Twisting Reality: Teenagers, Sex, and Depression

Chuck Colson
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Posted: Jun 17, 2003 12:00 AM

The Heritage Foundation has published a new study showing a link between sexual activity and depression among teenagers. The news isn't good. For sexually active girls age fourteen to seventeen, the rates of depression (which the study's authors define as "unhappiness," not clinical depression) are more than three times higher than for those who have not been sexually active. Sexually active boys "are more than twice as likely to be depressed as are those who are not sexually active." And both boys and girls who have been sexually active are more likely to commit suicide.

Study co-author Robert Rector is quick to point out that the study, based on the National Longitudinal Survey of Adolescent Health, does not show conclusive evidence of a "causal link" between sexual activity and depression. Such a cause-and-effect relationship, he says, would be "really impossible to prove." And some people, of course, are skeptical about the study as a whole. Tamara Kreinin of the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (or SIECUS), which promotes "safer sex" education, thinks it's important to focus on other factors as well when studying teenage depression—factors like family problems and abuse.

Kreinin may be right about that. But the study's authors did control for certain "social background factors," like "gender, race, age, and family income." Moreover, nearly two-thirds of the sexually active teenagers surveyed expressed regrets about having sex too early. This suggests "that early sexual activity leads to emotional stress and reduces teen happiness." And regardless of whether unhappiness causes early sexual activity or the other way around, they say, "teens should be told that sexual activity in teen years is clearly linked to reduced personal happiness."

You'd think everyone could agree about this. Unfortunately, nothing will deter some people from selling the "safer sex" message to kids. No matter what the data show, organizations like SIECUS and Planned Parenthood insist there's no way to stop kids from having sex and that the best we can do is to teach them to use condoms and other birth control methods.

The fundamental problem is one of worldview—whether we believe that we are designed by a loving Creator to glorify Him and enjoy His gifts, or that we are merely a biological accident with no transcendent moral law. If "human sexual relationships are predominantly emotional and moral rather than physical in character," as Rector and his team put it, we will teach kids to treat themselves and each other with care and respect, to recognize that sex is too important and valuable a gift to be taken lightly. If we ignore that emotional and moral aspect and tell kids to treat sex simply as recreation, we're creating a generation with no self-worth or respect for boundaries. And we ought to expect the unhappiness, depression, and even suicide that follows.

No matter how this link works, we need to acknowledge that it's there and what it's telling us about truth. As we keep reminding you here on BreakPoint, whenever we twist reality to suit our own desires and views, the consequences are serious—even deadly. But when we live as God intended, we find that it adds to, rather than subtracts from, our happiness.


For further reading:

Robert E. Rector, et al., "Sexually Active Teenagers Are More Likely to Be Depressed and to Attempt Suicide," Center for Data Analysis, The Heritage Foundation, June 3, 2003.

Karen S. Peterson, "Study links depression, suicide rates to teen sex," USA Today, June 3, 2003.

Laura Vanderkam, "Sexually active girls lament: Why didn't I wait?" USA Today, June 11, 2003.

For information about abstinence resources and organizations, visit the National Abstinence Clearinghouse.

See also the May 2, 2003, "Worldview for Parents" page, "Condoms in School."

Gina Dalfonzo, "What Aren't You Kids Doing!?" BreakPoint Online, June 4, 2002.

Roberto Rivera, "Changing Hearts," BreakPoint Online, May 1, 2003.

Wendy Shalit, "Modesty Revisited," Imprimis, March 2001.

Laurel L. Cornell, "Pure Again," Boundless, November 11, 1999.

Roberto Rivera, "40 (Dismal) Days and Nights," Boundless, March 21, 2002.

Lilian Callas Barger, Eve's Revenge: Women and a Spirituality of the Body (Wynwood, 2003).