Why isnt chastity before marriage still regarded

Nearly every religion teaches the principle of chastity before marriage, but fewer and fewer people are observing it. The Family: A Proclamation to the World teaches that "God has commanded that the sacred powers of procreation are to be employed only between man and woman, lawfully wedded as husband and wife" (¶ 4) and that "children are entitled to birth within the bounds of matrimony" (¶ 7).

In today's American culture, most people consider sex before marriage normal. Movies, television shows, and popular music all reflect this permissive standard. God, however, has not rescinded the strict standard of chastity he taught in the Old and New Testaments. The Proclamation warns that "individuals who violate covenants of chastity . . . will one day stand accountable before God." Further, the Proclamation maintains that sexual permissiveness is a major contributor to the disintegration of the family. That disintegration, the Proclamation warns, "will bring upon individuals, communities, and nations the calamities foretold by ancient and modern prophets" (¶ 8).

The Proclamation's language may seem sharp to some, perhaps even offensive. But research supports its point of view.

Negative Effects of Premarital Sex and Cohabitation

Americans commonly believe that couples who engage in premarital sex or live together before marriage are more likely to create a successful marriage. In fact, studies show that both those who have sexual experiences before marriage and those who cohabitate are more likely to divorce. Cohabitation in particular is linked to lower marital commitment and a higher divorce rate. Researchers have found no benefits of cohabitation. Some speculate that cohabitation has harmful effects because it teaches a couple they can have the benefits of marriage without full commitment, which in turn fosters a type of independence that is not compatible with a healthy marriage. When the couple marries, it is difficult to unlearn this independence and create a healthy interdependent bond.

Positive Effects of Chastity Before Marriage

Researchers have found that chastity before marriage offers many benefits, including a decreased chance of psychological damage from expressing intimacy without commitment, freedom from sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and unwanted pregnancies, and an increase in marital stability and satisfaction.

Psychological Dimensions of Sexual Bonding

The basic human need for touch and physical affection is real, but even more important is the basic human need for a loving connection with others. Many people confuse their need for sexual expression with their need for love. If they attempt to connect with another person primarily through sex, chances are high the relationship will eventually deteriorate and leave psychological damage in its wake.

Jess Lair8, a psychologist at Montana State University, explains that sexual experiences can be psychologically significant for individuals: "Sexual bonding includes powerful emotional, psychological, physical, and spiritual links that are so strong that the two people become one, at least for a moment. Sexual intercourse is an intense, though brief physical bonding that leaves indelible marks on the participants. . . . To believe one can walk away from a sexual experience untouched is dangerously naïve."

Recent research may have discovered the physiological basis for this deep bonding--a hormone called oxytocin. This hormone is released in both women and men during sexual orgasm. It promotes an attachment between the two individuals that is likely to grow with each sexual exchange. Since most unmarried couples will break up, it is psychologically unsafe for them to engage in sexual activity. Perhaps this is one reason God has benevolently commanded "that the sacred powers of procreation are to be employed only between man and woman, lawfully wedded as husband and wife" (¶ 4).

Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs)

According to the Center for Disease Control2, approximately 333 million new cases of STDs are reported in the world each year. The cost for health care to treat STDs is about $17 billion per year in the United States alone. Anyone who begins a sexual relationship believing "it can't happen to me" risks his or her health--and possibly his or her life.

There are dozens of STDs, some mild and others lethal. Common STDs include syphilis, gonorrhea, pelvic inflammatory disease, genital warts, genital herpes, chlamydia, and AIDS or HIV. A few STDs are particularly dangerous to women. Human papilloma virus, for example, the most common STD in the world, rarely causes symptoms in men but can cause cervical cancer in women. About 99.7 percent of all cervical cancer cases are caused by this STD. In addition, women are much more likely than men to become infected with HIV through heterosexuals.

The best way to ensure you never get and STD is to abstain from sex before marriage and to marry someone who also has abstained.

For a longer discussion of STDs, see the accompanying expanded article.

Unwanted Pregnancies and Abortion

Unwanted pregnancies are a huge problem today, especially among teenagers. The negative effects impact the mother, the child, and society in general.

Children born to unwed mothers have, on average, lower birth weights and more complications at birth. Unwed mothers are more likely to drink alcohol, which can permanently damage their babies. Single mothers and their children are more likely to live in poverty than married women and their children. The children of teenaged mothers are more likely to be incarcerated than children with more mature parents.

In many cases, the double burden of providing both parenting and financial support is too much for one person to handle. Two parents are better able to care for a child than one. Once again, the Proclamation offers wise counsel: “Children are entitled to birth within the bounds of matrimony."

Society, too, pays a huge cost because of unwed pregnancies. Half of our nation’s welfare funding goes to families created by teenaged pregnancies.

Effects of Chastity on Marital Stability and Satisfaction

Couples who remain chaste before marriage report greater satisfaction in their marriages than those who were sexually active before marriage. Their marriages are more stable and more fulfilling. Researchers have even found that couples who did not have sex before marriage report greater sexual fulfillment after marriage than those who had premarital sex.

Teaching Children the Principle of Chastity

Without deliberate counter measures, children will tend to soak up the messages they’re getting from all quarters that sex before marriage is normal and acceptable. Thus parents must make a concerted effort to teach their children there is a better way. Here are some practical ideas to help you in this effort:

  • Be open, honest, and unembarrassed about sex. Respond to questions about sex--no matter how blunt--rationally, calmly, and accurately. Know well the physical elements of human sexuality and teach children the correct names for body parts. If your children feel confident that you will talk to them openly about the physical aspects of sex, they will be more likely to talk without about the emotional dimensions.
  • Communicate that sex is a sacred act between husband and wife. Parents ‘sexual values are likely to be held by their children, especially if parents talk about their values. What you have to say on this subject will be much more meaningful to your children than anything they hear from others.
  • Be aware of myths about sex and teach them to your children. Teens need to know that sex is not the same thing as intimacy. True intimacy occurs only in an enduring, committed relationship and involves relating with another person emotionally, mentally, physically, and spiritually. Teens need to know that sex will never hold a troubled relationship together. It cannot cure loneliness, doesn't make anyone popular, and won't make anyone feel better about himself or herself.
  • Teach children about chastity when they are young. Teach children early about human sexuality and intimacy. Exactly what age is appropriate depends on an individual child's maturity and what questions he or she asks. But don’t wait until the media, schoolmates, and others start leaving their imprint. Teach your children before they become too acquainted with the world's views. Values carefully instilled at an early age are likely to have protective power later on, especially as adolescent hormones begin to kick in.
  • Be warm and loving. Children need loving, warm acceptance from their parents. Some youth seek sexual intimacy as a way to feel loved if they're not getting those feelings at home. The need for love and touch varies at different ages and stages. For example, infants need continual affectionate contact. Older children appreciate hugs, kisses, gentle touch, warm conversation, and being told "I love you." When children feel the love of their parents, they are less likely to seek its counterfeits elsewhere.
  • Set clear rules. As a family discuss your values about chastity, set dating standards, and come up with strategies for maintaining chastity. Many families find that two rules are particularly effective in helping their children remain chaste: (1) no dating until age 16, and (2) only double dates or group dates until age 18.
  • In two-parent families, be loving to your spouse. If your children see you behaving courteously and warmly with your spouse, they will learn the value of affection that is expressed within the boundaries of lifelong commitment.
  • Make your home teen-friendly. Teenagers often complain of boredom, and this is an area where you can fill the vacuum with healthy options. Make your home a welcoming place for other teenagers so that your children feel comfortable hanging out with friends within the safety and comfort of your watchful eye. This simple act of opening up your home can make a profound difference in your child's life as you help him or her escape the unchaste behavior many teenagers indulge in because there's "nothing better to do."
  • Know your teenagers' friends, their friends' parents, and who your teens are dating. To effectively monitor your teen's activities, you need to conscientiously and fearlessly ask the four W's: Who is your teen with? Where are they going? What will they be doing? When will they be home? Know what's going on in your child's life.
  • Encourage independence and self-reliance. Teenagers need to practice independence and decision-making so they will be prepared to make good judgments when they're on their own. If your teenager makes a mistake, forgive him and help him to strategize how he can do better in the future.
  • Spend time with your kids. Teenagers (when they're not bored) tend to be constantly on the go. Finding time to keep up your relationship with them can be a daunting challenge. One mother having this difficulty with her 17-year-olddaughter decided that when her daughter was on a date, she would go to sleep on her daughter's bed. When the daughter got home, mother and daughter would talk about the date. Usually it was late and their conversations were short, but sometimes they ended up talking and laughing for hours. Not only was their relationship strengthened, but also the mother was able to make sure her daughter was home safe and on time.

Practical Ideas for Teens and Young Adults

Teenagers and young adults should carefully think through how they intend to behave with members of the opposite sex. They should anticipate what situations might becoming challenging for them and practice strategies for resisting temptation. Here are some practical ideas to help teens remain chaste:

  • Determine your standards for behavior with the opposite sex and write them down.
  • Share your standards with your family and friends. Ask them for support.
  • Choose friends who share your beliefs about chastity. Break off ties with friends who have a more permissive attitude about premarital sex.
  • Date only people who share your views about chastity.
  • Avoid alcohol and drugs. Indulging in either one makes it much more difficult to maintain your standards.
  • Avoid music, TV shows, movies, videos, and magazines that include sexual content or promote premarital sex.
  • Don't allow yourself to be alone in an empty house or room with a member of the opposite sex.
  • Make friendship, not physical affection, the foundation of all your relationships with the opposite sex.
  • When dating, choose activities that are public and productive, such as walking together, biking, bowling, socializing with other friends, etc. As you spend time together in these ways, you will get to know each other better and you will avoid tempting situations.
  • Do not participate in any activity you find sexually arousing, such as backrubs, cuddling, and kissing.

Written by Christine Bakker and Jill Cox, Research Assistants, and edited by Stephen F. Duncan, Professor, School of Family Life, and Brigham Young University.


References

  1. Bai, J., Wong, F., & Stewart, H. (1999). The obstetric and neonatal performance of teenage mothers in an Australian community. Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology, 19, 345-346.
  2. Center for Disease Control (2001). Tracking the hidden epidemics: Trends in STDs in the United States 2000.
  3. Courtney, V. (2008) 5 conversations you must have with your daughter. Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group.
  4. Coley, R. L. & Chase-Lansdale, L. (1998). Adolescent pregnancy and parenthood: Recent evidence and future directions. American Psychologist, 53, 152-166.
  5. Hollander, D. (1998). Pregnant women belly up to the bar. Family Planning Perspectives, 30, 255-260.
  6. Kelly, E. L. & Conley, J. J. (1987). Personality and compatibility: A perspective analysis of marital stability and marital satisfaction. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 58, 27-40.
  7. Larson, J. H. (2000). Should we stay together? San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
  8. Popenoe, D., & Whitehead, B. (1999). Should we live together? What young adults need to know about cohabitation before marriage. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University.
  9. Poulson, L. H. (1999). All things in their season: A revealing look at premarital sex, for teenagers and their parents. Bloomington, IN: 1st Books Library.
  10. Remez, L. (1992). Abruptio placentae rates increased significantly in U.S. from 1979 to 1987. Family Planning Perspectives, 92, 143-145.
  11. Stanley, S.M., Whitton, S. W., & Markman, H. J. (2004). Maybe I do: Interpersonal commitment and premarital or non-marital cohabitation. Journal of Family Issues, 25, 496-519.
  12. Turner, R. A., Altemus, M., Enos, T., Cooper, B., & McGuinness, T. (1999). Preliminary research on plasma oxytocin in normal cycling women. Investigating emotion and interpersonal distress. Psychiatry, 62(2), 97-113.
  13. Waite, L. J. (2000). 5 marriage myths, 6 marriage benefits. Speech given November 14, 2000 at Brigham Young University.

The 1960s and 1970s were decades of revolutionary change in the United States and the world in general. Many changes were positive, including progress in civil rights for minority groups and women. But some changes were negative. One of the most harmful legacies of that era has been the sexual revolution, which deemed chastity outdated and non-marital sexual activity normal and beneficial.

Proponents of this prevailing view believe that premarital sexual experiences are a normal part of life. One survey showed that many married couples believe premarital sexual experiences strengthened their marriages.22 Another study found that many people believe cohabitation is good preparation for marriage because couples can "practice" being married and test their compatibility.25

Social science research, however, contradicts these beliefs. In fact, studies show that both those who have sexual experiences before marriage and those who cohabitate are more likely to divorce. Cohabitation in particular is linked to lower marital commitment and a higher divorce rate.20 Researchers have not found even one benefit of cohabitation.19 Some speculate that cohabitation has harmful effects because it teaches a couple they can have the benefits of marriage without full commitment, which in turn fosters a type of independence that is not compatible with a healthy marriage. When the couple marries, it is difficult to unlearn this independence and create a healthy interdependent bond.

Chastity, on the other hand, has many positive health and relationship benefits. These include decreased chance of psychological damage from expressing intimacy without commitment, freedom from sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), freedom from unwanted pregnancies, and an increase in marital stability and satisfaction.

Chastity for Psychological Reasons

Probably some of the most often overlooked consequences of premarital sexual activity are psychological. The basic human need for touch and physical affection is real, but even more important is the basic human need for a loving connection with others. Many people confuse their need for sexual expression with their need for love. If they attempt to connect with another person primarily through sex, chances are high the relationship will eventually deteriorate and leave psychological damage in its wake. Dr. Susan Johnson said, “Many people use sex as a way to create or substitute for the sense of connection they are needing. I would guess that many a man or women has engaged in sex just to meet a need of being held".20

The need for love, touch, and attachment may lead some people to give sex to save a relationship. Paulson20 found that teenage girls frequently say they agreed to have sex with a boy to keep from losing him, a strategy that rarely works. Unfortunately, says Paulson, those who mistake sex for love and base their relationship on physical pleasure will find their relationship unfulfilling; eventually it will deteriorate and dissolve.20

In fact, research shows premarital sex can even drive couples apart. Giving in to sexual drives before marriage often pushes other, more important parts of the relationship into the background, even drowning them out.20 When expressed appropriately in marriage, however, sex enhances the other aspects of a couple's relationship.20

Another destructive psychological consequence of premarital sex is the distortion of emotional bonding that can occur. According to Paulson20, beginning at birth the bonding that occurs with physical touch (hugs, kisses, cuddling) provides security and feelings of well-being. It is no surprise, then, that the deepest bonding between adults also involves touch. When affection extends to sex, an uncommitted couple risks tremendous pain and possibly permanent psychological damage. Dr. Jess Lair6 explains the phenomenon this way: "Sexual bonding includes powerful emotion, psychological, physical, and spiritual links that are so strong that the two people become one, at least for a moment. Sexual intercourse is an intense, though brief physical bonding that leaves indelible marks on the participants. . . . To believe one can walk away from a sexual experience untouched is dangerously naïve".

Recent research may have discovered the physiological basis for this deep bonding--a hormone called oxytocin. This hormone is released in both women and men during sexual orgasm.24 It promotes an attachment between the two individuals that is likely to grow with each sexual exchange and can have a long-term influence. This mark can be so lasting that most people can replay images associated with a shared sexual experience years later.20

Unmarried couples who have sex enjoy no security associated with the attachment they form. Most of these couples eventually break up, destroying the bond they've created and leaving them changed forever. Depression and loss of self-esteem may follow. Thus sexual activity between those who are not fully committed is psychologically unsafe. Perhaps this is one reason God has benevolently commanded "that the sacred powers of procreation are to be employed only between man and woman, lawfully wedded as husband and wife" (¶ 4).

The only time it is psychologically safe to bond this deeply is in a secure marriage. Husbands and wives fully committed to one another can safely use physical intimacy to express the emotional closeness they feel and to strengthen their marriage. In short, only married people who appropriately use sex will be able to truly benefit from sexual intimacy.

Chastity for Freedom from Sexually Transmitted Diseases

According to the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention4, approximately 65 million Americans are currently living with an incurable sexually transmitted disease (STD). The number increases by about 15 million each year. The effects of these diseases can be devastating, including pain, disability, and in some cases death. The following are some of the most common STDs in the United States:

Syphilis is a devastating illness with a prevalence at a forty-year high.3 This disease destroys tissue. After someone develops syphilis they can infect sexual partners for four years. Pregnant women risk passing on the disease to their infants. Syphilis has three stages. In the first stage a lesion appears that heals without treatment. Women may show no symptoms during this stage. In the second stage, a non-itching rash may develop and damage to internal tissues begins. A latent period follows when the infected person is no longer contagious. In the third stage, which may not begin for thirty years or more, syphilis can attack the brain, nervous system, cardiovascular system, or the skin, causing disability, disfigurement, and/or death. Early treatment is essential.

Gonorrhea is a bacterial infection that may cause impotence in men. In women, who may become carriers without showing symptoms, gonorrhea can cause pelvic inflammatory disease, peritonitis, and sterility. In the United States, gonorrhea causes 100,000 women each year to become sterile. If gonorrhea is untreated it can spread throughout the bloodstream and attack the heart, brain, joints, eyes, and other parts of the body.

Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID) is usually caused by an untreated STD, but other bacteria may also lead to this disease. It is especially a concern for teenage girls, who are especially vulnerable to all STDs but particularly to PID. The symptoms vary according to which bacteria caused the infection, but PID almost always causes permanent damage. It scars the fallopian tubes, which can lead to infertility or permanent sterility. It also causes a high risk of ectopic pregnancy.

Genital warts are caused by human papilloma virus (HPV), the most common STD in the world. For both men and women, genital warts vary in size, shape, and color. They can be internal or external or both. In women, they can be passed on to babies during delivery. HPV can cause cervical cancer in women. Almost all cases of cervical cancer cases are caused by this STD.

Genital herpes causes painful, fluid-filled blisters to appear on the genitals. In men outbreaks are initially limited to the external organs. In women the blisters can be internal or external. One-third of those infected with herpes show few or no symptoms but can still transmit the disease. Most people with herpes must deal with outbreaks for the rest of their lives. Herpes can be spread to any part of the body that touches active sores. Partial or complete blindness can occur when eyes become infected. Herpes also can cause miscarriage or stillbirth. Babies infected by their mothers may develop brain damage or die.

Chlamydia is sometimes called the "silent sexually transmitted disease" because often the symptoms are mild and mimic other illnesses. Despite its prevalence, most physicians don't routinely check for it. Symptoms in women include abdominal pain, vaginal discharge, difficulty urinating, and painful intercourse. Men may show symptoms of urinary tract infection. Seventy percent of women and 30 percent of men with chlamydia do not show any symptoms. Untreated, this disease can cause infertility and sterility. It is a major cause of infertility among women, who often aren't aware they have the disease until they try to become pregnant.

AIDS is probably the most well-known STD. It is caused by HIV, which enters the bloodstream and attacks white blood cells, bone marrow, the spleen, liver, and lymph glands, leaving an infected person susceptible to other serious illnesses. A person may carry HIV for many years before showing symptoms and being diagnosed. During this latent period, he or she can infect others. Scientists are reasonably sure that HIV is spread only by exchange of body fluids, usually through sexual contact or shared use of an intravenous needle. Once HIV has progressed to AIDS, death is inevitable.

Certain types of vaginal infections are considered STDs.3 Although these infections do not usually have lasting consequences, they can cause great discomfort.

Many sexually transmitted diseases (including AIDS) can be transmitted when the infected person has no symptoms and/or before enough antibodies develop to show up in blood tests. Therefore, mutual awareness and/or testing does not guarantee that sexual activity will not lead to becoming infected with one or more STDs. Abstinence before marriage and choosing a marriage partner who also has abstained is the only way to ensure freedom from sexually transmitted diseases.

Chastity for Freedom from Unwanted Pregnancy and Abortion

One of the most obvious results of sexual activity is pregnancy. Unwed pregnancy has lasting consequences for both the mother and the child. Some harmful effects begin as early as before or shortly after the birth. For example, children born to unmarried mothers are more likely to have a low birth weight and to be admitted into a neo-natal intensive care unit.2 Their mothers are more likely to experience pregnancy complications.21 These children are also more likely to be exposed to alcohol while in the womb.10

The effects of an unwed pregnancy don’t stop at the birth. Later the mother and child are more likely to live in poverty. Between 1960 (about the time the sexual revolution began) and 1997, the illegitimate birthrate in America rose from 5.3% of all births to 32.4%.13 Because of this rise in illegitimate births, combined with the increase in divorce, the child poverty rate rose by a third during the same time period.13 Children living in poverty are more likely to be malnourished and are more likely to die in infancy.9

The effects of out-of-wedlock births are especially dramatic if the mother is a teenager. Coley & Chase-Lansdale7 report that unwed teenaged mothers tend to have less education than married mothers. Although this education gap is smaller than it was in the past, it remains significant. They also report that young mothers marry less often than their peers; if they do marry, they are more likely to divorce. Over time, teenaged girls who give birth "functionless effectively in numerous realms than their peers who delay childbearing".

The number of no marital pregnancies that motivate marriage has greatly declined in recent years29, increasing the number of children born to single mothers. Research has linked single parent homes to cognitive, emotional, and behavioral problems in children. In preschool, children of teenaged mothers display higher rates of cognitive delays that continue into the school years. They also have higher levels of aggression and lower impulse control. In adolescence, these children are more likely to have failing grades, be imprisoned, and become pregnant themselves.7 Children in single-parent homes are even more likely to commit suicide.13

Society as a whole suffers the consequences of premarital sexuality. For example, 53% of welfare funding goes to families created by a teenaged pregnancy. Also, society must deal with the aggressive children from these families, who are more likely to be incarcerated than children from other families.7

As no marital pregnancies have increased, so have abortions. An average number of 1.5 million abortions are performed each year in the U.S., though in recent years that number has declined.1 Researchers have found both physical and psychological damage as a result of abortion. Of teenage girls who have an abortion, 43.7% experience some degree of damage to their reproductive organs.27 This damage can make it more difficult for them to have children later. For example, abortion is linked to a weakened cervix, which dramatically increases the likelihood of late miscarriages.8

The psychological consequences of abortion can include grief and guilt, sometimes for years afterwards.15, 27 Some doctors and nurses who participate in abortions describe experiencing grief from seeing fetal movement or hearing heartbeat before the abortion and then watching these signs of life cease9, 27

Effects of Premarital Sex on Later Relationships

Research shows that abstaining from sexual activity before marriage strengthens the marriage while participating in premarital sexual activity weakens the marriage. In fact, premarital childbearing, a direct result of sexual activity, is linked to divorce.12, 28 Premarital sexual involvement is also a predictor of lower marital satisfaction.14, 17, 19, 21 LaHaye and LaHaye16 cite guilt as one of the reasons couples who engaged in premarital sex are less satisfied with their marriage. In men, premarital sex even predicts later extramarital sex.18 Couples who did not engage in sexual activity before marriage report greater sexual fulfillment after marriage.16, 26

Effects of Cohabitation

Although many people believe that cohabitation is beneficial because they think it allows a couple to test sexual compatibility before marrying, the research says otherwise. Cohabitation is not linked to successful marriage but in fact is linked to higher rates of divorce).23, 26, 28 Couples who cohabit before marriage have a 46% higher chance of divorce than couples who do not cohabit.19

Additionally, cohabiting women are more likely to be abused than married women, and their children are at far greater risk of physical (even lethal) violence and sexual abuse.19 Children born to unmarried, cohabiting parents are more likely to end up living in a single parent home than children born to married parents because cohabitation relationships are so likely to dissolve. By the age of sixteen, three-fourths of children born to unmarried, cohabiting parents will experience their parent's breakup. Only one-third of children born to married parents will see the dissolution of their parent's relationship by age sixteen.19

Several influences are probably at work in creating the negative effects of cohabitation. For example, couples who choose to cohabit tend to be people who are less commitment-minded.19, 24 Many people who cohabit come to believe that divorce is more acceptable than they believed it was before they began to cohabit.19

Some researchers speculate that cohabitation damages relationships because it teaches a couple they can have the benefits of marriage without full commitment, which in turn fosters a type of independence that is not compatible with a healthy marriage. When the couple marries, it is difficult to unlearn this independence and create a healthy interdependent bond.19

Teaching Children the Principle of Chastity

Without deliberate counter measures, children will tend to soak up the messages they're getting from all quarters that sex before marriage is normal and acceptable. Thus parents must make concerted effort to teach their children there is a better way. Here are some practical ideas to help you in this effort:

  • Be open, honest, and unembarrassed about sex. Respond to questions about sex-- no matter how blunt--rationally, calmly, and accurately. Know well the physical elements of human sexuality and teach children the correct names for body parts. If your children feel confident that you will talk to them openly about the physical aspects of sex, they will be more likely to talk with you about the emotional dimensions.
  • Communicate that sex is a sacred act between husband and wife. Parents' sexual values are likely to be held by their children, especially if parents talk about their values. What you have to say on this subject will be much more meaningful to your children than anything they hear from others.
  • Be aware of myths about sex and teach them to your children. Teens need to know that sex is not the same thing as intimacy. True intimacy occurs only in an enduring, committed relationship and involves relating with another person emotionally, mentally, physically, and spiritually. Teens need to know that sex will never hold a troubled relationship together. It cannot cure loneliness, doesn't make anyone popular, and won't make anyone feel better about himself or herself.
  • Teach children about chastity when they are young. Teach children early about human sexuality and intimacy. Exactly what age is appropriate depends on an individual child's maturity and what questions he or she asks. But don't wait until the media, schoolmates, and others start leaving their imprint. Teach your children before they become too acquainted with the world's views. Values carefully instilled at an early age are likely to have protective power later on, especially as adolescent hormones begin to kick in.
  • Be warm and loving. Children need loving, warm acceptance from their parents. Some youth seek sexual intimacy as a way to feel loved if they're not getting those feelings at home. The need for love and touch varies at different ages and stages. For example, infants need continual affectionate contact. Older children appreciate hugs, kisses, gentle touch, warm conversation, and being told "I love you." A loving father-daughter relationship is especially important to girls. When children feel the love of their parents, they are less likely to seek its counterfeits elsewhere.
  • Set clear rules. As a family discuss your values about chastity, set dating standards, and come up with strategies for maintaining chastity. Many families find that two rules are particularly effective in helping their children remain chaste: (1) no dating until age 16, and (2) only double dates or group dates until age 18.
  • In two-parent families, be loving to your spouse. If your children see you behaving courteously and warmly with your spouse, they will learn the value of affection that is expressed within the boundaries of lifelong commitment.
  • Make your home teen-friendly. Teenagers often complain of boredom, and this is an area where you can fill the vacuum with healthy options. Make your home a welcoming place for other teenagers so that your children feel comfortable hanging out with friends within the safety and comfort of your watchful eye. This simple act of opening up your home can make a profound difference in your child's life as you help him or her escape the unchaste behavior many teenagers indulge in because there's "nothing better to do."
  • Know your teenagers' friends, their friends' parents, and who your teens are dating. To effectively monitor your teen's activities, you need to conscientiously and fearlessly ask the four W's: Who is your teen with? Where are they going? What will they be doing? When will they be home? Know what's going on in your child's life.
  • Encourage independence and self-reliance. Teenagers need to practice independence and decision-making so they will be prepared to make good judgments when they're on their own. If your teenager makes a mistake, forgive him and help him to strategize how he can do better in the future.
  • Spend time with your kids. Teenagers (when they're not bored) tend to be constantly on the go. Finding time to keep up your relationship with them can be a daunting challenge. One mother having this difficulty with her 17-year-old daughter decided that when her daughter was on a date, she would go to sleep on her daughter's bed. When the daughter got home, mother and daughter would talk about the date. Usually it was late and their conversations were short, but sometimes they ended up talking and laughing for hours. Not only was their relationship strengthened, but also the mother was able to make sure her daughter was home safe and on time.

Practical Ideas for Teens and Young Adults

Teenagers and young adults should carefully think through how they intend to behave with members of the opposites. They should anticipate what situations might becoming challenging for them and practice strategies for resisting temptation. Here are some practical ideas to help teens remain chaste:

  • Determine your standards for behavior with the opposite sex and write them down.
  • Share your standards with your family and friends. Ask them for support.
  • Choose friends who share your beliefs about chastity. Break off ties with friends who have a more permissive attitude about premarital sex.
  • Date only people who share your views about chastity.
  • Avoid alcohol and drugs. Indulging in either one makes it much more difficult to maintain your standards.
  • Avoid music, TV shows, movies, videos, and magazines that include sexual content or promote premarital sex.
  • Don't allow yourself to be alone in an empty house or room with a member of the opposite sex.
  • Make friendship, not physical affection, the foundation of all your relationships with the opposite sex.
  • When dating, choose activities that are public and productive, such as walking together, baking, bowling, socializing with other friends, etc. As you spend time together in these ways, you will get to know each other better and you will avoid tempting situations.
  • Do not participate in any activity you find sexually arousing, such as back rubs, cuddling, and kissing.

Written by Jill Cox, Research Assistant, and edited by Stephen F. Duncan, Professor in the School of Family Life, Brigham Young University. 

References

  1. Alan Guttmacher Institute. (2000). induced abortion: Revised 2/2000. The Alan Guttmacher Institute. www.agi-usa.org
  2. Bai, J., Wong, F., & Stewart, H. (1999). The obstetric and neonatal performance of teenage mothers in an Australian community. Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology, 19, 345-346.
  3. Bluth, L. (1998). How to talk confidently with your child about sex. St. Louis: Concordia.
  4. Broderick, C. B. (1985). Both males and females should be virgins at the time of marriage. In H. Feldman and M. Feldman (Eds.), Current Controversies in Marriage and Family (pp. 37-44). Beverly Hills: Sage.
  5. Center for Disease Control (2001). Tracking the hidden epidemics: Trends in STDs in the United States 2000. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/nchstp/dstd/Stats_Trends/Trends2000.pdf
  6. Courtney, V. (2008) 5 conversations you must have with your daughter. Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group.
  7. Coley, R. L. & Chase-Landsdale, L. (1998). Adolescent pregnancy and parenthood: Recent evidence and future directions. American Psychologist, 53, 152-166.
  8. Eisenberg, A., Murkoff, H. E., & Hathaway, S. E. (1996). What to expect when you're expecting.New York: Workman.
  9. Henslin, J. M. (1996). Social problems (4th Ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.
  10. Hollander, D. (1998). Pregnant women belly up to the bar. Family Planning Perspectives, 30, 255-260.
  11. Johnson, G. & Shellenberger, S. (1994). What Hollywood won't tell you about sex, love, and dating. Ventura, CA: Regal Books.
  12. Kahn, J. R. & London, K. A. (1991). Premarital sex and the risk of divorce. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 53, 845-856.
  13. Kalb, J. (2004). Sexual Morality FAQ. Retrieved from http://antitechnocrat.net:8000/node/6.
  14. Kelly, E. L. & Conley, J. J. (1987). Personality and compatibility: Perspective analysis of marital stability and marital satisfaction. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 58, 27-40.
  15. Kitzinger, S. (1985). Woman's experience of sex: The facts and feelings of female sexuality at every stage of life. New York, NY: Penguin Books.
  16. LaHaye, T., & LaHaye, B. (1998). The act of marriage: The beauty of sexual love. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
  17. Larson, J. H. (2000). Should we stay together? San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
  18. O'Connor, M. L. (2001). Men who have many sexual partners before marriage are more likely to engage in extramarital intercourse. Family Planning Perspectives, 27(1), 48-50.
  19. Popenoe, D., & Whitehead, B. (1999). Should we live together? What young adults need to know about cohabitation before marriage? New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University.
  20. Paulson, L. H. (1999). All things in their season: A revealing look at premarital sex, for teenagers and their parents. Bloomington, IN: 1st Books Library.
  21. Remez, L. (1992). Abruptio placentae rates increased significantly in U.S. from 1979 to 1987. Family Planning Perspectives, 92, 143-145.
  22. Rubin, L. (1985). Just friends: The role of friendship in our lives. New York: Harper & Row.
  23. Stanley, S. M., Whitton, S. W., & Markman, H. J. (2004). Maybe I do: Interpersonal commitment and premarital or non-marital cohabitation. Journal of Family Issues25, 496-519.
  24. Turner, R. A., Altemus, M., Enos, T., Cooper, B., & McGuinness, T. (1999). Preliminary research on plasma oxytocin in normal cycling women. Investigating emotion and interpersonal distress. Psychiatry, 62(2), 97-113.
  25. Waite, L. J. (2000). 5 marriage myths, 6 marriage benefits. Speech given November 14, 2000 at Brigham Young University.
  26. Waite, L. J., & Gallagher, M. (2000). The case for marriage: Why married people are happier, healthier and better off financially. New York, NY: Doubleday.
  27. White, J. (1996). Pure excitement. Wheaton, IL: Tyndale.
  28. White, L. K. (1990). Determinants of divorce: A review of research in the eighties. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 52, 904-912.
  29. Zavodny, M. (1999). Do men's characteristics affect whether a no marital pregnancy results in marriage? Journal of Marriage and the Family, 61, 764-773.

The power to procreate is a divine gift from our Father in Heaven. It allows spouses to share a depth of love and affection not possible outside marriage, and it gives them the sacred privilege of bringing Heavenly Father's spirit children into the mortal world.

Many people are confused about when, where, and with whom sexual intimacy should be expressed. They may share this sacred expression too freely, hoping to connect with others without understanding that true and full connection requires full commitment. Some use sex for purely self-centered motives, using others for their own gratification and, in the end, spiritually injuring both the other person and themselves. Movies, television programs, and popular music all tend to treat free sexual expression as an essential part of life and dismiss chastity as old-fashioned and quaint.

But the Lord does not leave us to our own ideas about the important matter of sexual morality. He continually directs his leaders to instruct us that a chaste life matters. President Hinckley5 counsels, "Notwithstanding the so-called new morality, notwithstanding the much discussed changes in moral standards, there is no adequate substitute for virtue. God's standards may be challenged everywhere throughout the world, but God has not abrogated His commandments" (p. 4).

The Family: A Proclamation to the World teaches clearly the law of chastity: "God has commanded that the sacred powers of procreation are to be employed only between man and woman, lawfully wedded as husband and wife. . . . We declare the means by which mortal life is created to be divinely appointed" (¶ 4, 5).

President Spencer W. Kimball7, too, was clear about the LDS standard for chastity:

We stand for a life of cleanliness. From childhood through youth and to the grave, we proclaim the wickedness of sexual life of any kind before marriage, and we proclaim that every one in marriage should hold himself or herself to the covenants that were made. . . . In other words, as we have frequently said, there should be total chastity of men and women before marriage and total fidelity in marriage (p. 7).

Why A Chaste Life Matters

Sexual intimacy is a wonderful gift from God that can bring great joy and fulfillment to those who use it within the boundaries the Lord has prescribed. It is one of the most powerful human drives, akin to basic survival drives such as eating and sleeping. Because it is so much a part of each human being's makeup, it can be easy to view it as a basic need that must be fulfilled whatever one's circumstances.

But the power to give life is a grave responsibility. It should be used only within a context of full commitment, especially when any children might result. All children are entitled to be welcomed into the world by two loving parents who are committed to one another. Outside the boundary of full marital commitment, says Elder Jeffrey R. Holland6, sex puts people at great risk for serious consequences: "Sex is a river of fire that must be banked and cooled by a hundred restraints if it is not to consume in chaos both the individual and the group" (p. 75).

Why Sexual Expression Is Reserved for Marriage

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland6 offers three reasons that the sacred powers of procreation should be expressed only between husband and wife. First, he counsels that when men or women fail to keep their sexual appetites within appropriate bounds, they abuse not only their bodies, but also their souls and the soul of their partner. He states:

This distinctive and very important Latter-day Saint doctrine underscores why sexual sin is so serious. We declare that one who uses the God-given body of another without divine sanction abuses the very soul of that individual, abuses the central purpose and processes of life, "the very key" to life, as President Boyd K. Packer once called it. In exploiting the body of another—which means exploiting his or her soul—one desecrates the Atonement of Christ, which saved that soul and which makes possible the gift of eternal life. And when one mocks the Son of Righteousness, one steps into a realm of heat hotter and holier than the noonday sun. You cannot do so and not be burned (p. 75).

Second, Elder Holland6 teaches that sexual intimacy is reserved for a married couple because it is the ultimate symbol of total union. Sex is not only a physical union between spouses but also a symbol of total union in all areas of their lives. "Their hearts, hopes, lives, love, family, future, dreams" are symbolized in this very act:

From the Garden of Eden onward, marriage was intended to mean the complete merger of a man and a woman. . . . But such a total union, such an unyielding commitment between a man and a woman, can only come with the proximity and permanence afforded in a marriage covenant, with solemn promises and the pledge of all they possess—their very hearts and minds, all their days and all their dreams (p. 75).

Finally, Elder Holland6 concludes that physical intimacy is also symbolic of a shared relationship between spouses and their Father in Heaven (p. 75). Co-creative love between husband and wife symbolizes union and a special kind of "sacrament" with the Lord9 (p. 57). According to Elder Holland, when sexual relations exist between married couples, "we gain some access to both the grace and majesty of His [Heavenly Father's] power. . . . These are moments when we quite literally unite our will with God's will, our spirit with His spirit, where communion through the veil becomes very real. At such moments we not only acknowledge His divinity but we quite literally take something of that divinity to ourselves" (p. 75). In this way, couples can be united with the Lord, and he can bestow promised blessings upon them as they live according to His commandments.

The Blessings of a Chaste Life

Wonderful blessings await those who live the law of chastity. First, we become more like Heavenly Father and more able to receive blessings from him3. Some of these blessings include respect for one another, respect for ourselves6, and "the blessings of increased love and peace, greater trust and respect for marital partners, deeper commitment to each other, and, therefore, a deep and significant sense of joy and happiness"1 (p. 36).

Elder Russell M. Nelson8 noted, "When you marry, you and your eternal companion may then invoke the power of procreation, that you may have joy and rejoicing in your posterity. This divine endowment is guarded by your Creator's law of chastity" (p. 31).

Resisting Temptation

The decision to remain chaste may not be easy, but it is simple. By living lives of chastity and virtue, we can build a strong spiritual foundation that will protect us from the evils of the world. Living virtuously helps us qualify for the Lord's strength and blessings. President Thomas S. Monson3 said:

It is not difficult to withstand the mockings and unsavory remarks of foolish ones who would ridicule chastity, honesty, and obedience to God's commands. The world has ever belittled adherence to principle. . . . When Noah was instructed to build an ark, the foolish populace looked at the cloudless sky, then scoffed and jeered until the rain came (p. 27).

The adversary does not want us to keep the law of chastity and tempts us to break it. He may especially tempt us when we are weakened by loneliness, confusion, or unhappiness. When we're experiencing these feelings, it can become much more difficult to see the consequences of breaking the law of chastity3. Although the adversary's buffetings may be hard to withstand, Heavenly Father has given us the power to stand firm. In 1 Corinthians 10:13 we are told that Heavenly Father will not allow us to be tempted beyond our ability to resist. By turning to Him in prayer, following the promptings of the Holy Ghost, and remembering the consequences of breaking the law of chastity, we can overcome temptations.

Leading a chaste life is something that we should all decide now. President Benson1 counseled, "Decide now to be chaste. The decision to be chaste and virtuous need only be made once. Make that decision now, and let it be so firm and with such deep commitment that it can never be shaken" (p. 36). When the "devil shall send forth his mighty winds," like Nephi and Lehi, our standards will not be negotiated or neglected.

In Helaman 5:12, Nephi and Lehi, the sons of Helaman are concerned about the wickedness that dominates the people at that time. In the midst of affliction, they remember and are strengthened by the words of their father, who told them that the Savior and his teachings are the only sure foundation for a godly life:

And now my sons, remember, remember that it is upon the rock of our Redeemer, who is Christ, the Son of God, that ye must build your foundation; that when the devil shall send forth his mighty winds, yea, his shafts in the whirlwind, yea, when all his hail and his mighty storm shall beat upon you, it shall have no power over you to drag you down to the gulf of misery and endless wo, because of the rock upon which ye are built, which is a sure foundation, a foundation whereon if men build they cannot fall.

Suggestions for Living a Chaste Life

President Benson1 offers six suggestions for leading virtuous lives:

  • Decide now to be chaste.
  • Control your thoughts.
  • Pray for the power to resist temptation.
  • If you are married, avoid flirtations of any kind.
  • If you are married, avoid being alone with members of the opposite sex.
  • If you are single and dating, carefully plan positive and constructive activities so that you are not left with nothing to do but share physical affection (p. 36).

Repentance and Forgiveness

While it is better to not have committed sexual sin in the first place, the Lord loves his children enough to provide a way back when they stray. Repentance takes effort, sincere desire, and full commitment to not repeat the sin. Elder Holland6 states:

If some few of you are carrying such wounds—and I know that you are—to you is extended the peace and renewal of repentance available through the atoning sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ. In such serious matters that path of repentance is not easily begun nor painlessly traveled. But the Savior of the world will walk that essential journey with you. He will strengthen you when you waver. He will be your light when it seems most dark. He will take your hand and be your hope when hope seems all you have left. His compassion and mercy, with all their cleansing and healing power, are freely given to all who truly wish complete forgiveness and will take the steps that lead to it. . . . I bear witness of the great plan of life, of the powers of godliness, of mercy and forgiveness and the Atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ—all of which have profound meaning in matters of moral cleanliness (p. 12).

President Benson1 offers five suggestions for those who are in the process of repentance:

  • Remove yourself immediately from any situation that is either causing you to sin or that may cause you to sin.
  • Plead with the Lord for the power to overcome temptation.
  • Let your priesthood leaders help you resolve any transgressions and come back into full fellowship with the Lord.
  • Drink from the divine fountain, and fill your lives with positive sources of power.
  • Remember that through full repentance, you can become clean again (p. 36).

Written by Janell Langlois and Jill Cox, Research Assistants, and edited by Stephen F. Duncan, Professor, School of Family Life, Brigham Young University.

References

  1. Benson, E. T. (1988, October). The law of chastity. Tambuli, 36.
  2. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. (1992). The law of chastity. Gospel fundamentals. Salt Lake City, UT: Author.
  3. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. (1998, October). What prophets and apostles teach about chastity and fidelity. Ensign, 38-39.
  4. The First Presidency and Council of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. (1995, November). The family: A proclamation to the world. Ensign, 102.
  5. Hinckley, G. B. (1988, August). WIth all thy getting get understanding. Ensign, 4.
  6. Holland, J. R. (1998, November). Personal purity. Ensign, 75.
  7. Kimball, S. W. (1975, November). The time to labor is now. Ensign, 7. 
  8. Nelson, R. M. (1985, November). Self-mastery. Ensign, 31.
  9. Olson, T. D. (2000). Chastity and fidelity in marriage and family relationships. In D. C. Dollahite (Ed.),Strengthening our families: An in-depth look at the proclamation on the family (pp. 50-59). Salt Lake City, UT: Bookcraft.