It's official! '£60m MESSAGE: VIRGINS ARE OK' proclaimed the Evening Standard recently, reporting on the Government's latest advertising offensive to try and reduce the number of teenage pregnancies in Britain (which currently exceeds 90,000 per annum).
'There is nothing embarrassing about being a virgin' one sixteen year-old claimed in the Daily Telegraph. However the Department of Health seemed a little more embarrassed about it than the headlines initially implied. The message that 'It's cool to be a virgin' was thought to be too unrealistic to lead the campaign and the more ambivalent slogan 'Sex, are you thinking enough about it?' was finally adopted instead.
Ambivalence often seems to sum up the general establishment attitude toward virginity. Delaying the onset of sexual intercourse is widely seen as a key objective for sex education programmes and is often used in research as an outcome measure of their effectiveness. The July 2000 DfEE guidelines on sex education emphasise its importance. Yet some major providers of sex education see it as a lost cause. Several leading sex educators have expressed to me their incredulity about encouraging abstinence. Neither 'abstinence' nor 'virgin' appear in the glossary of the FPA workbook for first schools!
The press also betrayed their cynicism in much of their coverage. The Sun in pronouncing that Katy Hill 'the super-cool star of Live and Kicking reveals today that she stayed a virgin until her wedding night' could not resist adding 'after making her boyfriend wait 13 years for sex'. The idea that any couple could freely and joyously agree together not to have sex before marriage is one that passes Fleet Street's understanding.
Sadly virginity, fidelity and indeed any concept of the importance of sexual purity seem to pass many Christians' understanding too. In writing about the pragmatic arguments for encouraging abstinence,[1,2] I have expected and received much attack. However the opposition I have encountered from Christians has surprised me. When in the scriptures Paul writes 'I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy. I promised you to one husband, to Christ, so that I might present you as a pure virgin to him', he is surely drawing an analogy between our sexual union and the exclusive intimacy God desires with his people. This is a thread that runs through from Genesis to Revelation. Both content and context of our sex-lives have the most profound implications about the nature of our relationship to Christ.
The Government's rediscovery of the value of virginity is welcome. Christians should have the strongest motivation to help teenagers resist pressure to become sexually active. We have the spiritual dimensions of sex revealed to us and the power of the Holy Spirit within us to enable us to 'flee sexual immorality' and honour God with our bodies.