chaste parents.

  9. Tom Smith

    “The problem seems to be that the mental effort required to not have sex before marriage damages people’s attitudes toward it in marriage in unanticipated ways.”

    So you’re saying that it’s just too harrrrrrrrd? Wah. If you’re weak-willed enough that you can’t keep your pants zipped, there are bigger issues at hand than “sexual problems.”

  10. Tom Smith

    “Augustine actually taught that it would be better for married couples to never have sex.”

    I have heard this in many places before. Do you know the primary source from which it is taken?

  11. Tom Smith

    After a (very) brief perusal of some internet resources on Augustine’s view of marital sex, it seems that the notion that Augustine disdained it is found in the writings of Julian the Apostate. Augustine in his responses to the Emperor, denies that he looks down upon conjugal union or sexual pleasure.

    See this link, particularly in the section “Augustine and sexual pleasure.”

  12. Funky Dung

    The Statistical Package for the Social Sciences (SPSS) is available for Windows (SPSS® Base 15.0 for Windows®) for the small price of $1599. I’m not sure, but you might need the non-linear regression module, unless you can write your own. That’s only $799.

    Or, if you’re a student, faculty, or staff at Pitt, you can get it for $10. 🙂

  13. Steve Nicoloso

    So friggin’ what? 98% of boys masturbate, and the other 2% are known to be compulsive liars… and who never lied before marriage, or never disobeyed their parents before marriage, or harbored bitterness in their hearts, or took something they had no right to, or worshipped and served created things rather than Almighty God–in short, who never committed grave sins before (or after) marriage? The solution? Confess early, confess often, do yer penance, eat and drink Jesus Christ, and pray… a lot. Oh, and a bit of mortification couldn’t hurt (so to speak). Sin admits of no solution other than the completed work of Christ… let us not then put our hopes in programs, wrongheaded or otherwise.

  14. John

    To take it back to the question of sexual education, you’ve got to decide ahead of time what the goal of the program is.
    I tend to see sexual education programs, and certainly publically funded ones, as public health initiatives. In which case it the conclusion that premarital sex is “normative” has tremendous importance. If that’s the case, then we should probably accept it and try to mitigate its potential social harm by encouraging safe sex.
    In this analogy, the goal of sexual education is to cut down on STDs and children born to single parents who don’t have the capacity to care for them, just as alcohol education seeks to minimize drunk driving and liver disease.

  15. Funky Dung

    The problem with your approach, John, is that it ignores the issue of whether or not premarital sex should be normative. If as a society we decide that it should not, part of our public health funding should go to initiatives to change the norm.

    Also, regarding mitigating potential social harm, in addition to treating symptoms, doctors try to find and treat underlying causes of those symptoms, and I’d prefer social health programs to attempt the same.

    Put another way, a stitch in time saves nine, an ounce of prevention beats a pound of cure, and reserving sex for marriage would be far better for social health than any prophylactic education, no matter how successful.

  16. John

    It would seem that society has decided that it should be normative. They would seem to have voted with their feet on this one. The less than ten percent of the population who disagrees can try to bring the others around, but they haven’t yet.

    Also, public policy has to be pragmatic. It’s pretty feasible to get people to practice safer sexual habbits. There is zero reason to believe that we can have any broad success in trying to convince people not to have premartital sex. People have tried for a thousand years and haven’t had any luck. You’re throwing away tax dollars if you try.

  17. edey

    instead of just saying “people are having sex so we should just deal with it”, why not ask “why are people having premarital sex?” and go from there. why not teach people, especially teenage girls, about their dignity and self worth? why not get to the root of the problem?

  18. John

    Are you honestly going to tell me that ninety percent of women in the nation have no sense of self worth? For that matter, why is it more degrading to women to have premarital sex than to men? That’s a little outlandish.

    As to the root cause of the problem, we know it. We’ve evolved to begin mating around the age of thirteen or fourteen, but our societal developments require us to put that off for ten or more years. The interesting question is not why ninety percent of people have premarital sex, it’s why the remaining ten percent do not.

    On the whole, this discussion seems somewhat disingenuous. Every generation has premarital sex, turns out fine, and then turns to their children and says “it’ll ruin your life”

  19. Funky Dung

    I haven’t read the study, so perhaps someone who has can clear up some details for me. I’m curious if age of first encounter and number of premarital encounters were recorded. One or two enounters prior to marriage is not the same as frequent casual sex. Also, as people wait longer and longer to get married, odds that they’ll succumb to pressure and have sex before marriage increase. If the 90% reported means “at least once”, I’m not terribly impressed or convinced that people have “voted with their feet”. Just because someone’s done something at least once doesn’t mean they’re proud of it, intend to do it again, or want others to do it.

  20. Steve Nicoloso

    Just because X% of a people do (even once) something “once considered wrong” doesn’t mean that same X% think it a moral good that should be encouraged. I think you would be very hard pressed to find 50%, much less 90%, of the US population who would agree with the proposition: “Sexual education should encourage premarital sexual behavior.” You might attract a few more with the slightly weaker proposition: “Sexual education should be indifferent to premarital sexual behavior.” That is, of course, a proposition that well describes the current state of sexual education in the US… and can anyone really argue that it is “working”? But I have to admit complete apathy toward the question, since I don’t consider it the province of government (and absolutely not the federal gov’t) to teach children anything, much less about sex.

  21. John

    I would have to say that our current sexual education programs have been very successful. We have seen a steady decline in HIV transmission and in out of wedlock childbirths.
    In contrast we can look at the “War on Drugs” and see that there’s been between a 300 and 500 percent increase in drug deaths in the past decade.
    Also, the idea that the government should teach children anything is lunacy. Would you do away with all public education? And if you are aversed to the government intruding in how you teach your children, would that be an argument in favor of value-neutral sexual education. There is a body of biological knowledge which is not seriously in dispute. Let the schools teach them that and leave it to the parents to help with interpretting those facts.

  22. Laudemus

    “One or two enounters prior to marriage is not the same as frequent casual sex.”

    Yet the major statistic being cited — that 90% of people have premarital sex — doesn’t appear to draw distinctions in the number of encounters. (I did read at least part of the study…)

    I was talking to a pastor about chastity the other week, and he told me that a majority of engaged couples end up engaging in premarital sex after they are engaged, even the ones who have abstained until that point. He thinks it’s because they are already thinking of themselves as married. (And I would have to concur that sexual temptation does increase during engagement.) Regardless of the reason, though, having sex with one’s fiance — as the first and only partner — is different than having sex with each and every guy or girl one meets in a bar.

    And if the study lumps both of these situations together as simple premarital sex, it isn’t telling the whole story.

  23. John

    While it didn’t include that, it did exclude sex had within a month of marriage, which should mitigate some of the betrothed shenanigance.

  24. Laudemus

    One other possible problem with these statistics: They don’t reflect whether the sex was consensual.

    Given that somewhere around 25% of women will be victims of a sexual assault (defined broadly) in their life, there is likely to be a group of women in those statistics whose virginity was lost through no fault of their own. Of course, it’s another question altogether as to whether these victims would report themselves as non-virgins, or whether they had subsequent consensual sexual experiences.

    I began thinking about this the other night… not sure why, but the fact that the study doesn’t seem to account for this does trouble me.

  25. Lorraine Poyorena

    Does anyone know how we came to define “fornication” as premarital sex in the American Dictionary when the Hebrew Lexicon defines it otherwise?

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