For the last 2 weeks (and probably for the next 2 weeks), I've been talking about sex & romantic relationships with the kids in my youth group. The first Sunday we focused more on dating and the reality that these relationships, particularly for junior highers, will not last and will only cause a lot of pain if we put too much into them and expect more from them than they can deliver. It was a very good discussion with the junior highers and a fairly good talk with the high-schoolers. This Sunday we talked more specifically about sex. I have found that many of the Christian resources that deal with teen sex seem to mostly focus on scare tactics about pregnancy & disease and spend very little time dealing with positive reasons to wait for marriage. I wanted to avoid the scare tactics, but still wanted to present some of the statistics because they are striking and I thought they would help get the discussion moving. I also wanted to give them a chance to talk about what their peers say, think & do so we could talk specifically about that.
I must admit, even faced with the statistical evidence that over a quarter of freshmen girls & boys are already sexually active as well as over half of their senior counterparts, I was unprepared to hear the news that there were several girls at the junior high level that were pregnant. I was unprepared to hear that junior high girls are performing lesbian kissing shows for their male peers. I was unprepared to hear that oral sex was pretty common. And I was unprepared for the ordinary way in which junior highers discuss the sexual activity of their peers and the level of focus that sex & relationships seems to occupy in their social system. I mean, I knew this stuff went on, I knew it was happening across the US - it just catches you off guard when you realize that some of the kids sitting right in front of you may already be sexually active at the age of 12 or 13. And if they're not, some of the kids they've invited to our activities might be. I think I could almost make a show like "When Animals Attack!" - "When Statistics Become Real!" It could be a hidden camera show, catching the reaction of adults, especially parents, when they realize that their 11 year old son or daughter may have already had multiple sex partners (a real statistic, by the way), or that their little girl got pregnant and is looking for an abortion doctor at the age of 14 (almost 2/3 of teen pregnancies end in abortion).
Unsurprisingly, the situation described by the high school group was significantly worse. Most seemed to think that the numbers (52% of senior girls and 59% of senior guys being sexually active) were actually too low. When asked how long a couple had to be in a relationship before it was expected they would have sex, the most common answer was that, in fact, they did not even need to be in an exclusive relationship for sex to be the norm. One girl, who attends a magnet high school attached to the local university that students have to apply to get into, said that oral sex was more common than intercourse, but again, it was treated very casually. All said that condoms were not much of a priority and that the most feared consequence of having sex was having your parents find out - not disease, not pregnancy, not emotional pain, but being grounded. Even then, however, some parents apparently support their kids behavior by putting the girls on the pill. Some have even allowed their kids to have sex in their home.
Aside from the media's portrayal of teens and peer pressure, none of these kids (in either the junior or senior high) could think of any particular reason why sex was such a big deal or why many were so eager to particpate in it. None could identifly any emotional or spiritual problems that would lead kids to do this, though they did allow that the most promiscuous girls probably had self-esteem problems. I realized as we were talking about this, and as I was talking about Ephesians 5:31-32 - focusing on the mystery of the correlation between marriage and Christ's relationship with the Church, that in all reality, this is an issue that is well out of my hands. I did the best I could to describe the depth of love & commitment demonstrated by Christ, and how that is supposed to characterize marriage. I tried my hardest to explain why sex is meant to be confined to the marriage bed for this reason, because it has a greater spritual reality than what we see or think about. But its out of my hands, particularly for the high school kids. I have one hour a week with these kids, maybe 2 if they come to an activity - how am I, in that time, supposed to counteract hours upon hours spent in the distorted social system of their peers, or watching misguided media, or the time spent with parents who will not listen to their kids or take the time to instill the right values? I know I can have an influence, and I'm sure that I'm reaching some of these kids, but I feel that in a lot of ways parents have abdicated any responsibility for their kids and would rather live with their heads in the sand than face the truth of the world their kids inhabit. And what do I do about that?