“What is the first commandment? How would you answer that question?” Predictably, the twelve- to seventeen-year-old scholars who receive the Willing to Wait Sexual Risk Avoidance Program at various Christian schools will respond, “Love the Lord you God with all your heart and with all your soul with all your mind.” Certainly, that’s how Jesus Christ would answer the question (Matt. 22:37). Others will say, “I am the Lord your God” (Exod. 20:2), which is the first of the Ten Commandments (or “Have no other Gods before me” [20:3], depending on who is counting).
“But,” I ask my students again, “what is the first command God gave human beings?” With that additional hint, many students offer, “Be fruitful, and multiply” (Gen. 1:28 KJV).
“Indeed that is the first commandment God gives humans,” I affirm as I turn to Genesis 1. After making human beings in the image of God, “God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it’” (Gen. 1:28). Do you think God knew what was necessary for humans to increase in number and fill the earth? In other words, the first thing God ever thought to tell us was, “Go have sex! And do it a lot!”
My students usually aren’t sure how to respond. They didn’t expect their “Willing to Wait” instructor (whose program promised to extol the benefits of abstinence) to start off with God’s blessing and encouragement to delight in sex. Of course, I assure them that we’ll need to understand the intended context for this blessing in our lives, that there are consequences to sex, and that there are blessed paths to flourishing besides marriage and childbearing. But in our world of scandals of abuse and misconduct, sex trafficking, media sexualization of everything, and pornography, students need to know that sex is a beautiful gift from God that Christians should celebrate.
But what about the issues that surround teens and sex today?
The teen pregnancy rate is still too high (“Adolescent Pregnancy and Its Outcomes”). And STDs are still too common, with nearly ten million young people (age fifteen to twenty-four) experiencing a new case of an STD each year in the United States (“STDs in Adolescents and Young Adults”).
And too many young people (particularly young men) continue to engage in sexual violence against too many other young people (particularly young women). As our culture and churches continue to reckon with a history of sexual abuse and harassment, our focus needs to remain on prevention and accountability. The fact is that while some focus their efforts on protecting young people from a false or embellished allegation, a young man is more likely to be a victim of sexual assault (Smith et al.) than a perpetrator of sexual assault. He is more likely to be a perpetrator of sexual assault than accused of sexual assault (Morgan and Oudekerk 37). He is more likely to be accused of sexual assault than convicted of sexual assault. And he is even more likely to be justly convicted of sexual assault than falsely accused of sexual assault (Lisak et al.; Lonsway et al.). Those who fear for young men being caught in a “#MeToo” moment should worry less about a culture that is finally realizing the value of consent and focus more on teaching young men (and all young people) to respect others, to communicate boundaries, and to take responsibility for how they treat others.
Furthermore, internet pornography is ravaging another generation of young people at higher rates, earlier ages, and with increasingly more graphic content than that experienced by millennials who grew up while the internet took over the world. Porn is now a nearly universal experience for the world’s adolescents (Sabina et al.; Stavropoulos et al.).
Willing to Wait strives to address these risks teens face by equipping students with the information and skills necessary to enjoy optimal health. Depending on the school and grade level, we offer seven to nine lessons covering media influence, pregnancy, STDs, emotions, laws, boundaries, dating, communication, relationships, and contraception. Each lesson emphasizes that young people can wait until marriage to have sex.
Administrators and parents sometimes think this is an impossible task.
“Adolescent Pregnancy and Its Outcomes across Countries.” Guttmacher Institute, August 2015, https://www.guttmacher.org/sites/default/files/factsheet/fb-adolescent-pregnancy-outcomes-across-countries.pdf.
Cole, Russell P. “Comprehensive Reporting of Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention Programs.” American Journal of Public Health, vol. 106, no. S1, Sept. 2016, pp. S15–16.
Feldman Farb, Amy, and Amy L. Margolis. “The Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program (2010-2015): Synthesis of Impact Findings.” American Journal of Public Health, vol. 106, no. S1, Sept. 2016, pp. S9–15.
Lisak, David, et al. “False Allegations of Sexual Assault: An Analysis of Ten Years of Reported Cases.” Violence against Women, vol. 16, no. 12, December 2010, pp. 1318–34.
Lonsway, Dr. Kimberly A., et al. “False Reports: Moving beyond the Issue to Successfully Investigate and Prosecute Non-Stranger Sexual Assault.” National Sexual Violence Research Center, 2009, https://www.nsvrc.org/publications/articles/false-reports-moving-beyond-issue-successfully-investigate-and-prosecute-non-s.
Morgan, Rachel E., and Barbara A. Oudekerk. “Criminal Victimization, 2018.” U.S. Department of Justice, September 2018, https://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/cv18.pdf.
Sabina, Chiara, et al. “The Nature and Dynamics of Internet Pornography Exposure for Youth.” CyberPsychology & Behavior, vol. 11, no. 6, October 2008, pp. 691–93, http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.362.7884&rep=rep1&type=pdf.
Smith, S. G., et al. “The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey: 2015 Data Brief—Updated Release.” National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, November 2018, https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/pdf/2015data-brief508.pdf.
Stanger-Hall, Kathrin F., and David W. Hall. “Abstinence-Only Education and Teen Pregnancy Rates: Why We Need Comprehensive Sex Education in the U.S.” PLOS ONE, vol. 6, no. 10, October 2011, p. e24658.
Stavropoulos, Vasilis, et al. “Adolescent Pornography Use: A Systematic Review of Research Trends 2000–2017.” Current Psychiatry Reviews, vol. 7, no. 1, March 2018, pp. 47–58.
“STDs in Adolescents and Young Adults—2018 Sexually Transmitted Diseases Surveillance.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, October 8, 2019, https://www.cdc.gov/std/stats18/adolescents.htm.
“Summary of Findings from TPP Program Grantees (FY2010-2014).” Department of Health and Human Services, July 2020, https://opa.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/2020-07/summary-researchdemonstration.pdf.
“Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance—United States, 2019.” CDC MMWR Supplement, vol. 69, no. 1, August 21, 2020, https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/69/su/pdfs/su6901-H.pdf.
Seth Horton has been teaching Willing to Wait since 2015 and is their curriculum coordinator, making sure their material is accurate and up to date every year. He earned his bachelor of science from Cornerstone University as well as a master’s from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary. Seth lives in Grand Rapids’s Creston neighborhood with his wife and four children.