During speaking engagements I often share this struggle with audience members. For fear of anyone missing the point, I employ blunt language: ?Every time you sleep with someone other than your spouse, you give up a part of yourself. If you casually give yourself away, by the time you become married you will be used up and the specialness of sharing your world with a loved one will be gone. ?
I say this to stress the point that the full geography of human emotion is bound up in the intimate union we share with loved ones. Such unions gain special meaning when they occur in the context of a loving union under God.
Sadly, many of our children simply chose sex. So says a recent study conducted by the Institute for American Values, which tacked the mating rituals of women on college campuses across the country. The 18-month study found that daddy?s little girl is often engaging in two types of relationships: ?sexual intimacy with no hope for commitment? or an intense almost immediate commitment ?without first getting emotionally acquainted.? Daddy?s little boy is all too willing to help out. Consequently, bodies are colliding without the hard emotional work of actually getting to know someone. Or, as the study put it: ?women [have] few opportunities to explore the marriage worthiness of a variety of men before settling into a long-term commitment with one of them.?
In place of the emotionally fruitful kind of relationship that once led to marriage, daddy?s little girl is engaging in a series of emotionally detached physical encounters. 41% of the women surveyed admitted to engaging in such encounters regularly and 1 in 10 said they had more than 6 one-night stands.
This is not surprising. Since the sexual revolution, this brand of promiscuity has been glamorized for its symbolic value: women breaking free from gender roles that once enmeshed them, etc. The popular culture is replete with images that equate sexual promiscuity with freedom and liberation. Soap operas, the programs most watched by adolescents, refer to sex outside of marriage 2-3 times an episode. Prime time television depicts premarital sex thirteen times more often than it portrays romance between married couples. Throughout the popular culture, bodies simply collide like runaway railway cars. The not-so-subtle implication: sex is little more than a fun release, an agreeable pastime of sorts.
While this may make for engaging television, the reality is that young children often lack the emotional component to understand sex. Children who engage in sex with other children are not engaging in a mutual interaction, but rather treating each other as objects to be prodded. Such inglorious and awkward interactions can lead to a lifelong confusion between sex and love.
"Kids today are growing up without any understanding of the incremental steps of getting to know each other,? remarked Patricia Hersch, author of A Tribe Apart: A Journey into the Heart of American Adolescence, in a recent USA Today interview. ?We assume they do, but they just don't. They have no way of knowing how to explore their first inklings of wanting to be with each other."
Nor are they prepared to start a family. The United States teen pregnancy rate continues to outpace the rest of the civilized world. This year alone, roughly one million teenage women in the United States will become pregnant. Too often, the boys that got them pregnant are unable or unwilling to provide for their family as men. About half of those pregnancies will result in births, often to young out-of-wedlock women who simply are not emotionally or financially prepared to adequately care for their children.
The implications?not just for ?those? teens, but for ?our? society?are quite serious. The Annie E. Casey Foundation, a charitable organization dedicated to improving the lives of disadvantaged children, put it succinctly in their Spring 2001 newsletter: ??when teenagers have babies, the consequences are felt throughout society. Children born to teenage parents are more likely to be of low birth-weight and to suffer from inadequate health care, more likely to leave high school without graduating, and more likely to be poor, thus perpetuating a cycle of unrealized potential.?
For all of these reasons, sex is not something to be treated casually, because it could have unintended consequences. Or, as Rev. Donald D Robinson, former Director of the D.C. Mayor?s office on religious affairs, observed during a sermon, ?It is God?s will that they abstain from sexual activity until they are married.? In case anyone missed the point, Robinson took a pack of gum from his pocket and gave everyone in the front row a stick. About 25 minutes later, he returned to the topic of the gum. When participants remarked that the flavor is fading, Robinson offered to share his stick. Before they could respond, he plucked the gooey wad from his mouth and held it out like precious offering. The would-be recipients lurched back in disgust. The point, explains Robinson: ?If you are prematurely sexually active, by the time you have become married, you?re like a chewed up piece of gum?all of your flavor, freshness and sweetness is gone.?
One of the greatest challenges in my life is the struggle to abstain from premarital sex. It is not easy. Nor is it supposed to be. The struggle to abstain from sexual activity until we are married is part of the greater struggle to attain a spirituality that is detached from the selfish desires of our bodies and minds. It is only by purging our ego that we may move away from our own mean personal vanity, and do good to others.