Helping Your Teen Say No to Sex

Josh D. McDowell


Dear Mr. McDowell,
Having premarital sex was the most horrifying experience of my life. It wasn’t at all the emotionally satisfying experience the world deceived me into believing. I felt as lf my insides were being exposed and my heart left unattended. I know God has forgiven me of this haunting sin, but I also know I can never have my virginity back. I dread the day that I have to tell the man I truly love and wish to marry that he is not the only one – though I wish he were. I have stained my life – a stain that will never come out.

– Monica

I would be encouraged if Monica’s situation were the exception to the rule and that most of our youth from Christian homes were not struggling with premarital sex. but it’s not.

Consider our 1987 “Why Wait?” study on teen sexual attitudes and behavior in the evangelical church. We scientifically surveyed 1,400 kids and learned that by age 18, 45 percent of churched youth have engaged in sexual intercourse, and another 18 percent have fondled breasts or genitals. Additionally, 56 percent of the youths said they were not able to state that sexual intercourse was morally unacceptable before marriage!

My wife, Dottie, and I are the proud parents of four children. We don’t want them to suffer the pain that Monica and thousands of others have experienced. Yet, unless we take definitive steps to reverse the trends, the moral convictions of our children may also be eroded.

At every turn society tells our kids: “If it feels good, do it” and “Life only comes around once, live it to the fullest, now!” The radio screeches out songs like “Tonight’s the Night” and MTV vividly illustrates lewd and suggestive lyrics. By and large, secular broadcast media do little to reinforce moral values or demonstrate the consequences of irresponsible moral behavior. When was the last time you saw a secular TV program show a person contracting a sexually transmitted disease or portray a broken teenager suffering through an unplanned pregnancy?

Society’s false and distorted messages on love and sex are having a devastating affect on the basic moral convictions of our young people. Those basic moral convictions once held by a previous generation are apparently not being passed on to our present generation. And a generation without moral convictions is a generation crumbling under the pressures of a secular world view.

History shows that when a generation fails to know why they believe what they believe, their convictions are in danger of being undermined. Today, perhaps more than at any other time, we lack a “sexual apologetic” — a sound defense for our moral convictions. As one 18-year-old told me: “I was asking questions about Christianity and not having them answered. I was seeking reasons not to have premarital sex, and couldn’t find any.” If your child and mine don’t learn why God said to wait until marriage to enjoy sex, they will lack the foundational basis for their moral convictions.

The Bible is quite clear on this subject. For when Paul admonished, “. . . this is the will of God, your sanctification; that is, that you abstain from sexual immorality” (1 Thess. 4:5), he did so in the positive. One of the greatest truths you can share with your child about saying no is that inherent within every negative command in the Bible there are two positive principles: 1) it is meant to protect us; and 2) to provide for us.

God knows that if sex is going to be meaningful, it must be experienced within a loving commitment of marriage. His laws, restrictions and commands are actually for our good (Deut. 10:12-15). They establish the boundaries and guidelines that define maximum love, relationships and sex.

As much as possible, explain to your children this basic truth behind the restrictions God places upon them. Be sure to communicate that both you and God want only what is best for them. Eventually the point will get through: you love them and your loving limits — that come from a loving God — are to protect and provide for them.

Here are effective arguments — from spiritual, emotional and physical perspectives — that you can use to describe the reasons why God wants your child to wait until marriage to enjoy sexual relations.

Protection from God’s Judgment

Fundamentally, there is only one primary reason to abstain from premarital sex — because God says so. There are many reasons He gives for prohibiting us, but His ‘Thou shalt not’s” should be sufficient when we believe His restrictions are for our best interests. Hebrews 15:4 says that “marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral.”

When the Bible says we reap what we sow, it would certainly apply to immoral acts. Judgment will surely fall on the disobedient — a good reason to follow the commands that God has given to us.

Protect the Mind from Sexual Comparisons

Some of the most beautiful relationships I have seen were destroyed through the programming of the most important and sensitive sex organ — the mind. One of the fallouts of premarital sex is the continual fear of sexual comparison — comparing the sexual performance of one against the other. A mind programmed with unhealthy sexual experiences can come back to haunt us as “sexual ghosts.”

Scores of young people have told how they battle with the fear of sexual comparison. In many cases, it has actually been the cause of breaking up relationships. Give an example to your child from your own life or the life of another of how “reruns in the theater of the mind” cause problems before and after marriage.

Protect from Suspicion and Provide Trust

Most marriage counselors will tell you that one of the key factors to a fulfilled marriage and sexual relationship is trust. And premarital sex, to varying degrees, erodes the trust factor in a relationship.

When a husband or wife knows the other has waited to have sex until after marriage it strengthens that trust factor. And one of the best motivations for continued fidelity in marriage is again trust. If you waited in your own relationship, share with your child how waiting secured trust in your marriage.

Share all these truths convincingly within the positive context of God’s provision and protection. But while the reasons to wait are important to helping your child say no to sexual pressures, they only address one side of the problem. The flip side involves a close relationship between you and your child.

Protect from Fear and Provide Peace of Mind

Today, perhaps more than any other time, there is widespread fear of contracting a sexually transmitted disease. In the next 24 hours, more than 55,000 Americans will get a sexually transmitted disease — that’s 13 million people in the next year! A few years ago, there were just five of these diseases — today there are more than 54. And with the advent of the killer AIDS virus, medical doctors are becoming prophets of doom.

Surgeon General C. Everett Koop and others predict that unless cures are found or lifestyles are changed by the year 2000, our plague-stricken generation could be sterile or give birth to more infected or deformed children.

God wants to protect us from the nightmare of being infected with diseases and provide us with peace of mind. God certainly had our children’s best interests at heart when He said that we should abstain from sexual immorality (1 Thess. 4:3).

Rules Without a Relationship Equal Rebellion

Danny was from a Christian home and had come to me for advice.

“Sometimes I feel so alone — like no one cares,” he said. “My folks live in their adult world and I live in my teenage world. It didn’t always seem to be that way. I know it sounds crazy, but I want them to leave me alone and yet, I want to be a part of their lives.”

Danny looked up and gazed past me as he spoke more slowly. “Most of the time, they do leave me alone and It gets pretty lonely.”

I’m afraid Danny’s feelings, representative of so many today, are a contributing cause of sexual involvement. Studies show that of those teens that are sexually active, 58 percent feel they have never gotten to know their father and 40 percent believe they have never gotten to know their mother.

This sense of feeling alienated from the family is one reason why many young people are extremely susceptible to sexual involvement. Yet, it is not sex they are seeking. A young lady wrote me recently and in three succinct sentences identified where millions of young people are at today:

Mr. McDowell,
I wish someone would just love me (but not physically). I want someone to show me they care. I,want to be loved, but I don’t know how to accept it or give it

If I were asked to list the contributing factors to our teenage sexual crisis, at the top of my list would be adolescent alienation brought on partly by parental inattentiveness. If you want to reduce the sexual pressures your child will undoubtedly face, develop a close relationship of mutual love and respect. Establishing sexual prohibitions and rules without a relationship often leads to rebellion. It causes a child to lose heart (Col. 3:21). But rules within the context of a loving parent-child relationship generally lead to a positive response.

The thesis is: as parents provide the proper emotional, spiritual and psychological stability for their child in a loving relationship, closeness will increase and the temptation to seek intimacy through sexual involvement will decrease.

What’s In a Hug?

After a “Why Wait?” rally in Detroit, a girl about 14-years-old came up to me with tears streaming down her face. She said, “Mr. McDowell, no one ever hugs me anymore. My dad doesn’t hug me. My morn doesn’t hug me – nobody.”

Our study among Christian teenagers shows that 55 percent said they spent less than 15 minutes per week with their fathers! I know that as parents we have many demands on our time and that kids themselves are going in 20 different directions at once. But our kids are crying out for love and acceptance. If we don’t give it to them, they may seek it elsewhere.

A 15-year-old girl wrote an essay on “What I Wish My Parents Knew About My Sexuality.” Here is what she said:

I had a rotten day at school and all I wanted was a little bit of my patent’s time — just a simple hug would do. But my parents both work and by the time they get home they are usually tired and just want to be left alone. So I went to see my boyfriend and he talked to me about my problems and I felt 100 percent better. Wow! I thought, from now on I’II go to him with my problems and forget about bothering my parents. One thing has led to another and I’ve done things I would never have dreamed I’d do. Dad, Mom, I wish you would have been there when I needed you.

As parents, we don’t have much control over the permissive attitudes of our secular society; we can’t really control what our children do when they’re alone on a date. But, we can control what we do. We can insulate our children from feeling alienated by letting them know they’re accepted. We can show them our love through our words and actions — like hugs. Giving them our time sends a strong signal that they are important to us.

Information on sex, especially the reasons and benefits for waiting, is important. But the most important thing to your child is you. How you relate to your children — and they to you — will largely determine your ability to help them say no to sexual pressure.

It’s not easy raising children in today’s fast-paced society. I’m a busy parent too. I’ve got places to go, audiences to speak to, books to write and TV programs to produce. At times I feel like my life is one giant rat race. A while back Dottle said to me, “Honey, remember, there will always be another book to write and another TV special to do, but you won’t always have our 5-year-old girl to hug.”

That thought has stuck with me. And since then, I have carried a letter with me from a 27-year-old woman who wrote an essay for our contest entitled “In Search of My Father’s Love.” Whenever I’m feeling pressured to be away from my family too much, I reread her moving essay. It never fails to bring tears to my eyes and a renewed commitment to be there for my four darling children. Read a small portion of it with me:

When I was only 14 years of age, I dated an 18-year-old boy. I really needed his love and if the conditions to keep that love were to have sex with him. I felt I had no choice.
I felt so guilty afterwards. I can remember sobbing in my bed at night, after I’d come home from being with my boyfriend. I wanted so much to have my virginity back, and yet, it was gone – forever. I began to feel so lonely inside, but there was no one I could turn to. Certainly not my father, who would really “hate” me if he ever knew what an awful thing I had done.

After two years, I broke up with my boyfriend, but soon had another, and went through the same cycle with him. And then with another.

Isn’t that ironic? The very thing I searched for — unconditional love — was being offered to me conditionally. . .”If you love me, you’ll let me.”

I’m 27 now, and about six months ago I wrote in my journal to the Lord, these very words. . .

“I felt lonely tonight — intense loneliness. And I realized that what I was lonely for was a ‘daddy,’ to be able to call him up when I hurt and hear him say he understands and to listen to me. But, I never had that with my dad. And so I am lonely without that link to my past

“There’s a song by Steve and Annie Chapman that says, ‘Daddy, you’re the man in your little girl’s dreams, you are the one she longs to please. There’s a place in her heart that can only be filled with her daddy’s love. But if you don’t give her the love she desires, she’ll try someone else, but they won’t satisfy her. . . Don’t send her away to another man’s door. Nobody else can do what you do. She just needs her daddy’s love.'”

Have you given your little girl her daddy’s love? If you haven’t, please do. Go to her and tell her that you love her. And that she is the most precious girl in the world to you. And what if you think it’s too late? It’s never too late. Even if she’s 27, it wouldn’t be too late.


Josh McDowell, a popular youth speaker for Campus Crusade for Christ, has authored dozens of books.


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