Complete sexual freedom. That was the dream promoted by feminists. The dream has cost America dearly. Several reports released last week -- by Advocates for Youth and the Alan Guttmacher Institute -- conclude that half of all young Americans will get a sexually transmitted disease by age 25.
Sexual liberation was achieved. According to the Sexual Information and Education Council of the United States, 49 percent of women aged 18 to 19 had sex with at least two partners in the year 2002. Eighty-one percent of women aged 20 to 24 in 2002 had become sexually active before the age of 20.
Meanwhile, thousands of unwed mothers aged 15 to 19 give birth each year. Millions of young men and women -- and kids, at 15 years old -- receive genital wart virus, trichomoniasis and chlamydia each year.
But perhaps not every young person having sex is damaged. My friend Janie (name changed to protect her privacy) could be considered a poster child for the sexual dream. Janie, a self-described "typical college student," attends UCLA. She's intelligent, creative and pretty. She's a political and social left-leaning moderate. Janie became sexually active at age 15 (she's now 21) and has slept with five men. She has never become pregnant and has never contracted an STD.
Janie decides to have sex "if I've been dating a guy for a while and we say we love each other." When asked if she would sleep with someone she didn't love, Janie replies "Never, ever ... I was dating a guy for a while, and I really liked him, I even thought I loved him. We dated each other exclusively, but because he wouldn't say he loved me, I wouldn't have sex, and I broke up with him," she explains. What is it about those magic words "I love you"? What if the guy is lying? "I can tell if he means it," Janie says. "I've had guys say they loved me before, but I know they don't mean it. It's intuition."
Her intuition has led her to bed with five different men, but Janie is quick to explain that she doesn't get around: "You have to understand that just because I was having sex when I was 15 doesn't mean I was promiscuous. I've been having sex since I was 15, right? And I'm 21 now, so that's six years, and yet I've only had five partners. You know, that's pretty good compared to other people who started having sex when they were 15."
Janie doesn't regret doing what she's done. She doesn't feel guilty "at all," she states with emphasis. "I do whatever I want, and I've never thought twice about it."
Would Janie's parents be happy with her behavior? Probably not, Janie admits: "My mom always said, 'Don't have sex until you're married.'" Janie calls her parents "conservative in terms of values" but religiously "liberal." Janie's own relationship with God is strained. "I absolutely don't think my behavior is sinful ... I guess I believe more in the laws of human nature -- I'm not a hedonist -- but I believe in the laws of human nature more than I believe in divine law."
The results of Janie's upbringing bring into sharp relief the difference between secular and religious conservatism. Secular conservatism only frowns upon sexual promiscuity for social and health reasons; teaching a child that sex is forbidden because of some amorphous social good certainly carries less weight than a religious explanation.
While Janie is outgoing and friendly, she wonders whether life is meaningless. We've had long discussions about religion and God. While she believes in God, she doesn't believe in God-given rules for living. Her agnosticism often borders on depression.
Janie isn't unusual. A 2003 study by the Heritage Foundation linked early sexual activity with a higher suicide rate. The study reported that about 14 percent of girls aged 14 to 17 who have had intercourse have attempted suicide; 5 percent of sexually inactive girls have.
Janie believes she's taken the right path. "I believe that no matter what religious ideologies you plant into the mind of teenager, they're going to have sex. ... What you can do is tell them that getting pregnant or getting an STD is going to ruin their lives."
This contraceptive-based sex education is the solution proposed by the secular left, which created the problem of sexual libertinism in the first place. James Wagoner, president of Advocates for Youth, feels that "the stakes are simply too high to talk only about abstinence." But the question remains: Even if venereal disease and teen pregnancy are eradicated, will America's young people be able to recover from the loss of their innocence?