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Many Christians who signed abstinence pledges or wore purity rings as young people  reach a crossroad as adults. They are faced with upholding Biblical principles against sex outside of marriage during an era when the average age of first marriage creeps toward 30. Celibacy may be even tougher for singles who have splashed around in the pool of fornication long before dedicating their lives to Christ. More are asking, “Am I really condemning my soul to eternal damnation by getting my freak on Saturday night and praising the Lord on Sunday morning?” As many as 80 percent of young unmarried Christians have had sex, according to Relevant, a magazine for Christians aged 18 to 30.

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Even as they uphold abstinence as ideal, religious leaders can no longer ignore the elephant in the sanctuary. From a newsletter published by pastor Creflo Dollar: “There was a time when … marriage was honored and respected … and sexual relationships outside of marriage were certainly not accepted as the norm. However, times have changed … values have moved away from the standard of God’s Word because of selfishness.” Last year’s Jumping the Broom, produced by Bishop T.D. Jakes, opened with Paula Patton’s character regretting her decision to have casual sex the night before. The romcom portrays her finding true love and deciding with her fiancé to abstain until their wedding day. It was Jakes’ decision to include the morning-after scene, Patton told The Christian Post. “We make mistakes, but the goal is to become better [people].”

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But finding a Christian man who is actually willing to wait may be easier onscreen. Single father John Fitzgerald, 29, acknowledges the difficulty in putting faith before flesh and has even ended relationships because of the woman’s decision to remain abstinent. “Yes, it’s wrong, [but] I’m still doing it,” he says. “It’s something I struggle with in my personal relationship with God. People say, ‘Don’t make sex such a big deal,’ but for a lot of people, it’s a deal breaker.”

“The Bible is clear that you should not have sex outside of marriage, but that is not the reality of what’s going on,” says Sophia Nelson, award-winning author of Black Woman Redefined: Dispelling Myths and Discovering Fulfillment in the Age of Michelle Obama (BenBella Books). She cites the finding that more than 50 percent of single, churchgoing women admit to having sex. With U.S. Census data showing that nearly 40 percent of Black women do not marry until age 35 and more than 45 percent of African-Americans older than 14 have never been married, Black Christians face a long road of chastity.

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The shoulder of that road is cluttered with breakdowns and those who have run out of gas: Almost three quarters of Black children are born out of wedlock. “It is unrealistic in the 21st century to expect celibacy until marriage. We live in a sexualized society and [during] a time [when] people marry much later,” says Nelson. She points to a double standard among Christian men–who face little judgment for indulging in pleasure and promiscuity–as a reason some sisters “pray for a husband,” but find themselves over 40, celibate and bitter. Click here to read more

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