Sex and college students: When ‘just say no’ doesn’t work

December 6, 2013

“Mistakes happen; we’ll make them go away when they do.”

This is the message being sold to impressionable teens and desperate college students by Plan B oral contraceptives. In commericals, Plan B promises a one-step process that will “prevent pregnancy before it begins” for those who’ve made the mistake of having unprotected sex. The young, successful looking women pop into their their local pharmacy, purchace a pill and then confidently leave, carrying their get out of jail free cards. 

But not all mistakes go away so quickly.

In a recent article, The Huffington Post UK laments the findings of a study which revealed that one in four students contracts an STD their first year at university. Fewer college students are using condoms to protect themselves against sexually transmitted illnesses and unplanned pregnancies, instead relying on treatments after such conditions have already manifested themselves. This “act now and deal with the consequences later” mentality is unfortunately further promoted by products like Plan B. For many, Plan B has become plan A.

For years contraceptive advocates have bemoaned the ineffectiveness of abstinence campaigns. Teens and college students are going to have sex, they say. What really matters is whether or not they protect themselves. It’s simply naive, they argue, to believe that telling young adults that God wants them to wait for their future spouse before having sex. “Just say no!” may have been an effective campaign against drugs, but it is seen as unrealistic for hormone-driven students. And in a very real sense they are right. Obedience to the Lord is impossible without the nature-altering transformation the gospel of Jesus Christ provides. A call to abstinence without the message of forgiveness is futile.

Sexual desires are so strong that it would seem even contraceptive campaigns have failed to reign them in. Sure students don’t want to be told “no,” but they also don’t want to be told “use a condom.” The pursuit of sexual satisfaction is driven by passion and pleasure, not by conviction and reason. The passions of the flesh are cruel masters that don’t have time for protecting students' bodies from diseases and unwanted pregnancies.

The question must be asked: If calls for abstinence won’t keep students from having sex and contraceptive campaigns can’t control the way students have sex, then what can? Is there anything or anyone who can reign in the natural, sexual impulses of adolescence? How can we honestly encourage young people as Paul in Romans 13:13, to “walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy?”

The answer lies in the gospel. Paul quickly follows his exhortation to purity with these simple words: “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ.”

This is the message that has the power in the appetites of the flesh and as it simultaneously frees captives from the tyranny of sin. It isn’t a clever campaign that seeks to control or persuade, but rather it is a story about a God who took on human flesh in order to reverse the curse of sin. Though every other person who has ever lived on this planet has failed to walk in purity and has given in to sexual sin, this God-man, Jesus Christ, victoriously lived a life of abstinence. He was pure not only in his actions but in his heart, never giving in to lust. He lived the life that none of us can in order to die and pay the penalty our sins deserve.

As Jesus hung on the cross, he took the sins of his people upon himself and was judged as though he had done every sinful thought and action himself. He was judged for our sexual impurity so that we would never have to be. The gospel offers sinners everywhere freedom from the guilt of sin through a Savior who has paid the price for them.

But the gospel doesn't simply offer forgiveness to them; it offers freedom. Those redeemed by the blood of Jesus Christ have been set free from sin. They are no longer under the bondage of the old master, but are instead slaves to righteousness and slaves to God. This is the only way to reign in sexual impulses of adolescence—to put them under the reign of Christ.

“But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. I am speaking in human terms, because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification” (Rom. 6:17-19).

Jessalyn Hutto

Jessalyn Hutto is the author of Inheritance of Tears: Trusting the Lord of Life When Death Visits the Womb, a book that seeks to share the hope of the gospel with women who’ve suffered the pain of miscarriage. You can find more of her writing at her website, JHutto.com. Read More