Warning: This post contains content appropriate for older teens and adults. If you are offended or easily embarrassed by frank talk about human sexuality, STOP reading immediately. No, I mean it. I have lots of other posts, browse on the right and find something else to read. Otherwise, kick your underage kid out of the room and read on.
We live is a sex-obsessed, sex-drenched society. Somehow, we have deluded ourselves into thinking that pushing the boundaries of good taste is not only acceptable, but desirable and perhaps even necessary for the advancement of the human race. Sadly, public flaunting of sexuality has not translated well into private sexual maturity. This is beyond just being sexually moral, but being responsible, even in a non-religious context. And equally sadly, all many churches have done is lash out and demand ever stricter interpretations of Scripture in a futile quest to stem the tide. It’s a lot like putting a band-aid on a stab wound to the neck.
One way in which we see that failure is in abstinence education. Abstinence-only sex education programs have no significant impact on the rate of teenage sexual intercourse. Go ahead, read that sentence again. If you’re concerned that I’m making that up, please trust me, I’m not. (That also means that none of the other sex education programs are having an impact, either, by the way.) I can’t speak to how the educational system should respond to this problem, but I can address the church. There are a few ways in which we are failing, and until we begin to get it right, we will have to deal with the consequences.
The first problem is that we ourselves don’t have things clearly, or appropriately, defined. There was a trend, for a time, for adolescent girls to “pledge” their virginity to . . . their fathers. If you are not already saying, “Ew,” I will say it for you: Ew. That crosses a lot of lines right there. I understand fathers wanting to protect their daughters, but that is simply inappropriate. Why not have them make their pledges to their mothers? Why aren’t boys expected to do the same? Why, in Heaven’s name, are we trying to return to the age of young women having to prove their purity before it can be sold to their husbands? This kind of thing reduces feminine sexuality to a single aspect and ties a woman’s worth to her lack of sexual experience. Neither of those helps develop healthy, moral sexuality.
Second, there is a rule, spoken or unspoken, among Christians: Keep your legs together and your pants zipped at all times, even when you’re alone. Yes, you read that last part right. I’m going to be very frank here. We tell our teenagers not to masturbate. Why? For some reason, we seem to think that the hands-off policy is a sign of a devout and moral person. Let’s try an experiment. If you’re in a sexual relationship with someone, try having absolutely no sexual contact for, let’s say, eight years, give or take. Also, you are not allowed any form of self-gratification during that time, and no cheating with someone else. I’m assuming you’re an adult. Chances are, even for you, that is going to be next to impossible. Now imagine that your doctor has injected you with an overload of hormones. What, exactly, do you think is going to happen? Not only is it normal for adolescents (both boys and girls) to seek relief of their sexual tension, it is healthy and natural. If we speak openly about this subject and teach healthy sexual expression during the teen years, we may just find that our young people will be more, not less, able to exercise self-control in their relationships.
Third, we fail our LGBT young people. I have known children as young as ten who are already sensing that they are attracted to people of the same sex. Instead of helping them, we might confuse them by telling them that it’s a phase, or it will pass, or that their feelings aren’t real. We have then damaged their trust that adults can help them as they grow and mature. We need to be better prepared to be parents, teachers, and adult friends to these kids, who are vulnerable and at risk to begin with. We can’t be part of the problem.
Finally, we emphasize the no-sex rule, but we fail to help adolescents navigate relationships. We teach them that having sexual intimacy of any kind is not only sinful, but disrespectful to their boy- or girlfriend. We might even tell them that dating is “wrong” at their age. There is an entire philosophy of romantic relationships which teaches exactly that. But we don’t teach teenagers how to have good, moral relationships with each other. I’m not suggesting we gloss over or ignore the sexual aspect. But we need to be helping both boys and girls understand, respect, and relate to each other as well.
There is much more to be said on the issue of sexuality and relationships. Next post, I will address issues in adulthood.