Families and churches relinquished control over sex ed to public schools in the early 1970s. Now families and churches are reaping the whirlwind.

Initially, at least, public schools assumed control over sex ed to stop the spread of sexually transmitted diseases and halt teenage pregnancy. Parents were not doing a good enough job—and public health was at stake. Or so we were told. Public school mandates have expanded, however, to recommending non-vaginal sex, then to tolerance for same-sex sex, active affirming of same-sex relations as virtually normal, and finally to the affirmation of transgender identities.

David Ayers’s After the Revolution: Sex and the Single Evangelical catalogues the loss of authority over sexual matters among Christian churches. Ayers, a sociologist at Grove City College, slices survey data to show that most evangelicals—and all varieties of Christians—have increasingly adopted “worldly attitudes and practices” on issues related to sex and sexuality.

White evangelicals and black Protestants are more likely than other groups to think sex before marriage is always wrong or almost always wrong, but that number (now 40%) has declined for each age cohort. Unmarried and divorced evangelicals tend to think sex out of wedlock cannot be wrong. Christians of all varieties think cohabitation before marriage is acceptable, though black Protestants (47%) and white evangelicals (35%) are least likely to. Again, younger Christians of all varieties are much more open to shacking up than older ones.

As attitudes change, so do behaviors. Nearly 60% of evangelicals aged 23-32 now have had more than three sexual partners, numbers still lower than other religious traditions but still very high.

White evangelicals are more likely, over time, to embrace same-sex marriage and to bless same-sex sex and relationship than in the past. Ayers also shows evangelicals engage in more oral sex and over 50% have cohabited with a member of the opposite sex by age 28. 52% of evangelical females have cohabited by age 28, while 64% of those without religion have. That evangelicals are 12% better than atheists is not an encouraging development

Attitude changes and corresponding changes in behavior are especially prevalent among females, as Ayers has also shown in a series of essays at the website American Reformer. Female evangelicals have seen an “alarming rise in lesbian and bisexual relationships” over time, just as evangelical attitudes toward same-sex relationships and marriage have also liberalized. Acceptance of transgender identities will, no doubt, follow in turn.

While evangelicals who attend church regularly are less likely to adopt worldly attitudes and behaviors, the power of the sexual revolution vis-à-vis Christian faith is apparent in everything Ayers finds.

Changes in evangelical beliefs and practice will have a profound effect on American culture, since they are the largest religious grouping if not the most influential. But it speaks also to the endurance of the Church. Paul exhorted Christians of Corinth to separate themselves from pagan perversity and pursue paths of purity and chastity in 1 Corinthians, but today’s Christians are siding with the pagans.

Churches face crises of authority in this face of the sexual revolution, in addition to the personal wreckage suffered by victims of the sexual revolution. Blood is thicker than doctrine. When pastors refuse to marry cohabiting children these days, parents get upset and go to a different church.

In the face of this onslaught, Ayers recommends a broad reassertion of traditional sexual ethics and the teaching of a Christian worldview, led by upright leaders and pastors and supported by grounded congregations. Guarding against worldly influences can only be accomplished through churches willing to take back their authority to educate children in the whole counsel of God.

At its deepest level, guarding against worldly influences means wrestling back from public schools the authority to educate children in all the deepest questions of human life. This means also in the smallest questions. American public schools are based on the assumption that the public raises children—and only after parents and churches deferred to the public schools generally did they cede the duty of sex ed to schools. Now that the full radicalism of that sex ed is apparent, Christians must act accordingly and walk away from the schools that have usurped parental duties. Church communities must commit themselves to providing opportunities for genuinely Christian education–either in the form of financial help or in assisting homeschoolers or in helping to build counter-cultural Christian schools.

Only when parents and churches take back the whole duty of education can we expect future marriageable young people to arise to lead the future Church. The Christian sexual ethics crisis is the opportunity to leave an enduring mark on our decadent age.

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Posted by Scott Yenor

Scott Yenor is a professor of political science at Boise State University and Washington Fellow at the Claremont Institute’s Center for the American Way of Life. His Recovery of Family Life is just out in paperback from Baylor University Press.

12 Comments

  1. If young friends talk to each other about sex, does that mean that those friends have gained control over sex education? If that is not necessarily true, then why are we saying the same for schools?

    There is more than 1 reason why schools need to teach sex education. Certainly one of those reasons involves the failure of parents to adequately educate their children about their bodies and sex. That can lead to a number of personal and social problems.

    Another reason, and this involves issues such as gender identity and homosexuality. Public schools should be teaching about sex in ways to offset bigotry against those in the LGBT community. Is that bigotry a Christian duty? Should Christians require society to marginalize the LGBT community?

    And what about other sexual practices besides the traditional one for married couples?

    Finally, on the research regarding evangelicals’ opinion on same-sex marriage, I’ve never seen the research distinguish between approving of same-sex marriage in society from approving of same-sex marriage in the Church. That is a necessary distinction to make.

    Reply

    1. Schools should teach the basic biological facts young people need to know about reproduction and STDs and that is *it*. And that should be done in single sex groupings, with a teacher of the same sex as the students, to protect the modesty and dignity of the students.

      Anything that even remotely touches on morality, ethics, lifestyle, etc is absolutely the RIGHT of parents to cover on their own, from their own perspective and worldview.

      The only thing public schools should teach about marriage, family life, sexual orientation, etc is “this is a diverse country; be nice and respectful to each other, even if you don’t agree / hold the same worldview.” That’s it. That should be the extent of what public schools do with regards to bigotry of any type.

      Of course Christians shouldn’t promote bigotry towards gay people. Christians should:

      a) respect the pluralistic nature of our society and support laws that protect everyone’s marriage and right to work and access public goods, irregardless of worldview

      while also

      b) promoting the truth that, for Christians, a same-sex orientation is a sign that a person is called to celibacy for the sake of the Kingdom, which is – in case we have forgotten – the HIGHEST calling in traditional Christianity, higher even than the Sacrament of Matrimony,

      while also providing

      c) flexible, inclusive and compassionate pastoral care, under the principle of “economy” or “stewarding the household” (hat tip to the Orthodox) towards gay men and women who find this calling a challenge and are in committed sexual relationships.

      It is not bigotry for Christians to say that a lack of heterosexual attraction is a sign that God is calling a person to save their heart and sexuality for Him alone. Gay men and women are called to literally be as Jesus is, and as St. Paul was, and most of the female martyrs, and most of the desert fathers and mothers, and Francis, and all the Theresas… this is literally the calling of most of the Saints (many who were likely what we would call “queer” by our standards today.)

      Celibacy is not a consolation prize for those who cannot marry; it is the highest vocation a Christian can be called to. Christians need to renew that teaching and preach it, loud and clear, and renew an infrastructure of support and fellowship for those who are called to it.

      Christians can do this while also being respectful and decent to all of those whom we share a our secular civil society with.

      Reply

      1. Abigail,
        I agree with a lot of what you wrote. But gender identity has to be addressed if bigotry is to be addressed. We have to remember that children as young as 3 can experience gender dysphoria and children of that age can recognize gender roles by observing their parents. Of course what is taught should be age appropriate.

        In teaching kids about gender identity, we need to separate rather than conflate one’s biological sex with one’s gender identity.

        Reply

        1. The “doctor” who started promoting the idea that “Gender Identity” could be known by toddlers is Diane Ehernsaft. She is a grifter whose previous grift was the Satanic Panic. Everything she says is utter nonsense. All my daughters are potentially “trans” by her criteria because they took barrettes out of their hair. That she sat on an APA committee for this issue is one of the many reasons that I completely disregard anything from the APA anymore.

          (I’m a mental health professional.)

          Jack Turban, Johanna Olsen Kennedey, and all the rest do sloppy research and dishonest promotion of it. I have no interest in what they say anymore. They are just trying to profit off of children’s bodies. It’s evil. “Gender Identity” for children is a modern day Moloch.

          Christians believe that God made us male and female and that our bodies and our sex are sacred and not to be mutilated.

          People who *genuinely* have Gender Dysphoria – what used to be called Gender Identity Disorder, clinically present in about 1/30,000 males and 1/100,000 females – need to be treated with both truth and compassion. Transition, for adults, is a final resort that has little long term benefit according to the few long term studies done on it.

          Men with an Autogynophilia fetish also should be treated with compassion, but that does not mean accommodating their every wish and whim at the expense of the safety, modesty, and fairness towards women and girls, especially in schools and universities. No. Absolutely not. Enough of that.

          Christian and Catholic schools for K-12 should be supporting parents in our fight against Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria and the cult-like online culture that is leading children – especially middle school girls on the autism spectrum – to damage their bodies. I have three daughters, one of whom is high functioning autistic, and one of the reasons we send them to Catholic schools is to *protect* them from what is going on right now with Gender Identity and so they can learn an authentic Christian anthropology. Families whose children are caught up in this tragedy should be treated with compassion by the Church and given the support they need to fight it and get their children back.

          Reply

          1. Abigail,
            I am not listening to conspiracy theories and authoritarian attempts to discredit scientific research and scientists. We’ve had a discussion like this before on another subject. The conservative Christian attempt to discredit legitimate scientific research and findings is a problem both for the nation and for the reputation of the Gospel. I know other Christians who rely on the same kind of information sources that you seem to rely on. And it is sad to see how they struggle against reality.

            You need to rely on reputable sources rather than insular Christian cult-like sources that exhibit the same kind of black-white logic seen in your response. That black-white thinking is a hallmark of authoritarianism. And I am afraid that people who employ such thinking have you trapped.

  2. In a democratic polity, authority on such matters is typically earned. Christian institutions have a pretty lousy track record on these matters, including massive cover-ups and efforts to harass victims into silence. If few are paying attention to what Christian churches have to say on these matters, it may have something to do with the fact that churches have little credibility on these issues.

    Besides, the teaching I did receive from my evangelical church as a kid was little more than dumbed-down psychoanalysis with a thin veneer of Christian lingo. It’s rare these days that any church would propound the sexual asceticism that marks historic Christian teaching. When Christian churches set out on a good-faith effort to impose historic strictures onto married heterosexual couples (which isn’t going to happen because it would be unpopular), I’ll give credence to what the church has to say to single people and gays.

    Reply

  3. […] Sex ed as the leading edge of the revolution… […]

    Reply

  4. I wonder how much of the current sexual and gender radicalization of young women has to do with dearth of marriageable young men, including in late 90s / 2000s Christian circles.

    A little of my own personal experience that I think is relevant:

    I came of age in this culture. Grew up LCMS; went to youth group all through the 90s, went to the youth conferences, heard the chastity speakers, graduated high school in ’98 with a “purity ring” on my finger. I belonged to Campus Crusade Freshman year at a Big 10 college when Joshua Harris was all the rage, then transferred to an LCMS Concordia College for the next two years where literally about 80% of my friends got married the summer after graduation.

    I Converted to Catholicism in 2001. My sponsor was a Santorum intern I had met at the 2000 GOP convention, and I was received into the Church and confirmed at a Latin Mass at Assumption Grotto in Detroit. I transferred to Franciscan University of Stuebenville where I was steeped in John Paul II’s Theology of the Body.

    So you can imagine that by the time I was 25, I was deeply, deeply committed to a very traditional Christian vision of marriage and sexuality.

    And what was the hope and promise of this vision? That of a happy marriage, to a wonderful Christian man, who would facilitate my feminine dream of six kids and a well kept home.

    This was what was promised to young women of that era if we just stayed the course. It was what attracted many of us to Christianity in the first place – the promise of a refuge from the carnage of the Sexual Revolution.

    There was one big problem. In the 2000s *there were a lot more young Christian women than there were young Christian men, particularly marriageable Christian men.*

    I was a petite, pretty virgin, and not crazy, so odds were in my favor. I had no problem getting asked out on dates.

    But trying to find that one man who was not just as devout as me, but also could make a real living, and was sexually appealing to me? Yeah, that didn’t happen for me nor did it happen for a lot of Christian women in that generation because the numbers just weren’t there.

    Do you know how heart rending and psychologically hard it is to want one thing so bad, to put it at the very center of your life and your identity, and not achieve it? The natural thing to do in that situation isn’t to admit you failed – it is to blame the culture and the institutions that failed you, that made the lofty promises to you that they could not keep.

    When I was about 25 I started to feel hopeless. I started trying to imagine my life a single person – a single person who knew religious life wasn’t my vocation.

    So as a cheap substitute got very into the idea of my “career”. If I couldn’t have my domestic dream to give me purpose, I would be an amazing, world changing, Career Girl. Totally responsible for myself and my own happiness. Liberated even. This lead to careerism, which leads to two things for young women:

    a) caring a lot about what others think of you and conforming yourself to them (because careerism requires you to have “the right,” AKA culturally progressive, opinions to get ahead)

    b) a very autonomy focused kind of feminism, including in regards to sexuality.

    This turned into a spiral of hostility towards my faith, towards the sexual teachings of the Church, and towards everything I had believed before. My beliefs in the Church’s teachings on sexuality had led to a dead end of dissappointment, hurt, and failure. I had done everything perfect, and I was still in my late 20s and single.

    Yes, I know I should have trusted the Lord, and found my consolation in him, but I was human and young and instead I fell into despair. The conservative form of Christianity popular in those years, with its intense focus on marriage, just seemed like a constant slap in the face.

    I was PISSED.

    I did eventually have a happy ending – I did meet the man who became my husband at 27 and married him at 30. He was economically viable and very attractive to me (and still is!), but was definitely the “Cradle Catholic,” “I went to Catholic school for 12 years what do I need Church for” type who was for all purposes secular. So I had to concede on that. Our courtship was passionate, messy, full of falls and moral compromises that led me further and further from the Church and into very secular beliefs about sex and gender.

    Honestly, we were probably only redeemed by the fact that he was diagnosed with cancer while we were engaged, which caused us to make a 180 back towards God, the Church, and a morally serious life.

    (It is so funny how God works)

    But even once we married and settled into a happy and relatively devout Catholic Christian family life, it took me years to shake off the bitterness of my adventures in Careerism, “Feminism,” and “Sex Positivity” that were the result of being a disappointed 27 year old virgin.

    Now I am a happily married, devout, stay at home mother of three who all attend the local parish Catholic school. My husband is a great Catholic dad and husband. I am livin’ the dream; I’m also almost 43. And it wasn’t an easy road to get here. Sometimes I feel like the last person to crawl into a lifeboat off the Titanic.

    Sometimes I wonder how many young women today, particularly “exvangelicals”, with a bitter, bitter hatred towards Christian sexual morality, had a similar trajectory: dreams of chaste romantic bliss that turned into devastating disappointment, which they could only psychologically manage by turning against the faith and the culture that they feel failed them.

    I think a healthy Christian sexual culture needs to include a) greater recognition of Celibacy as an exalted and beautiful vocation, along with social support for it and b) more focus on building up marriageable men for the women it promises so much happiness to.

    You can talk chastity and the beauty of marriage all you want, but if there are not enough good men to marry, then what do you think young women will do?

    Reply

    1. A couple of thoughts from the guy’s perspective.

      First, the amount of income required to support the lifestyle you wanted for yourself is out of reach for most guys. For the most part, you’ll probably need some kind of post-graduate education to support that lifestyle. And that often comes with debt. So, you’ll need to be in your early 30s before you can do that. And that assumes that you want to be very frugal and didn’t make any detours along the way. For most guys, it’s far easier to marry someone who’s content to work, have fewer kids, and delay motherhood.

      Second, if you’re a guy in those circumstances, you can get cleaned out royally if your wife leaves you. In a fault-based regime, the spouse that caused the divorce will get little. Under the no-fault regime, a non-working spouse can collect a windfall for decades, even if she was the one who caused the divorce. Most professional men see it as too risky to marry someone who doesn’t want to work.

      Third, fewer guys want to stick around religious communities. I found the gender-role policing of men in the white evangelical subculture to be very suffocating. Women face certain pressures too, but the pressures on guys are harder. So, a lot of guys just ditch such communities when they leave home. In fact, many men often suspect that guys who stick around the church have some inner demons that require the strictures of religious life to keep in check.

      Reply

      1. You are right. I am an ex-evangelical, though still a Christian. My husband and I were both evangelical when we got married, i have always had to work. My husband hand bouts of unemployment, where my income supported us.

        That is just the way it is now, I would like to not have to work, but that is a luxury with the cost of living these days. We have been married 25 years and are quite happy despite me sometimes making more money at times. My husband is a hard worker but he is a blue collar worker and he has gone thru many layoffs, so work has not always been stable for him.

        Reply

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