This article first appeared in the Christian Research Journal, volume 45, number 2/3 (2022).
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Millennials and Gen Z increasingly reject biblical sexuality, and they aren’t shy about saying why.1 For American evangelical millennials (ages 26 to 41), specifically, the shift happened at least in part with ‘90s purity culture, which shouldn’t be a shock. Many were blindsided by tyrannical youth pastors wielding half-eaten lollipops, chewed gum, flowers without petals — symbolic, they said, of budding sexuality gone awry. These metaphors devaluing the human body while seemingly idolizing virginity were originally intended to exemplify our need for the redemptive work of Christ, but too often overly-zealous church leaders made them their primary focus. Girls had their developing bodies reduced to stumbling blocks and traps, waiting to ensnare their brothers in Christ hopelessly enslaved to their hormones. The “Just Don’t Do It” campaign made it clear that if you wanted to retain your value — your salvation even — you had better be a virgin at the altar.2 While not all cases were this extreme, the legalistic contagion was so widespread, so damaging, that many went on their honeymoons and left the church behind for good.
The fallout has deeply affected evangelical Gen Z’s perception of sex and the church. They have parents who are just now shedding the weight of shame placed upon their teenage shoulders. Parents who refused to make their own children walk through the same sexual minefield. As a result, they have largely kept silent. They believed that their children wouldn’t listen to their beliefs about sex, let alone wish to discuss it.3 As a result, Gen Z has been sexually discipled by secular media and sex ed curricula filtered through identity politics and feminism. The result is a growing generation living out a progressive sexual worldview.
Within progressive sexuality, purity rings have been exchanged for how-to classes on bondage. Condoms, not Christ, protect the heart. Teens, who not long ago would have had to sneak into the darkened back room of a video store to glimpse an adult film, can access the darkest pornography with a few clicks on their smart phone.4 If they aren’t watching porn, celebrities encourage them to make it.5 Why wouldn’t they? They are sexual beings after all, and sex, not some patriarchal religion, is the path to empowerment, liberation, even the American dream.6
As much as I wish I could say this is only a secular problem, statistics disagree. Two years ago, a survey conducted by Pew Research found that 57 percent of Christians believe that premarital sex in a committed relationship is not wrong, while 50 percent hold that hookups (sleeping with someone you are not committed to) were perfectly acceptable.7 Upwards of 80 percent of unmarried evangelicals between ages 18 and 29 have had sex,8 while 54 percent of Christians think homosexuality shouldn’t be discouraged by the church.9 They claim Christianity in some areas in their life, but in the bedroom, they’re clearly progressive.
This loss of cultural ground isn’t because there’s something wrong with God’s design for sexuality. Clinical psychologist Juli Slattery rightly observes that when culture attacked, the church didn’t know how to fight.10 The battle wasn’t just physical but spiritual and mental. It was never just about getting Christian teens to have sex; it was about destroying the biblical worldview, warping sexual appetites, and laying a false claim to their identity.11 A battle that culture is winning. If we desire to raise children who can stand firm, they need to understand sex for what it truly is: not as an act between bodies, but as an expression of our entire worldview.
How Sex Expresses Our Worldview
A worldview focus is integral to effectively communicating a whole-person biblical sexual ethic: mind, body, and soul. Without it, our children receive only a fragmented and often materialist approach to sexuality, neither of which are biblical. This, ultimately, was a major failing point of purity culture. It hyper-focused on curbing the symptom — unrestrained sexuality — without addressing the root cause — a broken worldview. We must, therefore, begin by establishing a foundation of truth, as this determines the trajectory of one’s sexual worldview.
For the Christian, truth is woven into our very beings. In the beginning, our bodies were made male and female (Genesis 1:26). While sin has affected that design through physical deformities, alternative lifestyles, or inclinations, these consequences of the Fall do not supersede it. Male and female were made distinct yet complementary and endowed with inherent dignity as the beloved creation of a loving God.
Progressive understanding of sex and gender, on the other hand, presupposes materialism. The body, it contends, is the valueless result of an evolutionary game of chance. Biology, which until recently was taken for granted as that which determines sex/gender, is now the fleshy anchor to an archaic history full of oppressive gender roles. The biblical understanding of sex as designed by God now has to be changed or disavowed. Not because it is wrong, but because today’s youth see it as too “normal” or “traditional.”12
They don’t recognize that in rejecting God’s design, they adopt an understanding of truth devoid of objective grounding. Their solution, Nancy Pearcey explains, attempts to derive truth from a person’s sense of self, irrespective of the body13 — experience elevated to the role of truth-maker, especially within LGBTQ+ ideology.
Unfortunately, one’s sense of self is highly subjective and governed by ever-changing feelings. We certainly don’t see ourselves now as we did when we were five or fifteen. Experience is likewise subjective and can, at best, align with truth, not determine it. As such, neither one’s sense of self nor personal experience can function as a grounding or even a filter for truth because each can be, and often is, wrong.
Despite this common-sense reality, many youth still cling to progressive beliefs because it offers a sense of autonomy — I can do what I want because it doesn’t matter — and power — I determine who I am and what is good. This is rife within LGBTQ+ ideology, which elevates one’s sense of self from aspect of creation to creator. Children need to understand that, in one way, they are correct. Free will ensures that we can do (or attempt to do) as we please. We are not, however, free from the consequences of our decisions and actions that stem from false beliefs, which will naturally become increasingly degrading until they are disciplined by truth.
“It Feels Good” Does Not Imply It Is Good. The loss of objective grounding for truth within the progressive sexual ethic entails devastating consequences for morality. In Genesis 3 fashion, sex-positive activists teach children that they, through consent and pleasure, determine what is good, not God.14 This utilitarian siren song leads many youth astray, especially when medical authorities give them a free pass to indulge their hedonistic desires. What they don’t understand is that consent and pleasure say only what one is willing to allow and enjoy, neither of which can determine goodness or truth.
Without biblical morality, design, and truth, our bodies lose all value. They can be used and abused through early sexual activity and dangerous practices like hooking up.15 It isn’t until children encounter the biblical worldview that they see themselves and sexuality for what they truly are, precious creations worthy of protection. As one girl shared with me, “It wasn’t until I heard the gospel that I realized I had value.” How could it be otherwise? Her worldview promised guilt-free sex while quietly calling her worthless and disposable. A reality she felt all too often, as evidenced by the scars on her wrists and waist from numerous suicide attempts. She was only seventeen.
Her body testified to the tragic reality of adopting a progressive sexual worldview. When we live outside of God’s design we are not “living our truth” — we are desensitizing ourselves to reality and distorting the true knowledge of God.16 We lose our ability to see Him and, instead, bow to an idol made in our own image (1 Thess. 4:3–8; Rom. 1:18–32). We also reject the very things God designed as a reflection of His relationship to His people: marriage and children, both of which suffer when not submitted to the cross.
The Need for Lāmad Discipleship
Adequately training up our children requires intentionality. In Deuteronomy 4:10 God commanded His people to “teach [God’s word] to their children.” Teach in this passage is the Hebrew word lāmad, which means “to train with the implication to put into use.” This is exactly how we are to disciple our children’s sexuality, by training them how to understand the biblical sexual ethic and live it out in their daily lives. This cannot be accomplished in one awkward conversation. It requires intentional, life-long discipleship, stewardship, and submission to God within the context of His church. Discipleship that kids are yearning for.
The Power to Decide campaign surveyed thousands of students to see who held the most influence on their sexual decision making: parents, media, or their peers. More than half (54 percent) of teens ages twelve to fifteen said it was their parents. Parents were also voted top influencer for teens ages sixteen to nineteen, though the numbers shrunk to 32 percent. It wasn’t until college that friends became the primary source of advice.17 This was the same study that revealed parents weren’t speaking because they didn’t believe their kids were listening. Don’t let perpetual AirPods use or eye rolls fool you, our kids want our discipleship. If we don’t provide it, the world will.
We must, therefore, teach sex and sexuality for what they truly are: an expression of our entire worldview. This can be accomplished through both proactive and reactive discipleship. Proactively train your children to understand the biblical worldview and the existence of objective truth. This acts as a first line of defense against progressive sexuality woven within children’s media and pop culture.
Next, show how progressive arguments on gender identity fracture the human person and ultimately fail. This involves teaching critical reasoning skills so that children will discern worldview, truth claims, and faulty reasoning.18
Above all, be graciously reactive while modeling God’s design for sex, marriage, and family in your own home (Titus 2:7). Our children have to feel welcome to discussing sex and their sexuality with us, even if they choose not to sometimes. If our children have the maturity to ask the question, we have the God-ordained responsibility to give them an answer, no flinching allowed.19
Amy Davison received her MA in Christian Apologetics from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. She is a podcast co-host, speaker for Mama Bear Apologetics, and co-author of Mama Bear Apologetics Guide to Biblical Sexuality (Harvest House, 2021).
As Washington Post Op-Ed Columnist Christine Emba noted, “Millennials and Gen Z in particular seem wedded (old monogamy alert!) to the idea that the ‘normal’ way of doing things is almost always oppressive and must be either reclaimed or disavowed. Especially in the sexual realm, anything that could be viewed as traditional or average is passé.” Christine Emba, “How Radical Is ‘Radical Monogamy,’ Really?,” Washington Post, March 24, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2022/03/24/vice-howradical-is-radical-monogamy/.
Amy Davison, “What Went Wrong with the 90’s ‘Purity Culture’?,” Mama Bear Apologetics, https://mamabearapologetics.com/what-went-wrong-90s-pc/.
“Survey Says,” Parent Power, October 2016, Power to Decide, https://powertodecide.org/what-we-do/information/resource-library/parent-power-october-2016-survey-says.
Most of whom will do so by the age of eight. Resource Hub, Novus Project, http://thenovusproject.org/resource-hub/parents.
Such as Demi Lovato telling her followers to “be sluts and make porn.” Katie Jerkovich, “Report: Demi Lovato Tells Fans to ‘Make/Watch Porn,’ ‘Be A Slut’ And ‘Get Naked’,” Daily Caller, September 8, 2021, https://dailycaller.com/2021/09/08/demi-lovato-makeporn-instagram/.
This is said by many OnlyFans producers, though the philosophical thinking behind this worldview is explained best by Nancy Pearcey, Love Thy Body: Answering Hard Questions about Life and Sexuality (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books: 2018), 131–33.
Jeff Diamant, Half of U.S. Christians Say Casual Sex Between Consenting Adults is Sometimes or Always Acceptable,” Pew Research, August 31, 2020, https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2020/08/31/half-of-u-s-christians-say-casual-sex-betweenconsenting-adults-is-sometimes-or-always-acceptable/.
Erik Cain, “Study Finds Majority of Young Evangelicals Have Premarital Sex,” Forbes, October 1, 2011, https://www.forbes.com/sites/erikkain/2011/10/01/study-finds-majorityof-young-evangelicals-have-premarital-sex/.
“Views about Homosexuality among Christians,” Pew Research, 2014, https://www.pewresearch.org/religion/religious-landscape-study/christians/christian/views-abouthomosexuality/.
Juli Slattery, Rethinking Sexuality (Colorado Springs: Multnomah, 2018), 31.
Slattery, Rethinking Sexuality, 71.
The fallacy known as the appeal to novelty. Emba, “How Radical Is ‘Radical Monogamy,’ Really?”
13 This theme of a problematic dualism is woven throughout her book. Pearcey, Love Thy Body.
Jess O’Reilly, “What Sex Positivity Means to Me,” Sex with Dr. Jess, March 6, 2019, https://www.sexwithdrjess.com/2019/03/what-sex-positivity-means-to-me/.
Which lead to an increased risk of depression and suicide. Kirk Johnson, “Sexually Active Teenagers Are More Likely to Be Depressed and to Attempt Suicide,” The Heritage Foundation, June 3, 2003, https://www.heritage.org/education/report/sexuallyactive-teenagers-are-more-likely-be-depressed-and-attempt-suicide.
John Piper and Justin Taylor, Sex and the Supremacy of Christ (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2005), 26.
“Survey Says,” Parent Power.
Foundation Worldview is an excellent curriculum (www.foundationworldview.com).
Katy Faust, author of Them Before Us: Why We Need a Global Children’s Right Movement (Post Hill Press, 2021), shared with me her family’s “no flinching” rule.