A Maryland couple caused quite a stir recently when the bride, Brelyn Bowman, posted a picture of herself and her father, holding a certificate of purity. The image brought about waves of both criticism and praise. The bride presented the certificate to her father, a pastor, during her wedding reception. Signed by both Bowman and her OB/GYN, it states: “I have honored God and my earthly father by maintaining my earthly purity.” In an interview, the couple says that they were both virgins on their wedding day.
No matter what your thoughts are on this public display of honoring a personal commitment, it brings to mind the question: can we really expect purity from our kids today? Is it possible for parents to raise young men and women who are committed to waiting for their wedding day to engage in sexual activity? Are there more people like Brelyn and her new husband who practice abstinence until marriage?
The short answer: YES. As someone who has worked with junior and senior high school students for the past decade, I can tell you that Brelyn and her new husband are not the only couple in all of America that made it to their wedding altar as virgins.
In many cases, Americans have turned to what is called comprehensive sex education. Abstinence-only sex education, on the other hand, teaches students that waiting until marriage for sex is the only guaranteed way to prevent sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy. Comprehensive sex education presents abstinence as an option, but also tells students about birth control methods. Advocates of this type of education believe that kids are going to have sex anyway, so we’d better teach them to use condoms to keep them as safe as we can. Any twelve year old can see right through this line of reasoning. “You really should not have sex, but if you do…” is an invitation for most adolescents to indulge. Scholarly research on the subject all points toward the comprehensive model as the answer to the promiscuity of young people. After studying the National Survey of Family Growth, Advocates for Youth states that “young people ages 15-19… who received comprehensive sex education were 50 percent less likely to experience pregnancy than those who received abstinence-only education.” So instead of teaching character and values to our children, research suggests we should just teach our children ways to avoid dealing with the consequences of their actions.
If this is the message our students are getting in school, parents will have to work hard to encourage their children to save sex for marriage. Parents who want their children to embrace a lifestyle of purity will need to work overtime and have intentional conversations with their teenagers. They will need to decipher what their children are hearing at school, what friends are saying, and how those thoughts influence their children’s decisions.
In my personal life, the commitment to purity was something my family routinely talked about. My mother is a labor and delivery nurse, so sex was a normal topic of conversation in my home. My sister and I would roll our eyes every time she would come home and start with, “Girls, I had another 14-year-old patient last night, we need to talk” — and on the conversation would go. Where were we in our relationships? What did we think about our peers having babies? What boundaries and accountability measures did we have established to help us pursue our goals for relationships? It was routine dinner conversation at our house.
Parents who want to encourage their children to save sex for marriage will need to work to create these open dialogues. Many of my friends in high school experienced the exact opposite from their parents. Instead of an open conversation, they were abruptly taken to a gynecologist and put on birth control. Often, these friends pleaded with their mothers that they “weren’t doing anything” and did not need this preventative measure. I found that almost all of these friends then became sexually active during their college years, mostly because they had been using birth control for a few years and their parents obviously expected such behavior.
Beyond these purposeful talks, parents also need to model a lifestyle of purity to their children. Purity is not something that ends after saying “I do.” A piece of gold on your left ring finger does not mean there will never be an opportunity for sex outside of your marriage. Parents can have a tremendous impact on their children by choosing to show them their faithfulness to their own bonds of marriage. Not flirting with people who are not your spouse, avoiding time alone with members of the opposite sex who are not related to you, and talking honestly with your children about the decisions you made and what you wish you had done differently are great steps to help demonstrate your commitment to purity — characteristics you want your children to emulate.
Helping our children remove themselves from our sexually saturated culture will teach them to fight to protect their purity. I have a family member who turns the television off during commercials to help protect his sons from the raunchy images polluting advertisements for potato chips and fast food restaurants. He models this behavior by turning his own eyes away, and he trains his children to do the same, working for their purity by not filling their minds with airbrushed images of women who are not their wives.
As a mother, this story of Brelyn Bowman and her desire to honor a promise she made to both God and her earthly father reminds me that it is still possible today. Thirty years from now I want my son to be enjoying married life knowing that he fought for this cause, saving sex for his wife, and his wife alone. That is a goal that inspires me as a mom. It can be done, even today. Purity is possible for our children. And we can show them how — starting today.