A Young Couple
Talks About Teaching Abstinence
An Interview With the Warrens
Zalika Warren was excited when she saw a newspaper ad seeking instructors
to teach abstinence education in New York public schools. “I didn’t
know they taught abstinence,” she thought. She and her husband,
James Warren, quickly applied for positions with the groundbreaking
Healthy Respect program. After a extensive training period, they were
assigned to two schools in their hometown of Yonkers: Gorton High School,
where they taught 10th graders enrolled in the Medical Magnet program,
and Commerce Middle School, where they taught students in 7th grade,
also Medical Magnet students. They found the classroom experience fun,
fulfilling, informative and life-changing for both the students and
In surveys after the courses, students were almost unanimous in saying
that they enjoyed the classes and learned something of great value.
“At the end, many of the kids were asking us not to leave, to
come back,” Zalika said. “It was good to hear that we touched
some lives. We can’t wait to teach again in the fall.”
The Savin It program hit close to home, they practiced abstinence while
dating and working as ministers in a church in Harlem. They could tell
the Yonkers students not only what to do, but what they themselves have
done. Abstinence before marriage is not an impossible goal, they would
say, just look at us. This happy and healthy husband and wife now have
an 8-month-old daughter. They spoke with Healthy Respect about their
Why were you interested in teaching abstinence education?
James: We are convinced about the value of abstinence before
marriage and we want to share that with young people. We challenged
the kids. We actually practiced abstinence in our dating relationship.
We could talk not only from the curriculum but from our experience.
Zalika: When a friend showed me the newspaper ad about Healthy
Respect, I was inspired. I didn’t know there were any abstinence
programs going on in New York. James and I both love working with young
people, and this gave us the chance to teach something that we lived
out in our own lives.
How did the students react to the abstinence message?
James: The curriculum was very effective, especially with the
7th graders. A lot of them were disappointed we weren’t staying
longer to teach them for more than just a few weeks. We got more of
a mixed message from the 10th graders. At that age, most had some sort
of sexual experience, so we encouraged the idea of ‘secondary
virginity.’ It’s not too late, we told them, to start over
and live a healthy lifestyle that respects yourself and others.
Zalika: I think the 7th graders were more open and impressionable.
You could see you were talking to a lot of young people who have been
thinking about having sex, and we gave them some very good reasons for
waiting until marriage. I think they were inspired about staying abstinent.
The 10th graders probably were more experienced and less expressive.
The evaluations showed they really liked the classes though and learned
How did you like the Healthy Respect curriculum?
Zalika: The curriculum is very deep, very moving, and very powerful.
It’s about much more than just saying ‘no’ to sex.
It goes into relationships, feelings, attitudes, communication, and
situations to avoid. I saw students who came into class proud and boasting
about being sexually active. At the end, they were rethinking their
behavior. And others, who were feeling bad about being virgins, they
were the ones who were feeling proud at the end. I was grateful for
the opportunity to stand up for those kids who want to wait or have
waited. They haven’t even been told that waiting is an option.
I told them that we did it and they can do it. Abstinence is not just
a grandmother’s concept.
James: We know how powerful abstinence was in our own dating
relationship. It’s not just physical benefits, avoiding diseases,
though that’s a very big factor. It’s also about trust,
respect, love and giving to each other, not using another person. All
of these things were brought out in the curriculum.
What kind of practical advice did you give the students?
James: First, we let the kids know that abstinence is not easy.
It’s challenging. But we all have challenges in life, and we should
meet them with good sense and hard work. For example, Zalika and I wouldn’t
be alone together when we were dating. This was especially difficult,
because we were working together as ministers and had to meet all the
time to prepare and study together. So we made sure our meetings were
always in a public place. We wouldn’t go to movies together late
at night. We wouldn’t stay in a car together. Basically, we avoided
situations that would set a mood.
Zalika: We talked about respect, self-discipline, reaching goals
and staying healthy. Kids today really aren’t given help to remain
abstinent, and they aren’t given the credit that they can exercise
self-control and make good choices.
We could tell them that if they practice abstinence it will have a positive
effect in all aspects of their lives. The discipline they develop will
help them when they study, when they graduate and look for a job. They
will be more financially disciplined, they will have better marriages.
In short, they will be happier and healthier and more successful. Those
are things that everyone wants.