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Awkward intersection between faith, kids and sex

October 19, 2008|By DAVID YOUNT

As a young adult Saint Augustine of Hippo, a victim of his raging hormones, prayed poignantly to God: "Lord, give me chastity," then added, "But not yet."

In our current moral climate, it is difficult to understand the saint's dilemma. Today we take sex for granted as a carefree adventure, to be indulged even before the onset of adolescence. The sole remaining sexual "sin" is unwed pregnancy, for which the routine remedies are contraception or abortion.

In fact, sex among the young is more prevalent, less carefree, and more damaging today than in Augustine's time. In 21st century America one-third of 9th graders are already sexually involved. By the 12th grade, two-thirds of American school children are active. More than 7 percent of boys and girls began sexual relations even before they entered their teen years.

As a consequence, one in four American teenage girls has already contracted at least one sexually transmitted disease and is poised to pass it along to future partners. One in five schoolgirls will become mothers while still in their teens.

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Children acknowledge being pressured into sex. But even in cases when adolescent sex is consensual, it is not carefree. Contraceptives meant to protect against pregnancy can be ineffective against sexually transmitted diseases.

Moreover, the emotional scars that can be inflicted in loveless physical intimacy during childhood can last a lifetime. Sexual desire encourages deception, emotional manipulation, and even physical abuse of the partner. Children are not like adults. They are not motivated by romance, nor can they offer love and protection to each other. They are not lovers but awkward adventurers seeking, at best, to derive some friendliness and self-affirmation through physical intimacy. When adults achieve this satisfaction so seldom through sex, how can we expect children to be more successful? Hearts break at all ages.

Can parents support their children by advising them about their sex lives? Sociologist Amy Schalet, writing in The Washington Post, complains that American teens are raised in an environment where "they feel sex is a secret that can ruin their lives." She notes that, by contrast, a majority of Dutch parents are now willing to allow their children and sexual partners "to spend the night together in their homes...when they see that they have formed a loving relationship, feel ready for sex, and understand how to use contraception responsibly."

Statistics suggest that few American teenagers are ready to pursue their sex lives in the family home. American teens rely on their peers rather than on their parents for sexual guidance.

Many American parents are blissfully unaware of their teens' actual sexual behavior. In a recent study of 700 teens in Philadelphia, three-fifths of the boys and girls acknowledged being sexually active, but only one-third of their parents were aware of it.

Incidentally, none of the surveys reveal how many teens are emulating St. Augustine by praying for chastity.

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