When you're tempted to stray, remember the faces of your wife and children and all the pain you'll cause for that brief moment of pleasure," the speaker told us during a men's retreat. He recommended taking along family photos and placing them in readily seen places where they'll stare at you in your hotel room on business trips.
Good advice, I thought, but is that strong enough?
As I write this, the news is filled with stories whose basis comes down to men whose sexuality has run amuck. A seven-year-old girl from Milwaukee, Alexis Patterson, has been missing for eight weeks, presumably kidnapped while walking to school. Fourteen-year-old Elizabeth Smart is still missing after more than four weeks when an armed man forcibly removed her from her home in Utah.
Even in my hometown, Wheaton, Illinois, police sketches are posted notifying citizens to be on the lookout for a teenager who's been driving around attacking preteen girls, removing their clothes, and trying to have sex with them. After at least three attempts, he hasn't been completely successful—yet.
I'm thankful I no longer read news stories about the exploits of either Bill Clinton or Gary Condit anymore. But of course it's only a matter of time before the next sex scandal comes out.
My newspaper recently ran a story reporting that South African officials believe the HIV infection rate may have finally stabilized—at 25 percent of the adult population. Across all the countries of sub-Saharan Africa, a total of 23 million adults are estimated to be living with HIV or AIDS. This is 8.4 percent of their total adult population.
The main mode of this transmission in sub-Saharan Africa? Heterosexual sex. For men in many of these communities, adultery and promiscuity are almost the norm, and often monogamous wives get infected from their straying husbands.
I don't have to repeat the many awful statistics about the growth in the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, both in the U.S. and around the world. We're already familiar with its epidemic proportions.
On another front: One estimate in Thailand reports that 70 percent of the nation's males have made use of the thriving sex trade there. Girls, and some boys, from remote villages are either given or sold into brothels or volunteer as sex workers in the cities. The best estimate is that there are 150,000 sex workers in the country, with 23,000 being under the age of 18. A good percentage of the 8 million tourists who annually visit Thailand are unaccompanied elderly males from the West who buy package tours for vacations in and around Bangkok. And it seems many take a "souvenir" home with them from those brothels.
Other economically struggling nations, such as Brazil and Cambodia, see the money that can be made from sex tourism and are fast catching up to Thailand.
There is one group, however, who view these developments as horrendous and want a society in which women cannot be used this way—the Taliban of Afghanistan. Of course their solution was an overreaction that was as bad as what they were correcting. Under the Taliban, women were forbidden to work, be educated, or go outside unaccompanied. The relatively more moderate Saudi Arabia at least lets women get an education, but not much else. Remove the temptation (women), and the problem is solved (for the men, at least).
So here's one of the worldwide crises before us: If women are to live freely in societies in which they're allowed to use the gifts God has given them, men will have to find a way to keep their pants zipped.
Can they? While recent events don't provide reasons for optimism, history does. The church has often championed the dual causes of rights for women and sexual fidelity for marriage—in such a way that in the West these standards still survive as the often-broken-but-still-implied norms for society.
So while my men's retreat speaker's words were apropos, this is what I'd add to his advice: If you're tempted to stray and need to find reasons for following the apostle Paul's advice "to flee from sexual immorality" (1 Corinthians 6:18), yes, remember your family, but also know that by keeping your pants zipped, you're doing your part to save the world.
2002 by the author or Christianity Today/Marriage Partnership magazine. Click here for reprint information on Marriage Partnership.