On the radio, popular songs declare the thrills of casual sex. On the Internet, pop-up windows beckon Web surfers to erotic destinations. The fashion world touts midriff-baring designs, while prime-time TV rolls out one sexual innuendo after another.
Today’s adolescents must navigate this cultural morass just at a time when hormonal surges and emerging feelings are making life confusing enough. But what happens when faith gets thrown into the mix? How does being a Christian affect a teenager’s perceptions and responses in this sex-drenched society?
Much has been written lately about abstinence education and how more teens are choosing not to have sex. Newsweek even touted “The New Virginity” on its cover last fall and acknowledged that religion—along with caring parents and an awakening sense of personal responsibility—has played a major role in why teens are deciding to wait. Indeed, programs like True Love Waits (an international campaign launched by the Southern Baptists in 1993) have challenged millions of teens and college students to remain sexually pure until marriage. And the Centers for Disease Control reports that the number of high school students who said they’ve had sex has dropped notably, from 54 percent in 1991 to 46 percent in 2001.
Still, polls and studies only tell part of the story. Despite signs that things are improving, the reality of sexual temptation remains—and Christian young people are not inoculated against these pressures. Hearing their voices, in fact, suggests that their plight might be even more precarious than their non-Christian counterparts:
“I know the Bible says you can’t have sex before marriage. But why can’t you, if you’re in love with the person? It doesn’t feel wrong. —Kendra, 14
“My boyfriend and I don’t want to mess around anymore. But how do we keep this commitment? I never realized how powerful passion can be.” —Shari, 15
“Kids at school are pressuring me and my girlfriend to have sex. I want to wait until marriage, but I worry about how this makes me look.” —Darryl, 17
“I feel cut off from God. I want to do what’s right, but I can’t seem to. Recently I had sex with a guy, thinking that it would bring us closer. I know now that was a mistake, and I feel totally ashamed.” —Aimee, 16
A lot of Christian teens are having sex and suffering painful, sometimes devastating consequences. Meanwhile, those not having sex are thinking a lot about it, many of them wavering between fear and curiosity.
Parents, youth pastors, and other concerned adults might hope that the influence of biblical principles on their young would help them withstand the onslaughts of peer pressure, physical longings, and conflicting signals from secular voices (“Don’t have sex, but when you do, use a condom”), but the several teens who spoke candidly with Christian Reader reveal a far more complicated picture.