On Raising Teenagers: What the Bible Says

Debby and I taught our kids they should abstain from sex until marriage and that marriage was to be a lifelong, monogamous, male-female relationship. But I guess we didn’t because none of our kids believe that as adults. After much Bible study and prayer, Debby and I don’t either.

I remember how angry our teenage daughter was when she found out Debby and I had not followed the abstinence course ourselves...not even remotely.

As a kid, I wasn’t taught that sex should be reserved for marriage. It was the 1960s, and I don’t think I’d ever even considered that concept. When Debby and I started dating at 17, we waited a few weeks to have sex because I’d read somewhere that it was better to get to know each other first. We were sexually active from 17 (we got married at 21) and I never felt ashamed or guilty of that fact.

In our mid 20s, we began attending the conservative church where Debby grew up. It was there that I first heard the teaching of abstinence. It made sense to me, and like many parents, I embraced the idea of helping my kids avoid unnecessary pain.

Our daughter became sexually active in her mid-teens, feeling a mixture of guilt and rebellion. Worse than that, though, she was unprepared to handle aggressive teenage boys and all the attention she was receiving from adult men. She engaged in many destructive teenage behaviors, which she’s fortunate to have survived.

She’s now a charming adult with a colorful history, but things could have been so much worse for her. If I was raising a teenager again, I’d do it differently. Here’s what the Bible says, what the Church says, and what I’d do differently raising teenagers today.

The Bible stipulates in several places that women should be virgins at marriage. It never mentions any similar requirement for men. This can’t just be an oversight. God isn’t knocking the heel of his hand into his forehead and saying, “Oh man, I forgot to mention that men should be virgins at marriage too.”

In previous chapters, we learned that the ancient culture required women to be sexually pure, both prior to and in marriage, so the lineage of the children would be uncontested. Men had no similar requirements. And since men tended to marry in their mid-20s, sex with slaves and prostitutes was a normal occurrence.

The Bible was written in that cultural context and didn’t address the need for pre-marital purity for men. In fact, there is no Hebrew or Greek word for sex prior to marriage. In those times, marriage wasn’t similar to what it is today. With women in a role like slaves, comparisons between Biblical marriage and our contemporary marriages almost don’t make sense.   

So how did we get the idea that the Bible requires sexual purity prior to marriage? The King James Version of the Bible often translates pornea as “fornication.” People tend to define “fornication” as sex prior to marriage. Hence many pastors preach that the Bible prohibits sex prior to marriage.

Pornea seems best translated as “sexual sins,” and those sins aren’t clearly defined. I believe God intended his followers to consider the cultural context of the Bible at the time it was written and to consider the cultural context of the current times when interpreting its teachings. Through those two considerations, the Holy Spirit can give you guidance for how you should live.

Therefore, I don’t see any strong Biblical commandment prohibiting sex before marriage. The Bible tells us often not to be sexually immoral but doesn’t define what that means. God seems to give us some grace here.