MARSHALL - Sex is probably the most difficult subject that parents or youth leaders will ever discuss with adolescents, though it often considered one of the most important.
One person who doesn't shy away from the topic of sex is abstinence advocate and speaker Pam Stenzel, who shared her bold message - often described as controversial - to more than 200 area students gathered Wednesday evening at Holy Redeemer Church in Marshall.
"I spent nine years counseling in pregnancy centers in Chicago and Minneapolis, and I had girls in my clinic every day, saying, 'Pam, I didn't know. If someone would have told me that this is what was going to happen, I would have made a different choice. No one told me.'" Stenzel said. "My goal (Wednesday), is that no one who leaves here can ever say that again. Tonight, you're going to be told. What you choose to do with it after you leave is up to you."
Stenzel told the students that God created sex, and that it was awesome. But God intended sex within the boundaries of marriage, she said.
"Outside that boundary, it's horribly destructive," Stenzel said. "God didn't create sex for love. He made sex for one context and one only - the permanent, lifetime commitment of marriage - not love, though sometimes in marriage, there's love."
The problem is that teenagers often think marriage is going to be "happily ever after" and expect "heart-pounding romance," Stenzel said.
"I blame Disney," she said. "But I love God's law. It's easy. Either you're married or you're not. And you can't be kind of married anymore than you can be kind of pregnant. So if you're not married, don't do it. If you are married, go for it, with the person you are married to."
Stenzel continued, saying that sex outside of marriage or one permanent, monogamous relationship has a cost.
"You will pay," she said. "No one has ever had more than one partner and not paid. You have to decide, is the cost worth paying physically, emotionally and spiritually?"
While most teenagers fear pregnancy more than anything when having sex, Stenzel pointed out that there is a four times greater risk of having a sexually transmitted disease (STD) than getting pregnant.
"Pregnancy is not a disease," Stenzel said. "It's actually survivable. You can live through it. I've been through it three times now, and it hasn't killed me yet."
Stenzel said she is astounded that teens do not worry that much about STDs.
"Pregnant teenage girls in Minnesota are carrying, on average, 2.3 sexually transmitted diseases," she said. "But they weren't worried about disease. They're worried about getting pregnant. Is pregnancy the worst thing that could happen if you had sex today? Absolutely never. There are far worse things."
In fact, before the day is over, 14,000 teenagers will have contracted a STD, Stenzel said.
"Before you have sex, you have good choices," she said. "After that, you don't."
Stenzel reported that in 1950, there were five sexually transmitted diseased identified. Now, there are more than 30 STDs - 30 percent of which are incurable - and most of the time, there are no symptoms to recognize, she said.
"You only know if you're tested," Stenzel said. "Right now, one out of four of you do have an STD."
Stenzel said that she was aware that most teenagers thought "safe sex" was using a condom, but she countered, saying that the only safe sex is sex with a virgin.
"It has nothing to do with latex," she said. "It has to do with partners. Condoms don't protect from HPV (human papillomavirus). That's spread through skin-to-skin contact in the genital region."
The good news, Stenzel said, is that more teenagers are choosing to be abstinent.
"Most of you sitting here tonight have not had sex," Stenzel said. "You're virgins. In 2010, the Centers for Disease Control, the CDC, said we now have more virgins in high school than we've had in 18 years. This pendulum has begun to swing the other way and the majority, 57 percent of graduating seniors, are virgins. So everybody is not doing it. If you're still a virgin, good for you. You have something so special, so wonderful."