Abstinence education is meant to keep kids safe. But it could actually put them in danger.

#MeToo. I think.

I imagine a watchful Jesus hanging out in the backseat drinking a Coke like my pastor says he does. But when I let them put their hand on my thigh, I see Jesus leave the car and walk away.

Now we’re kissing, and I’m having second thoughts. I don’t really like their hand in my pants, but I’ve never been taught what I’m supposed to “like” or “dislike.”  


I say “sure, let’s go to your house to hang out,” so I think that I pretty much consented to sex. Because, as a temptress, it's my job to stop them by saying “I’m saving myself for marriage.”

Even though I wish I could back out, I stay. It’s not #MeToo because that’s for people who didn’t consent to things, right?

Photo by Daniel Garcia/Unsplash.

In the wake of all the #MeToo stories, it struck me how many of them featured language such as, “They already bought me dinner, so I felt obligated to do something. I don’t know why.”

I instinctually knew why because I had similar thoughts as a pastor’s daughter who was taught to abstain from sex. I knew these victims never had a proper consent conversation because there isn’t any place for it where abstinence is taught. My parents thought that talking about consent would negate their teachings about abstinence, so I never learned how powerful saying "yes" and "no" could be.  

The reality is that teens are having sex, and teaching abstinence-only sexual education has dangerous ramifications.

We need to move past telling teens to “picture Jesus in the backseat drinking a Coke” if they are considering becoming intimate. The shame created by scenarios like this leaves Christian teens vulnerable in murky situations. While I never experienced some of the horrific scenarios mentioned in many of the #metoo stories, I nevertheless always felt like it was my fault for putting myself in sexual situations. I felt obligated to do “something” that would satisfy the guy, so he wouldn’t be upset at me for leading him on. I felt shame.

Photo by Rosie Fraser/Unsplash.

I learned that my body was not my own — but God's.

Therefore, consent would naturally lie within his control. These are not the thoughts of someone who has been taught a healthy view of their sexuality.

My sexual education consisted of my mother and father calling my brother and I into their bedroom and telling us they wanted to answer any questions we might have. After the term “boner” was awkwardly discussed, it was clear the conversation was over. I later received a book that vaguely described a "tingly feeling."

This lack of sexual education is the root of the problem. According to Sharon Hollings, who was raised evangelical, it was "just assumed that I wouldn’t be having sex. Meaning I didn’t have any advice or insight on how to handle things when I did.”

I was never taught that my feelings were paramount.

I was never taught that it was important to know what you like and dislike.

The magic of sex was that when you consented to your partner on your wedding night, you would like EVERYTHING.

Spoiler alert: You don’t.

The lack of a proper conversation about my body as my own became glaringly obvious when my parents explained that masturbation was a sin, that even thinking about having sex with someone meant you had already done it in your heart. Boy, was I a heart slut for Patrick Swayze. Throughout my adolescent self-exploration, I constantly apologized to God and felt guilt about my sexuality.

Photo by Ben White/Unsplash.

This lack of a discussion of bodily autonomy and shaming for self-exploration leads to a whole different problem.

Growing up in Christian schools, there was a running joke that you could do everything but sex. This was not something officially taught, but it was an unofficial practice among students. According to Cindy Rogers, who was raised Catholic, “I went to school with some super religious folks. They would have anal sex and still call themselves virgins.” Folk duo Garfunkel and Oates even have a song parody on the subject, “The Loophole.”

The denial of real teenage interactions leads to confusion about consent. It can lead to non-consensual sexual activity. We need a more realistic approach. The consent conversation is eliminated in abstinence teaching because of the assumption that it might encourage sexual activity.

This becomes especially dangerous for marginalized LGBTQ teens.

They're told that they are not allowed to act on their sexual preferences — ever. This puts them in even greater danger for self-blame when faced with consent decisions. If those teaching would at least offer abstinence as one of many choices instead of the only option, that would allow teens to feel they have control over the decisions facing their bodies.

My friend, who was raised similarly to me, recently put things into perspective for how she approaches the topic with her children: “If you don’t give people a healthy view of sex without the guilt factor, people aren’t going to know how to protect themselves. You won't be able to listen to that little voice that says something about this isn’t right. You need the self-esteem and confidence to go, 'Yeah, nope, I’m out.'"

It’s urgent that we put young people’s sexual autonomy at the forefront of the conversation.

Emphasizing “your body, your choice” will allow them to thrive in adulthood.

We need to move into a realistic view of life, love, and sexuality. We need teens to understand that without consent, they are the victims of a crime. That they are #MeToo and not #MyFault.

I’m pretty sure that if Jesus was actually drinking a Coke in the backseat, he would agree. I’m also pretty sure He’s switched to La Croix at this point.

This story originally appeared on Ravishly and is printed here with permission. More from Ravishly:

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When Sue Hoppin was in college, she met the man she was going to marry. "I was attending the University of Denver, and he was at the Air Force Academy," she says. "My dad had also attended the University of Denver and warned me not to date those flyboys from the Springs."

"He didn't say anything about marrying one of them," she says. And so began her life as a military spouse.

The life brings some real advantages, like opportunities to live abroad — her family got to live all around the US, Japan, and Germany — but it also comes with some downsides, like having to put your spouse's career over your own goals.

"Though we choose to marry someone in the military, we had career goals before we got married, and those didn't just disappear."

Career aspirations become more difficult to achieve, and progress comes with lots of starts and stops. After experiencing these unique challenges firsthand, Sue founded an organization to help other military spouses in similar situations.

Sue had gotten a degree in international relations because she wanted to pursue a career in diplomacy, but for fourteen years she wasn't able to make any headway — not until they moved back to the DC area. "Eighteen months later, many rejections later, it became apparent that this was going to be more challenging than I could ever imagine," she says.

Eighteen months is halfway through a typical assignment, and by then, most spouses are looking for their next assignment. "If I couldn't find a job in my own 'hometown' with multiple degrees and a great network, this didn't bode well for other military spouses," she says.

She's not wrong. Military spouses spend most of their lives moving with their partners, which means they're often far from family and other support networks. When they do find a job, they often make less than their civilian counterparts — and they're more likely to experience underemployment or unemployment. In fact, on some deployments, spouses are not even allowed to work.

Before the pandemic, military spouse unemployment was 22%. Since the pandemic, it's expected to rise to 35%.

Sue eventually found a job working at a military-focused nonprofit, and it helped her get the experience she needed to create her own dedicated military spouse program. She wrote a book and started saving up enough money to start the National Military Spouse Network (NMSN), which she founded in 2010 as the first organization of its kind.

"I founded the NMSN to help professional military spouses develop flexible careers they could perform from any location."

"Over the years, the program has expanded to include a free digital magazine, professional development events, drafting annual White Papers and organizing national and local advocacy to address the issues of most concern to the professional military spouse community," she says.

Not only was NMSN's mission important to Sue on a personal level she also saw it as part of something bigger than herself.

"Gone are the days when families can thrive on one salary. Like everyone else, most military families rely on two salaries to make ends meet. If a military spouse wants or needs to work, they should be able to," she says.

"When less than one percent of our population serves in the military," she continues, "we need to be able to not only recruit the best and the brightest but also retain them."

"We lose out as a nation when service members leave the force because their spouse is unable to find employment. We see it as a national security issue."

"The NMSN team has worked tirelessly to jumpstart the discussion and keep the challenges affecting military spouses top of mind. We have elevated the conversation to Congress and the White House," she continues. "I'm so proud of the fact that corporations, the government, and the general public are increasingly interested in the issues affecting military spouses and recognizing the employment roadblocks they unfairly have faced."

"We have collectively made other people care, and in doing so, we elevated the issues of military spouse unemployment to a national and global level," she adds. "In the process, we've also empowered military spouses to advocate for themselves and our community so that military spouse employment issues can continue to remain at the forefront."

Not only has NMSN become a sought-after leader in the military spouse employment space, but Sue has also seen the career she dreamed of materializing for herself. She was recently invited to participate in the public re-launch of Joining Forces, a White House initiative supporting military and veteran families, with First Lady Dr. Jill Biden.

She has also had two of her recommendations for practical solutions introduced into legislation just this year. She was the first in the Air Force community to show leadership the power of social media to reach both their airmen and their military families.

That is why Sue is one of Tory Burch's "Empowered Women" this year. The $5,000 donation will be going to The Madeira School, a school that Sue herself attended when she was in high school because, she says, "the lessons I learned there as a student pretty much set the tone for my personal and professional life. It's so meaningful to know that the donation will go towards making a Madeira education more accessible to those who may not otherwise be able to afford it and providing them with a life-changing opportunity."

Most military children will move one to three times during high school so having a continuous four-year experience at one high school can be an important gift. After traveling for much of her formative years, Sue attended Madeira and found herself "in an environment that fostered confidence and empowerment. As young women, we were expected to have a voice and advocate not just for ourselves, but for those around us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

Vanna White appeared on "The Price Is Right" in 1980.

Vanna White has been a household name in the United States for decades, which is kind of hilarious when you consider how she gained her fame and fortune. Since 1982, the former model and actress has made millions walking back and forth turning letters (and later simply touching them—yay technology) on the game show "Wheel of Fortune."

That's it. Walking back and forth in a pretty evening gown, flipping letters and clapping for contestants. More on that job in a minute…

As a member of Gen X, television game shows like "Wheel of Fortune" and "The Price is Right" send me straight back to my childhood. Watching this clip from 1980 of Vanna White competing on "The Price is Right" two years before she started turning letters on "Wheel of Fortune" is like stepping into a time machine. Bob Barker's voice, the theme music, the sound effects—I swear I'm home from school sick, lying on the ugly flowered couch with my mom checking my forehead and bringing me Tang.

This video has it all: the early '80s hairstyles, a fresh-faced Vanna White and Bob Barker's casual sexism that would never in a million years fly today.

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