An Ounce of Prevention…

We're all familiar with the saying, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.  Except, when it comes to pregnancy there is no "cure" right?  So actually, in regards to encouraging teens to wait for marriage to have sex, an ounce of prevention is priceless in some cases.  Although the narrative we hear is that abortion is the cure for an unwanted pregnancy, if we stop and think about it, does pregnancy really need a cure?  Is a human life something to be cured?  It seems that if we want to reduce teen pregnancy, abortion, and STD rates, shouldn’t we be pouring resources and effort into making sure young people are equipped with all the information about the benefits of waiting to have sex until marriage and the potential repercussions of teen sex?

The Perfect Storm

When we remove (or give the illusion of removing) consequences from actions, those actions lose any caution that should rightfully surround them.  When it comes to teen sex, I believe this is at the heart of the issue.  We’ve given the illusion that sex can be made “safe” through contraception, condoms, and abortion.  The result?  Teens are engaging in sexual activity with reckless abandon and reaping all the consequences that they weren’t warned about.  Not only are they having to deal with unplanned pregnancy, and STD’s in epidemic proportions, they are also emotionally and relationally confused about the meaning of sex. Teens are prone to take higher risk in general, they tend to think “bad things happen, but they won’t happen to me”, as they get older, they realize bad things can and will happen to them (sometimes because of their own risk taking) and then usually tend to take less risk. 

So, combine the cultural message that sex can be made “safe” outside of marriage and teens propensity to take risk. . . and you have a perfect storm, with teens caught in the middle. Dealing with consequences that they feel blindsided by.
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I’d like to challenge the idea that our culture is communicating to teens, the message that sex is a casual, common, and consequence-less act.  The term “casual sex” is an oxymoron, casual implies a cavalier, nonchalant, indifferent attitude toward something.  Sex should never be treated like that!  I teach my students that we are affected five ways when we have sex, physically, mentally-emotionally, socially, spiritually, and financially.  Should we be sending a message that something that affects every area of your life so significantly can be treated casually and without importance?  No!  Sex can only be casual once you’ve dehumanized it enough to place no more importance on it than you would a stroll in the park.  Those perpetuating the “casual sex” message are diminishing the value and importance of sex while proclaiming themselves as the “sexually enlightened” members of society.  As generations living in the wake of the sexual revolution of the 1960’s and 70’s, as those who are supposedly the “sexually enlightened, liberated, and free” sex has been reduced to nothing more than a casual encounter.  We’ve made it boring actually.

The “hook-up culture” has created so much confusion, hurt, and baggage attached to sex that most teens believe sex doesn’t have anything to do with respect.

 Per this survey on married and unmarried couples, married couples have more sex, better sex, and are more satisfied with their sex lives than unmarried couples.  When I tell students this they are sometimes skeptical, so I explain it through a different lens.  I ask them if there’s anything they would be worried about if they went out and had sex this weekend.  Every class comes up with the same five worries: 1) Pregnancy 2) STD’s 3) Parents finding out 4) Relationship ending 5) Getting a reputation/peers finding out.  After determining the foremost five worries, I explain to them that the abstinence message often comes under criticism, adults who say “why can’t you just tell them to wait to have sex until they graduate or when they’re older?” I then explain that the reason I won’t ever tell students to just try and make it to the end of high school is because even with a brand-new diploma in their hand, none of those five worries go away.  I ask them if the five worries go away when they’re in college, they say no.  I ask them if the five worries go away when they’re engaged, they say no.  I explain how I’m married and I don’t worry about any of those things.  The “hook up culture” has created so much confusion, hurt, and baggage attached to sex that most teens believe sex doesn’t have anything to do with respect.  I know this because when I present to students I ask them a series of true or false questions, one of the questions asks “Sex has a lot to do with respect”, in almost every class the answer is a unanimous “FALSE”.  It breaks my heart a little more each time I hear that answer.  Teens in our culture do not believe that sex is something worthy of respect, and that is a tragedy.

One of the main messages of abstinence education is to challenge teens to not only view themselves as worthy of respect, but that sexual expression is worthy of respect.  To elevate it from a casual act to something so valuable that marriage is the only framework in which it makes sense.  I always challenge my students to visualize their future, goals, and dreams, and then weigh each decision against that vision.  Is this decision going to help you attain that vision or potentially take it away from you, or at least make it a whole lot harder for you to get there?  It’s so important to go beyond the “just say no” message that is, frankly, outdated.  We need to start equipping teens with the tools for success. 

Giving them the why behind the wait.

I have become so passionate about this message because realistically, the amount of pressure placed on teens by their peers, culture, the media, and adults to have sex, is absolutely staggering.  

And yet, the 2015 National Youth Risk Behavior Survey found that over 74% of teens in Alaska say that they’re choosing to wait to have sex.