In his book Forbidden Fruit: Sex and Religion in the Lives of American Teenagers(Oxford University Press), sociologist Mark Regnerus shows that abstinence-pledge programs are most effective with younger adolescents, and that the "appeal of the pledge diminish[es] as the sex drive increases with age." Regnerus demonstrates that Evangelical Protestant teenagers aremorelikely to engage in sex while unmarried than their Mormon, Jewish, and even mainline liberal Protestant peers.
Regnerus also demolishes the common notion that these virginity pledges are the driving force in what many of us have seen anecdotally for years—namely, Evangelical teenagers clinging to a "technical virginity" through sexual practices other than intercourse. Regnerus acknowledges that the "technical virginity" charade happens, but he says it has nothing to do with seeking to avoid some kind of religious guilt. It's instead a "future-oriented, self-focused (but not anti-family), risk-aversive, parent-driven (and subtly class-oriented)" middle-class morality.
To put it bluntly, teenagers of whatever religious persuasion in contemporary America are more likely to delay intercourse and to substitute oral sex or some other form of gratification for intercourse because they are trying to avoid risks to their future economic well-being. They are "technical virgins" because they want to go to college rather than because they want not to go to hell. As conservative Evangelicals grow more socially and economically ascendant, Regnerus predicts, they will be more likely to adopt the same forms of sexually tolerant risk management focused on economic viability.
This brings us back to language. The talk of "abstinence" and "waiting" shores up the implicit risk management behind the cultural milieu. It is not just in our public witness that we adopt the culture's grammar; we do so in our own churches and parishes. How often do we urge teenagers to maintain chastity to be consistent with their "values" and to avoid bad consequences to their health, their future marriages, or their walk with God? These consequences are no doubt real, but why would it seem so awkward to say what the Scripture says quite straightforwardly—that fornicators will not inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor. 6:9–10)?
One does not have to be some sort of wild-eyed "hellfire and brimstone" revival preacher to recognize that the apostles and prophets seem insistent that sexual immorality brings upon itself the wrath of God (Rev. 21:8).Read the whole thing.