February 9, 1992

SAFE SEX

“Flee from sexual immorality.  All other sins a man commits are outside his body, but he who sins sexually sins against his own body.”  1 Corinthians 6:18

It’s been about three months now since Magic Johnson made the shocking announcement that he had tested positive for the virus that causes AIDS.  Magic’s athletic ability, his great popularity, his charming smile, his enormous fortune estimated by some at more than $100 million–none of these things had been able to protect him from the deadly virus.  And so he told the world, “Here I am saying it can happen to anybody, even me, Magic Johnson.”

Of course, it isn’t quite true that it can happen to just anybody.  You don’t get AIDS when someone sneezes on you or when you’ve been out in the sun too long.  Nearly all AIDS victims get the disease either through sharing needles during intravenous drug use, or through sexual contact, and Magic was no exception.  He said that he must have caught the virus from a woman with whom he’d had sexual relations, though he had no idea which woman, since he had apparently lost count.

Magic said at the press conference, “We’re going to beat this thing,” but of course that’s not likely, and he realizes that.  People don’t recover from AIDS;  they die.  Magic’s body is not exempt from the rules that govern everyone else’s body, and unless a cure is discovered within the next few years,  Earvin Johnson will probably die before his fortieth birthday.

Ever since the AIDS epidemic began, there has been a massive campaign to educate people about AIDS, and probably the most prominent buzzword has been “safe sex.”  By now almost everyone has heard about safe sex on television or in newspapers or in school, and I’m sure that Magic Johnson also heard about safe sex.  Like most people, he knew the facts about AIDS;  he just didn’t think it could happen to him.  The safe sex campaign had no effect on his behavior until it was too late.

Now, I don’t intend to attack Magic Johnson or other AIDS victims.  I was shocked and saddened when I heard the bad news about Magic, and I sincerely hope that a cure for AIDS is discovered so that he and the millions of other people worldwide who have the virus may have many more years of life.  But I do think that it’s time to ask some hard questions about what the safe sex campaign is actually accomplishing.

Right now more people than ever are suffering from sexually transmitted diseases.  After ten years of constant talk about safe sex, it seems that sex is more dangerous than ever.  Perhaps it’s time to face the fact that all our attempts to protect our society and ourselves from pain and danger are bound to fail as long as we ignore God’s will and neglect his transforming power.

Apart from God all things fail, and that includes our attempts to pursue sex without listening to what God says about it.  God designed sex to be enjoyed in a context that is safe and secure and delightful.  That’s why he invented marriage.  And that’s why he reminds us in the Bible, “Flee from sexual immorality.  All other sins a man commits are outside his body, but he who sins sexually sins against his own body” (1 Corinthians 6:18).

You may think it’s unrealistic to talk about God and morality when we should be devoting our energies to something more realistic, like teaching about safe sex.  Well, if realism is what you want, let’s start by asking ourselves where we are after ten years of information and education about safe sex.  Let me just read from a recent cover story in Newsweek (12-9-91):

For nearly a decade society has been throwing education at AIDS.  Newsweek has run 11 cover stories on the subject.  Lectures on safe sex now start in the fourth grade in some schools…  Almost no one is ignorant of AIDS in this country.  “You have to sample Mars to find someone who doesn’t know the basic facts,” says [one professor].

Much of this effort has been directed at getting people to use condoms, which are more widely available than ever.  Sample packages, along with graphic guidance on their use, are thrust into the hands of passersby on San Francisco streets and New York City subway stations …  New York began handing them out to high-school students, no parental approval required.

And what, according to Newsweek, has been the result of all this?

There are 12 million cases of sexually transmitted diseases each year, according to the Center for Disease Control… Three million teenagers contracted one of these diseases last year…  This represents an apparent failure of the quintessential liberal solution to social problems, education.

To put it bluntly, after ten years of education about safe sex, the situation is more dangerous than ever.  Dr. Victoria Cargill is the founder of a program to bring AIDS awareness to public schools, but she admits that information as such is rarely the problem.  She says, “Ninety-five percent know that AIDS is spread by sex and needles.  Their knowledge is excellent.  Their behavior is abysmal.”

One large-scale survey of college students found that “less than 20 percent of the currently sexually active women and men reported using condoms 75 percent of the time or more…”  The survey also showed that this was not due to lack of information.  The students knew enough to be worried about AIDS, especially those who were most sexually active, with three or more sexual partners in three months.  But all their knowledge didn’t make them any more likely to use condoms.

Why is this?  Well, a student at the University of California at Berkeley says he and his girlfriend don’t use condoms because “they’re uncomfortable and they take away from the whole experience.  Sometimes they can really take away from what making love is.”  Obviously, a person whose main interest is in doing whatever brings the most pleasure is not very likely to take precautions that reduce the pleasure.  Also, someone who is pressured into sex and is not strong enough to say “No” is not very likely to insist on a condom when the other person would rather not.

When we look at the facts, it’s amazing that safe sex advocates have the gall to accuse those who emphasize morality of being unrealistic.  I’m well aware that many people don’t listen to what God says about sex, but how many are listening to all the efforts of the safe sex advocates?

The safe sex message has not had the desired impact on most people’s behavior, but what about those who have changed?  Well, many of these people are under the illusion that they truly are safe as long as they take the proper precautions.  They are convinced that the slogan “safe sex” means what it says.

But according to a report in the Los Angeles Times, so-called safe sex is not so safe.  Listen:  “Four of the nation’s most popular condom brands permitted the AIDS virus to escape in laboratory tests, prompting researchers to warn users that they should not assume that condoms work in preventing the spread of the disease…  The researchers found that the AIDS virus leaked in one of 10 condoms tested in each of three brands, and six of 25 tested in the fourth,” a failure rate ranging from 10% to 25%.  Does that sound safe to you?  Do you want to bet your life on something that can fail that frequently?

Safe sex is a slogan, not a reality.  Condoms have never been failsafe in preventing pregnancy, even when used properly, and so one should not expect them to have a fail-safe record in preventing the spread of the AIDS virus.  They may reduce the risk if you are determined to follow an immoral lifestyle no matter what, but they do not guarantee absolute protection.  There is still a significant danger involved.

Now, if all this is true, exactly what is the message of safe sex accomplishing?  For one thing, it is sending a clear message that society expects promiscuity.  When television’s teenage doctor, Doogie Howser, has safe sex with his girlfriend Wanda before she leaves for college, what message do most teenagers get?  They get a message that sex is the way for an intelligent, clean-cut teenager to give his girlfriend a fond goodbye.  There is hardly a television program or movie produced today in which someone falls in love without immediately falling into bed.  Sexual immorality is portrayed as the normal and acceptable thing to do, and this is an attitude which the safe sex campaign has only reinforced.  Morality isn’t even an option.

If you doubt what I’m saying, just listen to the head of the AIDS education unit at the National Center for Disease Control.  He says that abstinence outside of marriage is an option for “the very young, [people] past 90 and others when abstinence is forced upon them–with two broken legs, for instance.”  That summarizes the attitude behind most of the safe sex campaigns.  When an educator mentions abstinence very briefly with a knowing smirk and then goes on to give graphic instructions on how to use a condom, students get the message:  Nobody expects them to save themselves for marriage.

One university president puts it this way:  “The people who are supposed to be mentors are saying, ‘Here’s the condom so you can have safe sex.”  But, he says, condoms provide only “safer” sex, and the schools could be legally liable if the devices fail.  He believes that schools are also morally liable “if they encourage sex by children who have no business engaging in these activities.”  When students receive condoms, they get a clear message that their teachers expect them to have sex.

This promotion of immorality has been defended because it supposedly saves lives.  But does it?  We’ve already seen that many people who have been told how to reduce the risk are not taking the suggested precautions.  And those who are taking these precautions are under the illusion that they are completely safe, when in fact they are still endangering their lives.  It is all part of an atmosphere where promiscuity is simply taken for granted, perhaps even encouraged.  Add all this together, and what’s the result?  More disease than ever.

In light of our current situation, it is utterly astonishing that a number of churches and denominations are actually challenging the historic Christian faith in its teaching about sex.  It’s one thing for a secular school board to give up on teaching morality, but it’s quite another for churches to do this, especially at a time like this.  They argue that times are changing, and perhaps the church should change with them.  One report says, “Morality is never a settled package …  It is continually changing.”

I’d like to know what has changed so much.  The biggest change I’m aware of is that millions of people have the AIDS virus which has thus far been 100% fatal.  Another change is that 30 million Americans are carrying the herpes virus.  Still another change is that more children than ever don’t even know who their father is, and many others are crushed by divorce.  All these are changes, of course, but I hardly think they justify a change in the historic Christian faith and its teaching regarding sex.  Now is not the time for churches to send a confusing signal about God’s will in this matter.  Now is the time to declare more forcefully than ever that marriage is the only proper context for sexual intimacy.

The Bible says, “Flee from sexual immorality.  All other sins a man commits are outside his body, but he who sins sexually sins against his own body.”  That’s not a threat or a judgment–it is simply a fact.  Sexual sin is not only morally wrong, but it is also dangerous and foolish.  It is sinning against God, of course, but it is also sinning against your own body.

This is true because sexual immorality brings so many awful diseases, and it’s also true because this violation of your body has a harmful impact on other aspects of your life.  God designed marriage as the lifelong union of two persons, and this union of persons is celebrated and enjoyed in the union of their bodies.  This is why the Lord forbids people to become one in body unless they are bound by a marriage vow to be one in mind and spirit as well.

If you have sex with someone you’re not married to, you become one in body but not one in commitment.  You give your body to one person, then perhaps to another, then to another, and as this continues, you destroy your capacity to experience the union of two bodies as the loving union of two persons.  If you ever do get married, it will be very difficult for you to experience sex as the wonderful and holy and sacred way that two people are completely united in body and spirit.  One-night stands now can be damaging to a marriage later, and even living together without being married can be damaging.  You can’t experience the oneness of complete commitment and trust.  Even live-in lovers who eventually marry are more likely to be divorced than those who made marriage vows and commitments first.  When you’ve been sinning against your own body for too long, it is more difficult for you to remain faithful in your marriage, and it’s harder for you to trust your spouse to be faithful.

So if you want to wear something that can make sex truly safe, how about a wedding ring?  God designed marriage as the only safe context for sexual intimacy.  When people keep themselves pure before marriage and remain faithful to each other within their marriage, they are safe from sexually transmitted diseases.  And they are also safe from the uncertainties of an uncommitted relationship.  They are safe in a situation of trust and commitment, secure in knowing that they are truly one with each other.  And their relationship provides a safe and stable setting for any children that are conceived through their union.  So if you really want safe sex, make sure that you’re wearing a wedding band first.  That’s how God planned it.

Is this realistic?  Nothing could be more realistic.  God invented sex, and so the most realistic thing we can do is listen to what he says about it.  Besides, how realistic are those who still believe that education will solve everything?  Most people already have more information than they need, and still they are in danger.

The evidence indicates that the safe sex campaigners may be doing more harm than good, and maybe that’s because they treat you as though you have no more control over your desires than an animal.  But you aren’t just an animal.  God made you a person.  Your body doesn’t have to control you–you can control your body.  Perhaps not in your own power–but in the power of God, you can take control of your body and use it the way God intends, and experience rich blessings as a result.

If you’re already a Christian, you have no legitimate choice in this matter except to listen to God.  If you want safe sex, wear a wedding ring.  Your body is not yours alone.  It also belongs to the person who is your spouse, or if you are single, your body belongs to whoever might be your spouse in the future.  And, above all, remember that your body belongs to the Lord Jesus.  In 1 Corinthians 6, the Bible tells us,

The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body.  By his power, God raised the Lord from the dead, and he will raise us also.  Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ himself? …

Flee from sexual immorality.  All other sins a man commits are outside his body, but he who sins sexually sins against his own body.  Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?  You are not your own;  you were bought at a price.  Therefore honor God with your body.

This is God’s message for Christians, and it is also God’s message for you even if you’re not yet a Christian, but have grown tired of a lifestyle that has become empty and dangerous.  This is much more than a command to “just say no.”  God not only gives a command, but he provides the reasons and the power to make a new start and follow his command.  Jesus paid the price of his blood to rescue us from our sins, and this means that faith in Jesus’ death can also break the grip that sexual sin has in your life.  You can be forgiven of your past and start over.  You don’t have to settle for cheap slogans and cheap sex.  God calls you and invites you to enjoy life in a renewed relationship to him, and with renewed possibilities for your future.

When you realize that your body is a temple for God’s Holy Spirit, when you discover that your body was bought at the price of Jesus’ blood and will be raised immortal by his resurrection power, you have a renewed awareness that “the body is not meant for sexual immorality.”  You are not your own;  you are God’s precious possession.  And you don’t treat yourself like an animal.  Instead, with the help of the Holy Spirit living in you, you begin to control your body, rather than allowing your body to control you.  The truth sets you free from the sin of dishonoring your Lord, and also from the stupidity of sinning against your own body.

PRAYER

Father in heaven, thank you for the gift of sexuality.  It’s a wonderful gift, but we so often dishonor you and destroy ourselves in the way we use it.  I pray, dear Father, that you will soon provide healing and a cure for those who suffer from AIDS.  I pray, too, that you will set us free from sexual sin and all its deadly consequences.  Cleanse us through the blood of Jesus and purify our hearts and our bodies by your Spirit.

And then, Lord God, teach us how to love and to enjoy our sexuality in the way you intended.  Help those of us who are single to remain pure, and help those of us who are married to keep our promises, to delight in married love, and to cherish the treasure of each other.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.

By David Feddes. Originally broadcasted on the Back to God Hour and published in The Radio Pulpit.