This dire statistic led the news this week: according to a recent study, 1 in 4 teenage girls has a sexually transmitted disease. About twice that many are sexually active. Educators are aghast, while parents are shocked and dismayed, and why shouldn’t they be? After all, this is the enlightened age of comprehensive sex education, where condoms are passed out during health class and the safe sex mantra is splashed across prime time television in funny commercials and serious public service announcements alike. Students in public schools are presented with all the facts about intercourse, conception, and STD prevention at a very young age, armed with the knowledge which proponents of such education swear will keep young people safe from the traumas of sexually transmitted disease and unwanted pregnancy.
Except it isn’t working.
May I respectfully suggest that something is broken in the way we talk to kids about sex?
Don’t get me wrong. I absolutely believe in comprehensive sex education. I just don’t think ours is comprehensive enough.
Information about STD prevention and contraception are important, but too often our treatment of human sexuality in relation to teens stops there, light years away from finishing the picture and telling them other things they need to know about having sex–like how it can impact their emotions, their relationships, and their futures. For example, studies show that teenagers who are sexually active are almost three times as likely as their non-active peers to suffer from depression and to attempt suicide. There are correlations between teen sexual activity and a broad range of negative experiences, including increased drug use, higher dropout rates, and less successful marriages later on. In contrast, teenagers who abstain from sexual activity are 50 percent less likely to drop out of high school and twice as likely to graduate from college. They are less likely to engage in other risky behaviors and tend to form healthier, more emotionally mature relationships in adulthood. Even among teens themselves, there is a growing realization that early sexual activity is a mistake. Over half of teenage boys and nearly three-fourths of teenage girls who have engaged in sexual activity report that they wish they had waited. Sex is a whole lot more than a simple biological process; it’s also a complex mental, emotional, and spiritual act, and to ignore its far-reaching effects would be irresponsible.
There’s a pretty hot debate raging between proponents of current “safe sex” education and the “abstinence only” group, which believes that teaching kids about contraception and disease prevention is tantamount to sending them out in pairs with hotel keys in their hands. While I truly believe in teaching the whole truth of sexuality, I am concerned with the underlying anti-abstinence tone of those who tout “comprehensive” sex ed. From schools, from entertainment media, from politicians, the message a teen often hears is: “We know you’re going to have sex no matter what we say. With all those hormones swirling around, you just can’t help it. And frankly, if you don’t do it, we’ll think you’re a little weird.” It’s as if abstinence has been taken off the table as a realistic choice in today’s world. We need to challenge that assumption.
As a Christian, I’m teaching my children, as I was taught, that sex is wonderful, exciting, fun, and intended to be fully expressed only within the boundaries of a loving marriage. I knew, when I was growing up, that I was expected to wait, and though I sometimes struggled to honor that expectation, I did wait. Believe me, I experienced the same desires, the same passions, the same hormonal surges that teens everywhere experience, but I knew that I wasn’t a puppet of those forces. I always believed, because it was what I’d been taught, that I was capable of controlling myself. I made choices, I drew hard lines in my relationships with the opposite sex, and I didn’t step outside of those lines, though the temptation was definitely there. At age 22, I came to the marriage bed a virgin, and twelve years of great sex later, I don’t have a single thing to regret in the experiences I passed up as a teenager. I truly hope that my daughter and my son will be able to say the same.
I realize I’m in the minority. And maybe you don’t agree with me that sex is meant for marriage, but can we at least agree to stop setting teens up for the fall with our message of helplessness and victimhood? Let’s empower them to make their own decisions about sex–first, by acknowledging that the impact of human sexuality reaches far beyond the physical to touch the very emotional center of a person; like a pebble dropped into a pond, it ripples out to effect every other part of a person’s life. And second, we can empower teens by showing our confidence in their ability to choose abstinence and self-control, even in the face of physical and societal pressures. Sure, they should know all the facts about protecting their bodies from pregnancy and disease, but they should also know that in the end, having sex is a choice, and not a biological inevitability.
I wasn’t a virgin when I married but I did not have sex until I was 18 and that was more out of pressure from my boyfriend than a real want for it.
Up until 18, my mother was very honest and straight forward about sex. She always talked to me about it with more facts than authority. I’m grateful to her.
My husband is already freaking out about the fact that we have two daughters who will one day be in the throes of teen hormones and emotions.
I don’t think condoms should be offered in schools. I don’t think there’s any research proving its effectiveness. I do believe in sex education in schools. I will never forget the video of the woman giving birth when I was in 8th grade!
I’m not sure what the answer is but 1 in 4 with a sexually transmitted disease is frightening. And another thing, I imagine quite a bit of the spread of disease is from oral sex. Too many young girls think if they do THAT with their boyfriend, they’ll be able to keep him.
(Was afraid your whole post would be “the *only* thing we should teach them is abstinance!” and I was pepared to disagree… but, per usual, your post is well thought out and balanced. You, my friend, are wise beyond your years. I truly believe that people tend to live up to the expectations you have for them… expect them to fail and they probably will. I intend to expect the very best from my children.)
I read the same study about the 1 in 4, and it was stated that there was no control questions that tested the respondent’s understanding of what constitutes “sex”. So the statistics are probably worse than reported for THAT group that was questioned. While I agree that Katrina might be in the minority over all, I think that these stats are pretty generation- and region-specific. The message of education Katrina relates is very clear regardless; we are missing the important components of learning ethics in a generation that understands consequences, but has a moral system based predominantly on public forum and media. I’d add in a lack of healthy modeling in the home (not just in sexual behaviours, but self-satisfaction in other areas of life) contributes to this problem. Great thoughts, wife.
I’ve dropped in here before and have been impressed with your writing, but this post is especially eloquent and I can’t help but leave a comment just to let you know how refreshing it was to read this! I wish more parents and educators “got” that!
Thanks so much, Gwynne–and thanks for stopping by!
I hope & pray more people will read it!!
I was just at another blog (Babies Having Babies) where a teacher spoke about how 4 girls in the 7th grade were pregnant. I was shocked. We told our 9 year old the facts so she would hear it first from us (she couldn’t wait to get away from our discussion… it so weirded her out! yea!). It breaks my heart to think in a few years what pressures she may face. Thanks for the thoughtful post.
Here is the link to that blog (Babies Having Babies)
First time here,
“having sex is a choice, and not a biological inevitability.” has to be one of the most beautiful things I’ve heard in a while. I too am a Christian though I did not find the true faith until I was way past losing my virginity. I have a daughter now and I would save her the trouble that comes with sex before marriage.
I’m with you though in teaching our children that they are stronger than the world tells them. Life is about choices and with choices comes the consequences. My daughter is a lovely beautiful little girl; I know she’ll make better decisions than I did.
Good read, thanks!
Welcome, and thank you for the compliment! I am encouraged to hear about other Christian parents out there swimming against the tide. God bless!
PLEASE!!! Send this in to some newspaper as an editorial! You worded it perfectly. More people NEED to hear what you so eloquently wrote.
Thanks for sharing!
I heard this statistic, too. Scary. Not only for our daughters, but for our sons, too. And I agree with Paul that the whole home lifestyle plays a part in how children behave in all areas of their lives.
Here are two very informative websites that have helped me in speaking to my children about the “sex” topic.
This website is more for teens, but I am on the e-mail list. Anything in the media that I may need to address with my children from a biblical standpoint, I hear about it. Ex. When the Vanessa Hudgens (High School Musical star) gossip started circulating, I got an e-mail about it with helpful info. on how to speak to my tween about what she was hearing at school, and what the Christian response should be from us. We have also been to one of Virtuous Reality’s “modesty” fashion shows. It was alot of fun. Vicki Courtney has some wonderful books also.
The second is about how to talk to you kids about “sex”. I was frantic when my kindergartener came home from school (on her third day to school no less) talking about what she heard on the playground. This website is very good, and I even bought the book “Before I was Born” by Carolyn Nystrom from Focus on Your Family.
The basic approach from these websites is more of a Offensive approach. As the parent, you talk to your child as they grow up. The days of the “the talk” to the teen are over. Our kids are slammed at an early age with this stuff. By creating an environment where they are welcome to come ask you any question and they know that you will give them a truthful answer is so important. Also, when your child comes to you, see it as an opportunity to teach what God is all about.
With so much information in our world today and access to that information I am constantly shocked at the lack of information and guidance many of the young people I am surrounded by have. Very thoughtful post.
Katrina- I could not agree with you more. As always, you’ve got a well-balanced and reasoned post here. I got the sex talk in second grade from my very frank Mom. Living on a military base overseas, I had just too many situations and questions about what was going on around us. It wasn’t the most in-depth talk – she updated it as I got older and more understanding – but the key point was that I could ALWAYS ask her questions and talk with her.
And her analogy about abstinence stuck in my head – she told me it was like being a beautiful rose, but if the rose was passed around a circle of people, it was pretty ratty looking by the time everyone had touched it. For a kid, I could understand that much.
Or as I heard once at a youth rally: “If it’s zipped, tucked in, buttoned, snapped, or buckled, it needs to stay zipped, tucked in, buttoned, snapped, or buckled.”
Lisa, I love the rose analogy. I hope your mom won’t mind if I borrow it! It’s a nice approach to the concept of purity, grounded in respect for our bodies and our minds rather than fear. Thanks for sharing!
Amen Katrina!!! You said what so many in our society fail to say. I’m already concerned with what my 3 kiddos are facing on a daily basis, specifically my 8 year old. But, we seem to have a very open relationship, and am hoping that as he is faced with sexual conduct and questions, he won’t be afraid to ask or strike up a conversation. Guess I should be prepared for that though, huh????
I’m with Cori…you should send this to Time Magazine or a big newspaper because more of the public needs to read this!
So very true! You said it perfectly! So many people today just don’t want to say what you did. Good for you!
Great post Katrina!
I was 27 when I got married – and I was a virgin! Virginity is a virtue highly regarded in our family – my parents made sure I understand that. I’m glad I did. I am a very passionate woman and I’m pretty sure that my husband would agree that our sexual life is one of the best part in our marriage. We never take it for granted and it’s been a bond that keep us together. I hope and pray that my daughter will follow my footstep.
Thanks for the post 🙂
Here is a link to Vicki Courtey’s blog.
Send her a copy of your post. It’s a great piece.
I’m just moving my family to a cave somewhere in the woods. Maybe that’ll protect my daughter
But it would be so hard to get internet access out there. And Diet Coke. Nope, can’t do it. 😉
Wow, beautiful post. Very thoughtful. I didn’t wait – but I’ve often wished I had waited. You have sex with someone and you marry them forever. You take them with you through life, you know? I’ve been married 13 years – now I only want to be married to that one person.
Keep up the good writing, Katrina.
Thanks so much, Brent. I appreciate your sharing!
That 1 in 4 thing is disturbing. And pregnancies in the 7th grade? Wow. I didn’t even have my first kiss until I was 15! It’s really sad.
I like the comment above with the rose analogy. That’s a good way to put it — and like she said, it’s very easy to understand.
Me too. 🙂
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