Guard Their Hearts
(This column first appeared in November 2004)
Last week I talked about the physical risks of teenage sex, and this week I want to address the emotional onesóand not only the risks to us when our kids become sexually active, but the risks to them, too.
When parents contemplate their teens having sex, pregnancy and disease arenít the first things that come to mind. Instead, itís panic, the mere thought causing us to jump into bed and pull the covers over our heads. In more rational moments we may work through these feelings so we can talk to our kids, but our first response doesnít tend to be terror at the possibility of diseaseóitís terror at the possibility of the act itself.
Most parents would prefer, to put it mildly, that their teens not have sex. If they do, then somebody is going to know them in certain ways even more intimately than we do. But that intimacy, in the context of what is probably a fleeting teenage relationship, seems just plain wrong. After all, sex is so much more than just a physical act; itís intrinsically connected with our psyches. Whether we intend it to or not, it forms a bond between two people, and using it cavalierly can be damaging.
The Redbook survey of 100,000 women showed this dramatically. It found that women who had been sexually active at 15 were far less likely to have happy marriages and satisfying sex lives later in life than those who had waited. In the wrong context, then, sex can shatter our spirits, and give us baggage that will affect future relationships. As columnist Rebecca Hagelin has said, there is no condom for your heart. There is no way to protect yourself when youíve given your body and your soul to someone and theyíve rejected you. Itís little wonder that up to two-thirds of sexually active teens regret not waiting for this very reason. These same teens are also more likely to be depressed and suicidal that their inexperienced peers.
Yet we have a difficult time articulating this to our children in part, I think, because weíve been told that sexual experimentation cannot and should not be interfered with. If we tell our teens to say no, we may inadvertently teach them thereís something shameful about sex.
This reminds me of a story a male teacher friend once relayed to me. A 14-year-old girl asked him privately if she should have sex with her boyfriend. The teacher asked, "what did your parents say?". She replied, "that I should do what I think is best." He quickly extricated himself from this compromising situation, but hereís what he was thinking. If she had wanted to have sex, she would have done so. She would not have asked her parents, and she would not have asked him. She was looking for a responsible adult to tell her it was okay to say no. Instead, everyone was telling her they expected her to say yes, even though deep inside she didnít want to.
When we give kids the "safe sex" message, weíre essentially saying, "we know youíre going to do it anyway, so use a condom". We give kids the impression that the pull for sex canít be resisted, so everybody must be doing it. Even adults I respect expect me to say yes! Iíd have to be a freak to say no.
Yet itís a myth that teenagers arenít able to wait. Our grandparentsí generation largely waited until the wedding night. We may believe that older people never fought these hormonal urges, but I bet the senior citizens out there could tell us a different story.
Counselling teens to wait isnít teaching them to be ashamed of sex; itís teaching them to give it the honour and importance that it deserves. Itís elevating making love, not maligning it. After all, little in life will have more long-term physical, emotional and spiritual consequences than what you do with your body. It may be uncomfortable to talk about such things with teens, but we need to try. We canít control our children, but we can make it more likely that theyíll choose a certain path. Remember, that path is better. It is more fulfilling. And our kids deserve to have us point the way.