It's not news to anybody these days - not if they watch any television or glance at the covers of the magazines lining the checkout counters at the grocery stores - that we live in a sex-saturated society where supposedly the majority of young people are "doing it," more often than not without "benefit of marriage." The "Playboy philosophy" is trumpeted by a thousand voices that glamorize casual sex, while most of the shrinking mainline churches present pitifully watered-down messages about morality that confuse rather than clarify. Academic institutions, particularly the women's studies programs, promote the idea that marriage is optional and young people are advised to "just do it!" The secular mantra, heard from middle school on up, is that sex will make you popular and happy; it's great recreation that is free and fun.
There is a mountain of media out there promoting a phony philosophy about the joys of casual, risky sexual experimentation; one need look no further than the junk advice featured in magazines like Cosmopolitan to see just how pernicious it is. Even the "Dear Abby" column in many daily newspapers spreads the expectation of sexual activity even for the youngest of our teens. This assault will not be neutralized until a brigade of those who know better find their voices to convince today's Sex in the City generation of young women that only discipline and restraint - it is having an attitude that says, "I won't mess up my tomorrows by fooling around today" - will open the gateway to achieving their dreams and ambitions.
Well, the time for some straight talk about casual sex is long overdue. Every young person needs to know the following three truths:
Truth #1: Casual sex impairs the ability to establish a lasting emotion bond. When natural human emotional responses are repeatedly denied, the person is hardened and the capacity to bond is weakened. Dr. Donald Joy published groundbreaking research in the early 80s and has updated it periodically in the intervening years. He chronicles the ways that intimacy produces bonding. His research indicates that human beings respond to sexual intercourse by bonding, and they are driven to make that bond permanent and exclusive.
Dr. Joy reported on the work of a researcher at a hospital clinic in Detroit who worked with 1,000 couples for 10 years studying their marital problems and recording their sexual histories. He concluded that sexual intercourse is constructive only within marriage. His evidence is overwhelming that one or the other of the partners in casual sex (usually the girl or woman) experiences immediate emotional pain even in the absence of acknowledged injury. The experience of casual sexual intimacy produces memories that can contaminate future relationships and create lingering problems later on, when the person eventually marries. When the married couples in his research had problems, he said, "The pain in the marriages was rooted in their promiscuity."
Truth #2: Casual sex leaves young people alone and lonely. Counselors tell us that sexually active girls are three times more likely to be depressed than their abstinent peers. Among the boys, sexually active ones are depressed twice as often. Sexually active teens are more likely than their abstinent counterparts to attempt suicide (girls 15 percent to five percent and boys six percent to one percent). But the most telling fact is that the majority of teenagers, 72 percent of the girls and 55 percent of the boys, acknowledge regret over early sexual activity and wish that they had waited longer to have sex. So much for the cultural mantra that "sex is no big deal!"
On another front, replacing marriage with casual sex is especially harmful to young women's long-term well-being. The marriage rate in the United States has dropped by nearly 50 percent since 1970. In 1940, less than eight percent of all households consisted of people living alone; now more than a quarter do. The number of unmarried couples living together temporarily in the U.S. is 10 times as large today as in 1970.
Truth #3: The so-called "sexual revolution" has produced dramatic increases in sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Sadly, 65 percent of STDs appear in young people under age 25, and fully 20 percent of all AIDS cases are among college-aged young people. In the U.S., over 15 million new cases of STDs appear annually, a number that is triple what it was six years ago. Having three or more sexual partners in a lifetime increases a woman's odds of cervical cancer by 15 times.
The National Center for Health Statistics analyzed data from the 2002 National Survey of Family Growth and found two startling facts. Among young women who used contraception at first intercourse, the probability of giving birth at each age is roughly half that of those who did not use contraception. Further, the probability of a sexually active female giving birth approximately doubles between 18-20 years of age whether the young woman uses contraception at first intercourse or not.
A young person's choices about sex reveal his or her attitudes about others. Is sexual activity merely fun and games? No. Treating sex as something casual can never actually make it a casual matter. The Scriptures raise the age old question, "Can a man take fire to his bosom, and his clothes not be burned?" (Proverbs 6:27, NKJV)
Sexual intercourse can be an intense and pleasurable experience, but it is more - much more. Sexual intimacy triggers the strongest and deepest, most exhilarating passions in life. Its purpose is to bond a man and a woman into "one flesh" in the deepest intimacy that human beings can share. Further, sex is designed to both create life and build a strong relationship to protect and provide for that life. Little wonder that the Creator fashioned the means of creating life in such a way that it is one of the most awesome forces in our lives and then linked it to marriage so as to signify to us, "Priceless. Handle with great care."
It is impossible to ignore or dictate to nature. Young people need to choose carefully. Sex can never be free; choices always have consequences. We cannot expect young people to act responsibly when adults - whose thinking is sometimes clouded by their rationalization of their own hurtful and toxic sexual experimentation - are irresponsible by not providing the best possible information to encourage self-discipline and self-control, which are the surest keys to young peoples' long-term well-being.
Dr. Janice Shaw Crouse is a Senior Fellow of Concerned Women for America’s Beverly LaHaye Institute. She writes about contemporary issues that affect women, family, religion and culture in her regular column "Dot.Commentary."