Is Saying "No" Enough?

Gerald Weston

Popular culture proclaims the twin messages of "free sex" and "safe sex," but the question remains, "Is sex outside of marriage either free or safe?" If not, what is the best approach?

In the 1950s, when teens were taught to abstain from sex before marriage, one could count on one hand the number of known sexually transmitted diseases. Today there are more than 30, and nearly one-third are incurable—you have them for life! In 1967, one out of every 32 high school students in the United States carried a sexually transmitted disease. Today, it is one in four—and the average pregnant teen is carrying 2.3 STDs!

In 1980, no one had even heard the terms "HIV" or "AIDS." Today, more than 33 million people around the world are living with it, and an estimated 30 million have died since 1981, according to the World Health Organization. But AIDS is not the only deadly disease circulating among the sexually promiscuous. In 1997, more U.S. women died from cancer caused by the human papillomavirus (also known as "genital warts") than from AIDS. In fact, the Center for Disease Control reports, "HPV is likely the most common STD among young, sexually active people." It is no wonder that God counsels, "Flee sexual immorality. Every sin that a man does is outside the body, but he who commits sexual immorality sins against his own body"(1 Corinthians 6:18).

It is not enough just to tell a person to say "no"—one must know how to say no.

Even though all STDs are preventable, the one solution that truly works is often ridiculed, and its advocates looked upon as archaic religious fanatics. Yet this solution can work for you, just as it is resonating with a growing number of today's teens: "Just say 'no'!" But is it enough to just say "no"?

For more than two decades, I have had the wonderful opportunity to work with thousands of teens and young adults at church-sponsored summer camps. This experience has taught me that there are many young people who "want to do it right." However, it is not enough just to tell a person to say "no"—one must know how to say no. A pregnant young lady once said to me, "You talk as though I planned on this happening." To which I replied, "No, I am saying that you did not plan for this not to happen."

For many years, I have counseled young people and adults alike that we should all have what I call "unshakeable, unbreakable" rules for ourselves that will keep us from saying "yes" to something we will later regret. No one can enforce these rules upon us, but if we embrace them for ourselves we can gain unshakeable resolve to do what is right. The following "unshakeable unbreakables" apply mainly to teens, but they include principles that can apply to people of all ages:

Unshakeable Unbreakable 1: Never go into a house, apartment, or other isolated location where temptation with someone of the opposite sex has a chance to flourish.

This was a rule that many of our parents a generation ago taught us, and it is in many ways the most important for a young person who wants to avoid sexual sins. It is a very practical rule. After all, where is a sexual encounter more likely to take place: when a young man and woman are alone in a house, or when they are alone in the back seat of a car, or when they are in the corner booth at a local restaurant? Your location clearly makes a difference in how you can act.

God made us different from the animals. We have the ability to make choices, and since we do have certain physical drives, our best choice is to avoid situations where we may be tempted to do the regrettable. "A prudent man foresees evil and hides himself, but the simple pass on and are punished" (Proverbs 22:3).

Unshakeable Unbreakable 2: Flee fornication; do not play with foreplay.

As admittedly archaic as this sounds in today's world, 16-year-olds do not need to be hugging and kissing, which is part of the sexual act known as foreplay. Once a premarital relationship becomes physical, it changes—and not for the better. One action leads to another. Holding hands is not enough for long, and we do not kiss from a distance. Along with the kissing comes full body-press hugging! Given enough time, a person may want to say no, but hormonal instincts can take over.

Unshakeable Unbreakable 3: Never lie to parents about where you are, what you are doing, and who you are with.

Most parents truly love their children, and they really do want what is best for you. They provide a safety net as their children negotiate one of the most critical periods in life—a time that will set the stage for the next 50 or more years of a teenager's life. Some mistakes made in your youth will stay with you for the rest of your life, and all the tears and the regrets in the world will not change that. Sometimes it may be hard to approach them, but you should give your parents the opportunity to help you.

Unshakeable Unbreakable 4: Leave a party where drugs or alcohol are being served.

People use amazing terms for the misuse of alcohol. "Let's get wasted." "I was plastered last night." "I had so much fun I can't remember what happened last night." Was it really fun if you cannot remember it? Or, worse yet, was it really fun if you cannot forget what happened—even when you want to? There is a place for responsible adult use of alcohol. But "recreational" alcohol use too often ends in disaster. In fact, there are people out there who will deliberately use alcohol or drugs to take advantage of you. Will you be a willing victim?

Unshakeable Unbreakable 5: Do not expose yourself to sexually explicit material in movies, books, television programs, or on the Internet.

Some years ago, local authorities asked me to investigate a situation involving a young man's encounter with an underage teenage girl. During the investigation, I asked the young man what he was thinking of while seducing this girl. Without any hesitation, he replied, "I was trying to remember how they did it in the movies." He had no idea how significant his comment was, but it confirmed a basic truth—we become what we feed on.

Some mistakes made in your youth will stay with you for the rest of your life.

Remembering these unshakeable unbreakable principles—and acting on them—is well worth it. Here is a letter I recently received from a beautiful young lady who is willing to wait—and is worth waiting for!

"So many people think of sex as just a line not to cross, instead of realizing that it's an attitude... when purity is set as just a line not to cross, people will go as far as they can to that edge.… I love a quote by Josh Harris [author of I Kissed Dating Goodbye] that goes, 'The longer your "no big deal" list is before marriage, the shorter your "very special" list will be after marriage.' I want my 'very special' list to be long, and I plan on saving my first kiss for the day when my husband and I both say 'I do.'"

How many young men reading this magazine are hoping to explore that very special list with such a woman as this? How many will be worthy to do so? Will you? I hope so!