A University of California-Davis professor and a University of Minnesota sociologist used data from the "National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health" and the "Adolescent Health Academic Achievement Study" to produce their paper, Sex and School: Adolescent Sexual Intercourse and Education. The study reported that the basic academic performance of boys and girls who have sex only within the confines of a romantic relationship is "similar to abstainers on most of the education measures examined." The researchers studied nine education measures:
- school attachment
- high school GPA
- college aspiration
- college expectations
- problems in school
- the number of days truant
- school sanctions,
- and, dropping out.
The study reports that teens who have sex only with romantic partners are not statistically different from virgins on any of these measures, with the exceptions of a higher rate of truancy and, in some contexts, dropping out. Ths study also reported that the oppositte was true: teens who have sex outside of romantic relationships experience a higher chance of negative educational outcomes, in almost every category. So . . . still think that teenage sex is still a bad idea? Let the words of the study's author calm your fears. Here is a quote from a brief posted here:
"Collectively, our results find that the detrimental outcomes commonly attributed to adolescent sexual intercourse occur mostly in non-romantic contexts," said McCarthy and Grodsky. "These findings raise doubts about the veracity of sexual education programs that link adolescent sex to a plethora of negative outcomes."
Catch that? The findings of this study "raise doubts" about the truth of the assertions "sexual education programs" make that link adolescent sex to negative outcomes. So, I guess that because students' grades are OK we shouldn't worry about STD's. Or about what unplanned pregnancy does to teenagers' futures. Or about the heavy emotional toll adolescent sex can take on those involved. To say that this one finding (that is no doubt correlative and not causative) "raises doubts" about the myriad of negative outcomes associated with adolescent sex is myopic at best, and dishonest at worst. (Can you tell I am a little dubious?)
But the real issue for me is what this study reaffirms what we already know to be true about society and its attitudes toward adolescent sex:
- More than ever before, the values of our culture, as they pertain to sex, are diametrically opposed to the Christian ethic. You don't need to be told that we aren't losing the battle with culture, we've lost it. In most parts of the country, and in mainstream media, premarital sex is no longer taboo. There is no longer a social stigma attached to it. Choosing to engage in sex that is not manipulative or harmful, i.e., sex that is consensual, is seen as an acceptable form of expression along the lines of choosing your favorite cup of coffee at Starbucks. This is the world our teenagers are coming of age in.
- Teenagers are being told unequivocally that sex is not only OK, but that there are really no moral considerations at all. Not only is it OK, but it is natural. It is expected. It is a right of passage. It is what you do. There is nothing wrong with it. It is a-moral.
- As youth workers, we absolutely must equip teenagers with the holistic understanding of why sex outside of marriage is against God's desire for His children. And we must cease to do so in a legalistic way! Simply telling teenagers "God thinks sex before marriage is bad" is not enough, and only serves as a legalistic rule. What's the better approach? Students must know the underlying theological and spiritual truth behind why sex outside of the bonds of marriage is against the desires of God. Students must understand God's intent for marriage and procreation. They must understand that marriage is the closest picture of God's covenant love we can see on this earth. And then, added to this, there must come an understanding and a commitment to personal holiness, in all areas of our life, especially sexual activity and attitudes. Scripture calls us to nothing less.
When we teach only a legalistic, overly simplistic view of why to abstain from sex, we send our students into battle with a water gun.
We don't truly equip them to make an informed or emboldened stance. If we ever want to equip students with the tools to swim against the tide of culture, we must turn from emotionally contrived, event-driven approaches, and get serious about teaching teenagers the underlying spiritual truth of God's commitment to marriage and sexual holiness.