Parenting Help

Culture’s Confusion Over Sex 

“There’s a big difference between pornography and erotica.” “There’s no difference between coed dorms and gender-split dorms on campus.” “Hooking up isn’t demeaning; it’s liberating.”

Are you confused by some of these messages? So are teens…and it’s having an impact.

Subliminal Messages
There are plenty of messages about sex swirling through the world of teenagers these days. Some are responsible and values-driven, like “real love waits,” while others are blatantly graphic and harmful. A billboard posted in my city – for a short time – claimed a certain brand of alcohol was “liquid panty remover.” Fairly brazen, but at least the message was clear.

Then there are more subtle messages like, “It doesn’t hurt to look,” and “Everyone’s doing it,” or “Oral sex doesn’t count.” Without a doubt, these advice-laden messages are reaching teenagers. But what are they communicating?

Apparently, lots of confusion.

Confusion About Casual Sex
There are now two schools of thought concerning young people who “hook up.” One group condemns casual sex as dangerous and damaging, while another embraces “free love” as liberating and empowering. (This article explores both sides of the argument, but don’t miss the video that’s linked in the upper left hand corner.)

This discussion is ongoing at several college campuses, including a few Ivy League schools. Some girls note the apparent disparage between a guy’s sexual conquests versus that of a girl’s. “When girls sleep with multiple people on different occasions, she is labeled as a ‘slut’ or ‘whore,’ but when guys hook up with multiple girls they’re seen as heroes to the male race,” said Rachel Sloane, who’s a senior at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. “As long as she isn’t taking advantage of the other person, why shouldn’t she have that right?” she asks.

So, just to be clear, your argument is based on “he’s doing it too” mentality?

It’s more than “slightly interesting” to me that this discussion is happening on college campuses. Just a year and a half ago, I wrote about the growing prevalence of coed roommates in college dorms. I raised several questions, with the chief one being, “Will coed rooming have more consequences, or benefits, for students?”

At this point, enough semesters have passed to conduct studies. The jury is in: students at colleges offering coed dorms – not even coed roommates, necessarily – are more likely to have an increased number of sexual partners.

You’ll have to forgive me for not being surprised. 

But that’s not all researchers discovered. In their study released in The Journal of American College Health they claimed that university students in coed housing were 2.5 times more likely to binge drink every week. 42% of students in coed housing reported binge drinking on a weekly basis, compared to 18% of students in gender split campus housing. Also, pornography use was higher among students in coed dorms.

And finally, late last month, Jenna Jameson, who Oprah calls “the biggest porn star in the world,” visited with the host of the most-watched talk show in the country. The two women talked about the porn industry, how proud Jameson is of her professional career, her family, how she thinks others see her, and whether or not she has any regrets. This short video clip from the show provides a glimpse of the dialogue between Oprah and Jameson on the nature of the adult film industry.

During the discussion, Jameson essentially tries to split hairs between mainstream porn and artistic erotica, with the first one being the chauvinistic material that degrades women and the latter one being the adult material that focuses on romance and love. In spite of Jameson’s arguments, the folks at Covenant Eyes did a thorough job of debunking any difference between the two, and even highlighted the fact that some would be do-gooders actually prescribe erotic material to couples who are struggling sexually.

Dr. Gail Saltz, a guest on Oprah’s show last year, said the following in response to whether or not women’s use of erotica was a double standard: “It’s not a double standard. Forty-three percent of women have some sort of sexual dysfunction—they have trouble with desire or they have trouble with arousal. And this is a tool to use if you need help feeling more desirous, feeling more aroused, or something to increase the pleasure of your sexuality, which is extremely important to women. And it can be useful to men as well. The problem is, it can be a double-edged sword in that anything really pleasurable can become kind of addictive.”

Let me get this straight, doc. You’re saying, “Watch some porn and call you in the morning?”

Isn’t that what got me in trouble in the first place?

Clear Results
There might be plenty of confusion about sex within our culture, but the consequences of hooking up are becoming crystal clear in the lives of teenagers.

new report by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) claims that “one in four teen girls have an STD,” a statistic that echoes their findings from last year. So, nothing has improved.

The CDC’s study targeted teen girls between the ages of 14 and 19 and their research indicated that 24.1% of these girls had STD’s ranging from HPV to Chlamydia. Further highlighting the irresponsible and unsafe sex practices of teens was the fact that researchers discovered 19.2% of them contracted an STD within the first year of having their first sexual experience with only one partner.

In addition to the rate of STD infection increasing amongst teens, we also know that teen pregnancies have increased in the last two years. Some even speculate that America’s more religious states are also those with the highest rates of teen pregnancies.

The summary is fairly grim. Our culture of sexual confusion is resulting in chaos for teenagers.

Cutting Through the Confusion
As your teenagers wade through the confusion surrounding sex in our culture, they’re bound to have plenty of questions. They may even become confused themselves. We now know what happens if we do nothing; the problems associated with teen sex will continue to escalate. Here are a couple suggestions to help you clear the air with your teens when it comes to sex.

  1. Frequently teach teenagers about sex. It’s tempting for many youth workers to just glaze over sex as a “black and white” issue; after all, the Bible is clear about “fleeing sexual immorality” (1 Cor. 6:18). So many youth workers I meet ask, “Do I really have to say, ‘Don’t have sex until you’re married?’” My answer is “YES!” Further, we cannot relegate teachings on sex to just one night a year at youth group. Our teenagers are caught in the sex fog almost every day; we must ensure they are hearing the truth on a very regular basis. If you need a few ideas on how to talk about sex with your teens, check out this OPENER or this OUTREACH AGENDA or this MUSIC DISCUSSION. In short, weigh in on this important subject. If you don’t talk with your students about sex, the only messages they will get from the world will be those that cause confusion and lead to harm.
  2. Constantly manage teenager’s media. If you’re wondering what media and teen sex have to do with one another, don’t wonder long. Just peruse Billboard’s Top 10 once a month and do lyrics searches on a few of the songs found on the list, or turn on the TV to see what’s playing during the “family hour” these days. With all the confusion about teen sex these days, two things are clear: when teens watch racy TV shows or listen to raunchy music, they are more likely to have sex.

It’s been said that ignorance is bliss. For a while, perhaps, but at some point, reality comes crashing in on confusion. When that reality involves an unwanted pregnancy, an STD, or just a broken heart, desperate and hurting teenagers are left in the wake. Keep diligently working to guard the teenagers you love from that reality.

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David R. Smith

David R. Smith is the author of several books including Christianity... It's Like This and speaks to parents and leaders across the U.S. David is a 15-year youth ministry veteran, now a senior pastor, who specializes in sharing the gospel, and equipping others do the same. David provides free resources to anyone who works with teenagers on his website, David resides with his wife and son in Tampa, Florida.

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