This past weekend I flew to Virginia.  On the lavatory door there reads a sign: “No smoking in lavatory.”  Anyone who knows the English language would interpret this as a clear message prohibiting smoking.  But what if there was another sign on an adjacent wall that read, “If you smoke, please dispose of your cigarette butt in this receptacle, not the trash can”?  Surely I would think the airline did not take its no-smoking rule too seriously.  I would see the sign as a sort of wink-wink that it is really ok to smoke in the lavatory, even if the airline would prefer that I don’t.  In other words, the second sign demotes the meaning of the first sign from a command, to a mere suggestion.  

I see a parallel to the sex education we offer children and students in many parts of this nation.  We tell them they should abstain from sexual relations prior to marriage, but then give them condoms and birth control.  Wink-wink.  Handing them the condom/pill negates the authority of the first message. 

Some will argue that we’re only passing out condoms and birth control to protect teens who have no intentions of obeying the “no sex rule.”  It’s the “they’re going to do it anyway so we might as well help them do it safely” objection.  But why think they are going to do it anyway?  Maybe if they thought their parents and educators were serious when they say “don’t have sex,” they wouldn’t “do it anyway.”  The didn’t “do it anyway” 50 years ago, because they knew the culture was serious about its no-sex rule.  But how can they take that command seriously today, when we utter the same rule, but give them a condom right afterward?  

I know this is a controversial topic, even among Christians.  I myself have been conflicted about it.  On the one hand, I don’t want to send mixed messages, taking back with one hand what I gave with the other.  On the other hand, I know some kids are going to have sex no matter how strongly we preach a no-sex-until-marriage message, and I would rather that they don’t get STDs or pregnant in the process.  So I see some wisdom in both approaches, but I see more wisdom in setting the proper expectations of our children.  No one smokes on airplanes anymore because the airlines couldn’t be more clear about their prohibition on smoking.  Even the chain-smoker-though he may be dying for a cigarette-won’t light up on that four hour flight because he knows there will be consequences for his actions.  Isn’t the same thing possible for our sex-crazed teens if they know society means what they say when they tell them not to have sex?  I’m not so idealistic as to think we’ll eliminate the behavior, but I’m not so stupid to think we’ll get teens to curb their sexual desires by giving them the tools they need to engage in them a little more safely.  At least, that’s the way I see it.