Abstinence Pledges Fail

A recent survey showed that teens who take abstinence pledges are just as likely to have sex and are less likely to take precautions against pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. Many in the faith community are disheartened by such study results, but I can see how this happens. And it’s not a problem with the kids; it’s a problem of parenting. Parents assume because the church is has kids make abstinence pledges and wear promise rings, they don’t have to do anything. Parents are not taking their responsibility to parent and raise these kids; they get them to take the pledge and then take their hands off. They allow these young men and young women to spend inordinate amounts of time together alone and think that a purity ring on their finger is going to be the magic force field of protection. Listen, for teenagers to have sex, they have to have the opportunity to have sex and poor parenting is giving them the opportunities.

I am stunned at the number of people who allow their teenage kids to be in scenarios of temptation that they would never allow themselves to be in. Think about it — as a grown, mature adult, would you spends hours on end in a private place — such as a bedroom — talking, sharing, and forming a relationship with someone to whom you are not married? Of course not! That would be ridiculous. Yet, many parents consistently put their kids in this exact kind of jeopardy by allowing them to be in compromising positions where they are bound to be tempted and make wrong choices.

I was talking to a pastor of a church at an event that I was doing one weekend and he told me that his 16 year old daughter was at home for the day doing homework with her boyfriend. He told me that they did it all the time — holed up in her bedroom for six hours with the door shut as they did their studying. I couldn’t believe it! What was he thinking… that they were actually doing homework all that time?! Seriously people! Many parents are putting their own children in situations that virtually guarantee moral failure. As parents, we cannot allow our children to enter an environment where they can get totally alone with each other; where they have enough time to get naked and have sex.

When our kids were teenagers, there was no way in the world they were allowed to be alone with someone of the opposite sex where it would have been possible to have sex. We watched them like hawks. They had to be 16 years of age before they could even start dating and then it was dating as a group — never just two of them alone, over and over again. Think it through: serious dating commitments eventually lead to sex. To assume otherwise is to be derelict in our roles as parents and guardians.

I hear people say, “We trust our kids.” Good grief… If you trust your teenager to be able to handle temptations that you would never even allow yourself to be in, you are not being a parent — you are being a fool. When I was growing up, do you know whose houses we used to have the best parties at? Yep! The parents who trusted their kids! They never checked on anything and they left us all alone.

I hear of parents who give their kids their “space” or “privacy” by not going into their bedrooms or the basement or wherever, without knocking first. I can’t help but think about such parents, “are they out of their minds?!” Kids will often say, “this is my room!” My answer to that was simply this: when you start paying rent, then it’s your room. Until then, these are all my rooms — and we don’t go behind closed doors with people of the opposite sex — period.

I am stunned at how blatantly stupid some Christian parents seem to be when it comes to sexual things. They let their kids watch all kinds of blatantly sexual images in movies and on television with little thought of how those images and messages can affect them. I know of a pastor friend who allowed his young daughter to see the movie Titanic at least 11 times. This same pastor was all worried about anything she saw that he deemed to be satanic, like Harry Potter, but not at all concerned about his 14 year old daughter learning the lessons found in a movie like Titanic. And the lessons are very simple: If you really like a boy you can let him see your boobies and he can draw pictures of your boobies, and if you really like him, you can have sex with him two days later.

Look, the chances of your teenage daughter wanting to jump on a broom and fly around the room are pretty low. But, the chances that your daughter’s boyfriend will want to touch her boobies, well… I’d give that a pretty big chance, wouldn’t you? Talk about straining at a gnat and swallowing a camel! We need to get our priorities straight.

Am I against having our young people take abstinence pledges? Certainly not. But abstinence pledges will only start having a real effect when parents decide to be real parents.

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45 Responses to “Abstinence Pledges Fail”

  1. Di says:

    A loud and hearty AMEN from a single mom. Do I like being referred to as a tyrant? Not necessarily. But as long as my son is only 14 years old, I’d rather be called tyrant than grandma!

  2. Joe Chavez says:


    One of the best articles/posts I’ve read on the topic. Thanks for sharing. I’ll be “link loving” this on Friday.

    I’ve been so blessed by your blog and “Love, Marriage and Stinking Thinking.” It’s DVR’ed every Thursday!

    In Christ,


  3. alyssa says:

    I love what you had to say about this subject. In the case of parents who try to give their kids privacy it probably comes from a parent who highly values respect. Giving and showing respect is a good thing but in the case of dealing with the opposite sex and preventing temptation in the teens life it is best to draw a line as to what is more important in the context of the situation. Your blogs are an absolute joy to read keep em coming!!!

  4. Meg says:

    Thank you, thank you, thank you. Finally…a voice of truth. I raised my sons this way, and it paid off…both of them remained virgins until marriage, and their wives have thanked me! It works!!!!!!!

    • Kicks says:

      I am glad i am not your son….Look being a tyrant is sometimes necessary but is it always the right thing? trust me when you start being a tyrant you will have difficult time knowing when and where to draw the line since different kids have different mentality and sooner or later you are going to cross the line and child will resent you for it.Now I get the arguement that its for their own good and they will appreciate it when they grow up…but they dont they keep it inside and when a situation arises that really tests the limits of ur relationship with ur adult children thats when all this pent up rage and resentment will show itself …and you will be wondering where did i go wrong? Trust me …most messed up kids come from tough overbearing families….

  5. Michael says:

    Great article. Very thought-provoking. We often forget, as parents, those raging emotions and hormones that ripped through our bodies when we were teenagers. If we could somehow refresh our memories, we might be more inclined to be more aggressively involved in refraining our kids from those inappropriate situations. I would add, though, that when our kids see their parents as having a great marriage, they will tend to have more respect for their parents. And if they have more respect for their parents, they will tend to avoid situations that could lead to other situations that they know would disappoint their parents. Our kids are often smarter than we realize.

  6. Jeff M says:

    What a great post and directly to the heart of the issue. I was a youth pastor for 15 years and am now a senior pastor, and I have seen this scenario played out far too often. Respecting privacy and trusting your kids doesn’t mean checking common sense at the door and pretending temptation isn’t real. Good stuff.

  7. Mike says:

    This was great reading. I believe it is very important for parents to stop being afraid of being who God ordained them to be for their children-PARENTS. It appears that parents have abdicated much of their roles to the television and radio who are raising their children in the way of the world. The only way parents will be able to help save a generation and bring them back to Christ and His way of thinking and doing things is for them to bring them up as the Bible says “in the fear and admonition of the Lord.”

  8. stacey says:

    Great article. I am amazed raising teens how much “sexual” pressure they face. I believe the reason that they take the pledge and wear the ring to begin with it is peer pressure everyone in the youth group is doing it. The same reason they become sexually active the believe that everybody is doing it its no big deal. Then parent naively take the hands off approach well I send them to youth group, they took the pledge they “know” what we believe so everything will be fine. Parenting is on going, and the talks about sex have to be on going. More than just the don’t do it they need the reasons why. That is what makes Pam Stenzel and you so important for teens to hear.

  9. Amelia says:

    Totally great thoughts, Mark, and you’re right about parents being too lax with their teens. I’ve read a few of the actual studies that compare teens with and without abstinence pledges, and guess what most of them do? They naturally have separate control groups for age, education, socioeconomic status, etc., but they also have separate control groups based on religiosity – they compare behavior only between teens who already believe about the same things about premarital sex.

    Thus, all that most of these conclusions mean is that the piece of paper called an abstinence pledge means nothing. Well, duh! Studies show that teens with the same beliefs about sex before marriage, one of whom signs a pledge and one of whom doesn’t, are equally likely to fornicate…This is what we are spending money to study?

    Don’t lose hope, people. Most of the people running these studies want to show that abstinence pledges don’t work, and they do it by hiding the mechanisms of their studies where only geeks like me ;) will read it. Too many of our researchers have such a strong ideological bias against things like duty, honor, and discipline that they engineer studies to induce despair in people who hold those values.

  10. Brenda Stuart says:

    Amen brutha! Wish stuff like this would hit main stream media. I teach parent workshops for an Abstinence organization, equipping and encouraging parents to talk to their kids about this stuff. So many of them have turned in their parent cards. Moms and Dad, it’s time to man up and be the parent!!!! Two (of 3) of my sons have married/dated “virgins”. It is not impossible. We have to give our kids more credit that they DON’T have to slap a condom on, they are capabable for some self control…modeled and encoraged by the parents…which is a whole “other” story. How many parents are making bad choices themselves? I’ll stop here. I am singin’ to the choir. Get a clue parents…especially those in the church!

    • alyssa says:

      I agree with what you are saying about parents being the role model. Its amazing what parents will try to brush off in their own behavior and then try to make the kids do better. (My father is on his 3rd marriage and I know in the second one he had premarital sex.)

  11. Elvin says:

    Amen! Thank you for this fantastic teaching. May the Lord continue to prosper the work of your hands bro. Mark. God bless!

  12. Linda Carlson says:

    Way to go Mark. You tell it like it is and hopefully more people will get the message. To say that abstinence programs don’t work is also wrong and there are many surveys to the prove the contrary. You ROCK! I also enjoy you writing the same way that you present. Our small group has gone through your DVD series and we have also seen you live. When I read your article, I could hear you saying it as if you were in the same room. Thank you very much for all you do.

  13. Margaret says:

    I come from a different faith, but I find our perspectives are the same. I never allowed my teenage daughter to have friends in the house after school (they often hung out on the lawn out front) and bedroom doors were always all the way open when guests came over. People need to realize some of these old-fashioned rules were there for a reason.

  14. Donna says:

    Thank you Mark, I have been told by my Pastor’s wife that I micro-manage
    my children. I told her, no, we are just being parents. We have the rules you have stated. We homeschool, don’t have cable TV and we pick the movies our children will watch. We have family night once a week with pizza, talk and a movie. We attend Bible Study together as a family. We have a 13 yr old girl and a sixteen yr old boy. We do not allow him to date without others and only at a specific function (youth group activities etc.) We have never believed in “sleep overs”. We were kids once, we know what really goes on at them! I really needed to hear that we are on the correct path with our kids. Thanks again and keep up the good work. We need a DVD for the teens!

  15. Celeste says:

    This topic is soemthing real to pond off as a parent, especially here in the United States. Some parents think it’s okay to be linient because that’s the way it goes nowadays in this generation. The truth is we need to guard them more and guide them spiritually, know their friends, and be there for them. This topic is very enlightning.

  16. Josephine says:

    So if they don’t have it at one or the others home they simply have it somewhere else. I believe raising a child to a strong selfesteem so that she will be able to make good choices based on true feelings. I had a period in my life with a lot of “one-night-stands”. I found by experience it was not what I needed and that it never gave what I sought after. Anyone could probably have told me that – but for me like for many other people, we learn by the insights we get by experience. It was my path – I don’t regret it, I don’t feel any shame, I don’t think of it as sinfull – it is part of me and it is a lesson I’m happy God gave me so I could learn.

    I don’t believe premarital sex is a sin, I believe sex without love is a sin. I believe that when you stop listening to your inner guidance, when you don’t take care of yourself and love yourself – when you break your bond with God – then you commit a sin.

    and that break can be anything, not necessarily only sex outside marriage etc.

    • Tiffany says:

      I am sorry to say that I have to disagree with you.

      Sex is something that God made for husband and wife and out of context, it becomes out of control.

      I, too, had my period of one-night stands and realize that I sinned in doing so. Every man that I have slept with outside of marriage was joined in a sinful act with me – even my husband, since we had sex before marriage.

      I can’t perfectly express to you the effect premarital sex has on a marriage, but the tears I have cried tell a story with no words. I wish that I could turn back time and save myself for my husband, and he wishes the same thing. Sure, we learned from our past, but we have baggage in our marriage.

      I don’t believe God gave you that lesson – that is a path that you chose. You strayed from God and followed your own selfish nature instead of God’s will – I did the same thing, but I don’t blame God. He gives beauty for ashes, but he doesn’t give you ashes.

      When you have premarital sex, you become one with a person – literally, spiritually, emotionally…and if you become one with a person spiritually outside of marriage, then you do break your bond with God. Two become one, and when you have a relationship with God, three become one.

      Mark is right on, and I’m sorry you’re too blinded by making yourself feel good and loved that you can’t see the truth.

    • Christoph says:

      Your email tells me that perhaps you’ve lost the capacity to feel shame at all, a sad and dangerous state. You honestly think that what the Bible calls fornication is NOT sin? How on earth can you POSSIBLY justify that thinking? Sin is by its very nature a religious term. Religion means, among other things, setting aside your own reasoning in favor of a higher ideal. There is no major religion in the world that doesn’t view sex outside of marriage as sinful. Your only out is the obvious fact that you don’t worship God, but worship self. This is narccissicism, a psychological pandemic in the west, one that will mean the end of our culture if we don’t get a handle on it. God help your children avoid your mistakes.

  17. jesse says:

    Josephine, that’s like saying I believe in God, but i don’t believe His word! READ the Word of God!

  18. Michelle says:

    As the mother of two teenage sons, it is always our rule that no girls at the house when a parent is not home. When they do have a girl over the doors must remain open! They never really complained about it, and I think it took some of the pressure off of them to have to come up with a reason “why not?” I do remember being a teenager myself and know it’s hard to be “good” with all the temptations around. I agree that parents are too afraid of making their children angry, or trying to hard to be their kids best friend. I love spending time with my kids, we have a lot of fun together. But, I’ve always told them “I am your mother, not your best friend. I’m respectful to you and expect the same.” 99% of the time I got it. I thank God every day for blessing me with them.

  19. Jon says:

    As a teen myself, I can’t help but agree with the post. I’m more than thankful my parents set the boundaries they did when I was in my younger teen years, but they reinforced that information by always keeping more than enough tabs on me without being intrusive. This allowed my girlfriend and I to set down boundaries right away according to what we thought were acceptable to God and our parents. The “No closed doors” rule is brilliant, no being home alone, and just to humor us whenever we were out driving they would do a spontaneous “hand check,” which we would all laugh at afterwards. But this showed that they still cared, and were still enforcing the rules in a manner we could all agree on. Thanks Mom and Dad!

  20. Nora says:

    I can not tell you HOW EXCITED I got while reading this. I had one of those “HA I told you so!” moments. I have been telling my friend that our kids today are Not animals, they can control themselves. They can wait until marriage, it is not an impossible thing to do. I am often accused of being to hard, strict, medalsome, and all those old-fashioned words. Thank you, to them for the names but even more to you for telling me it’s ok to not want my son to be alone with a girl at the age of 15. I too have cried over mistakes I’ve made with other men before marriage. I don’t want that for my children!

  21. missy says:

    This is so true!! I have arguments with my family all of the time. My girls are still young, but when they are teens I plan to watch them like HAWKS, moreso than my parents did me, even though they were very strict on me, I don’t feel they were quite strict enough!

    I commend the parents in these posts who chose to raise their sons this way, too! My brother had much more freedom than me growing up, because he was a boy and “couldn’t get pregnant” (their exact words) and ended up getting a 15 year old pregnant when he was 18! He has three different children by three different mothers, and the only girl he was ever married to wasn’t the mother of any of the children. He only sees one of them all of the time, one of them he sees once a month, and the other he has no contact with at all (the one with the young mother).

    Now, the son he is raising (all three of them are boys) he says he is going to give him as much freedom as they want, because our parents were too strict. I tell him that I am going to be the exact opposite with my girls. They are still young and impressionable when teenagers, and not adults! I believe a girl should have her privacy, but not with members of the opposite sex! There will be no going to boys’ houses, because what I found as a teen is that the boy’s parents would tell the girls’ parents they were home and that they would “keep an eye” on the teenagers, then leave and go to the grocery store! Asking for trouble!

    Then I see so many mothers online who are lamenting because their young sons got a younger girl pregnant and he is dealing with those consequences, sometimes even as extreme as being taken to court for statutory rape and having to report as a sex offender for the rest of his life! These are the same boys whose dads slapped them on the back and said, “Good job, son!” These are the same mothers who let their sons stay in their bedrooms with another woman’s daughter and have sex, or let him go to that girl’s house without first checking with her parents! These parents give their boys all of the freedom in the world, when it’s actually MORE important for the boys to be kept in check than the girls!

    Then when the charges do come, these mothers blame the little girl (“Harlot”) that “seduced” her son and say her son did nothing wrong! I really hate it for mothers like that when my daughters are teenagers. They better watch out!

    Too often, as parents, people think they need to be friends with their teenagers. You are not their friend! You are the enemy! You can be as nice as you want and tell them they can do whatever they like, but the minute you say “no”, you will be the enemy again! Even at the younger ages, when my girls tell me they “hate” me, I say “GOOD! Obviously, I am doing my job!” Stop trying to be friends with your CHILDREN and save them from themselves! They WILL thank you later, as others have demonstrated in their posts above!

  22. Mel says:

    I agree with everything you have said. One of my kids did take the purity pledge and we are super strict parents. Sex has always been spoken about very openly and the role model they had was me and my husband was my first and only. My kids are all adopted and I was hoping that the genes were not going to outweigh nurture! But it seems they are following their birth mothers model when they were not even around them after toddler age! My oldest was at least 19 when she had pre marital sex but she now has a baby and has been with more than one man AND is in church, almost as if she is doing nothing wrong at all. This behavior was not modeled in any way, shape or form for her. Then our other daughter – never allowed alone with a boy – snuck out and had sex at 14. So what do you do when you do EVERYTHING you have said we need to do and you stil have kids making the wrong decisions? We have been very open with our children, have prayed with them, have given the self-respect stand point, the Biblical standpoint, the spiritual -as in all the attachemtns and soul ties you form -standpoint, and our modeling is a marriage of 21 years, and I have only been with one man. Our son – who was adopted at 13 was a virgin, but our girls who were adopted at toddlers have gone astray in that area. We have 4 more children who are barely teens now. What more can we do to keep this from happening with them? It truly is a very very big issue for me!! I want them to “save” themselves for that one true love – married love – that God has for them.

  23. anoynmous says:

    I was one of those kids that were trusted by their parents and i am the first to say, when I married who was then my boyfriend now my husband, neither of us were virgins, we were “trusted” behind closed and most of the time locked doors, i am by no means happy with the way my teenage years were, but I learnt a lesson that my kids will not go, they will not be left alone without being in a public room and there will be someone there with them, we can be friends with our children, even more if we show them love and care for them, letting them be with a boyfriend at a young age like I was, dont show them we care, in my opinion.

    Thank you for writing this. It is awesome

  24. Marie says:

    I totally agree with this. I had so much guilt when my husband and I got married because we did everything but have intercourse. I am surprised that we never went all the way. I wish that we would have waited until we were married. It would have been so much better. My mom and dad like so many parents gave us to much privacy. We got to stay behind closed locked doors all the time. I told them he was just holding me or that we were doing homework and they actually believed it.

  25. Jessica Abe says:

    I love your honesty Mark, it is refreshing and it is really needed to wake people up. You have woken me up. I thought I would raise my teens with the idea of trust and what not but your right. How can you trust your teen in a situation you wouldn’t put yourself in!!! Bravo

  26. Gareth Rudon says:

    I’m from Belize (Central America). Everything you said is very true but, what I think the parents can do is watch the movie with the kids and turn it into a learning experience. What satan made for bad you turn around and make it into good.

  27. Matt Goldberg says:

    Thank you, Mark, for saying what needs to be said. It may sound “boring” to our young folks but the truth is the truth and we humans were given rules and directions from God for a reason. We need them in order to live happy and fulfilled lives.

  28. Mary says:

    I Love this article. I am so “thankful” to know that My Husband and I are not ALONE when it comes to how we feel our children should be raised. We have a “no door closing policy” at our house as well. I remember when I was a young girl, I was not “allowed” to date until I was 16, and even then was not “allowed” to be on a “date” unless my parents or the boys parents were taking us to and from our destination. And our outings did not last for more than it would take to watch a movie at the theater. My father even “picked me up” from my Prom!!! I am so grateful for that. Thank you for sharing this with us. I am looking forward to the next article.

  29. Teresa says:

    I love this!!! I am a mother of three teenagers; I am a Program Coordinator at a local Pregnancy Center and I teach Parenting Classes!!! I totally agree… Not only do I teach it… We live by it!

    We use Mark Gungor’s DVDs for our teens, our friends, our clients, and any one who enters our home!


  30. Kristina says:

    I agree with this article wholeheartedly. My husband and I are very strict with our two teenage sons (15 and 17) as much as is in our control. They do not have the ability to get away with anything this way at home.

    I do find it a bit discouraging, though, that there is a bit of an implication that if your kids *are* still seeking out sex, it is the parents’ fault. Quite honestly, I don’t know if my sons are virgins. I hope they are, but I can’t know that for sure. But they are not with me 24 hours a day, and it is perfectly easy to sneak into a school bathroom to do whatever. We do not leave them unsupervised, but most people are not NEARLY as vigilant as we are. One of my sons apparently spent an entire 7th-grade field trip (for honor’s students) making out with a girl, and no one noticed or said a thing!

    Parents can set a Godly example, and we can do everything in our power to minimize opportunities for temptation, but aside from never allowing our children out of our sight, there is no way to guarantee that they will do the right thing when we are not around.

  31. Anne Jenkins says:

    Right On!!! I have been saying these things for years and my adult friends accuse me of being a prude and being out of touch! I accuse them of being insane and now I have someone who agrees with me! Thank you for speaking the truth with no hint of apology. We desperately need to hear and see lots more of this.

  32. Dr Frank Gunzburg says:

    I think sex for teens is somewhat like a drug and I agree that parents need to give graduated information to their teens. I also agree that information is not enough. Boundaries and supervision need to accompany parental love and instructions. Pro-marriage and family tweets @efgunz

  33. Joy Roark says:

    Parents are definitely the difference-makers. We think Passport2Purity is a great tool to be more pro-active with kids about purity and abstinence…and hopefully avoid some of the situations described in this article. It’s a weekend getaway kit for parents to engage with their kids based on biblical principles when they start having questions about sexuality and their bodies: http://www.familylife.com/passport2purity In today’s sexually-charged world, parents need all the help we can get!

  34. Summer says:

    Wow! Love it, love it, love it….you just tell it like it is Mark. THANK YOU!!!!!!!!!! I pray that parent’s will take this to heart and start following this Godly advice!!!

  35. Dashia says:

    I totally agree with you. People find it odd that my husband and I did not live together before marriage and that we didn’t have children. I had the parents that you talk about the ones that did not allow a person of the opposite sex in your room unless they were blood related. I thank you for making this point as a pastor and as a parent because people seem to be confused when there teem becomes pregnant. Yet the fail to realize they are partly responsible.
    On another note thank you for your laugh your way seminars they have helped my husband and I better. Understand each other better. We will be celebrating our 10 yr anniversary this year and through God’s blessing hope to celebrate many more.

    Thanks dashia thomas

  36. eimanehi says:

    I think this is a very important point you are making with the world’s moral standard crashing by the minute, the media is having a field day and satan/his agents are working overtime to drag as many as possible to hell.Also the ” let’s do everything but sex” theory/ “only technically a virgin” theory further requires that this message you spoke about be repeated over and over again.

  37. Bobby says:

    Hi, I’m just thinking here, how can a teenager feel loved and accepted as a person I You cannot respect their basic human right to privacy? I agree that there should not be people having sex so young but it’s really a person to person choice. I chose not to have sex until I get married but if my parents do not trust me to uphold an oath to God, then I’m going to feel pretty down. Parents should trust our commitments but I do think there should b preventative measures taken because of our oath. I personally have an escape plan for when I feel tempted. I have my parents come and check on me and friends at least every 15 minutes at home and call every 20 when I’m out. I hope this provides some insight on the teenage position.

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