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Culture Challenge of the Week: Peer Pressure

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

Parents got some good news last week: A new report from the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) reveals that more teens and young adults are choosing virginity over casual sex.

“Among youngsters between the ages of 15 and 24, 27 percent of males and 29 percent of females said they had never experienced any sort of sexual contact.” The report draws from 2008 data, the latest available. By comparison, in 2002, 22 percent of males and females chose virginity.

Parents who want to help their children embrace sexual purity need a clear understanding of the sexual pressures in today’s culture.

A new book, Premarital Sex in America, by Mark Regnerus and Jeremy Uecker, provides that and more. It offers compelling research on the influences and decisions that lead to premarital sex—or virginity—among older adolescents and young adults.

So what do parents need to know?

First, that “sexual scripts” within a person’s social community strongly influence his or her expectations about sex.

What are “sexual scripts”? They are the unwritten “rules” of a social community, the norms about “what…to do next” or how, when, and why to have sex. Peers, friends, and the media pass these scripts along, often implicitly, teaching through the power of stories, images, and anecdotes. The popular scripts shape adolescents’ perceptions of what’s “normal,” while competing “scripts,” proposed by parents and religious beliefs, may fade from the adolescents' day-to-day life and become lost.

Second, that the sexual scripts proposed by our permissive culture and the media rest on lies--lies about relationships, the meaning of sex, and the path towards happiness.

For example, young people consistently believe that more of their peers are having more sex than they really are. In reality, the hook-up culture is not the every-weekend-norm for most students, according to Regnerus’ data. On college campuses, for example, 36% of young people have never hooked up with anyone even once.

Those who have hooked up have done so an average of four times total by the end of college. And roughly 75% of those who have hooked up experience regret. Moreover, hook-ups proliferate in two specific scenarios: among young people who are not college-educated, and among those who attend private, elite schools where fraternities (and in many case, alcohol) dominate social life.

Regnerus and Uecker conclude with a research-based list of ten myths about sex, exposing the insidious harm of our culture’s prevailing mantra. It should be required reading for both parents and older adolescents.

How to Save Your Family: Share a “Sexual Script” Based on Truth

The new research in Premarital Sex in America demonstrates that young adults do in fact reflect the sexual scripts of their communities. “Other people’s sexual choices matter. Collectively they function as a powerful constraint on our own behavior.” Our children will do best when they find a flourishing community of like-minded people who will commit to a common sexual ethic that follows God’s script rather than Sex and the City’s.

Young people motivated to live in sexual purity (and to enjoy the freedom that brings) need to surround themselves with others equally committed to the same ideals. Church youth groups, fellowship opportunities, and accountability teams may provide friendship and support. Our young people need to know they are not alone in their choice to live sexually pure lives.

Let your daughters know that research shows that women are, in fact, the sexual gatekeepers in relationships—that means they must stand firm, embracing sexual purity. The guys who are worth it will wait for sex and the guys who are not will leave—good riddance.

Whatever it takes, do your part to help the young people in your life sort through and find the messages worthy of who they were created to be.

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