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The Spiral of Teen Sex

October 28, 2009

by Dave Wilson

At one point in her life, Amanda’s dream of becoming a doctor seemed achievable. Academically, she was doing well, but by late middle school boys took priority over books. Weekend parties and sex became the norm. And Amanda’s feelings of acceptance and self-worth came not from who she was, but from the boys who wanted to “be with her.”

She had no idea her life was beginning to spiral out of her control. She was oblivious to research that shows that “[among] ninth-grade and tenth-grade students, female adolescents were nearly 2 times as likely as male adolescents to report feeling bad about themselves as a result of sexual behavior and nearly 3 times as likely to report feeling used.” How true that was for her.

It didn’t really help that Amanda’s dad was gone. He hadn’t been there for years. So she turned to boys to fill a level of male acceptance that she couldn’t find at home. The unfortunate fact for Amanda was that the boys she turned to weren’t the kind to see the potential doctor she’d dreamed of becoming. They only saw a potential hook-up and a one… maybe two… night stand.

Ask Amanda today how she felt back then and the word “used” is just the tip of the iceberg. Like so many who become sexually active early, Amanda kept searching for “Mr. Right” – looking to empty sexual relationships, which never filled her need for genuine intimacy.

Sadly, premarital sex hardly ever lives up to the expectations that teens have for it. The Journal of Adolescent Research published a study showing that after their first sexual experience, adolescents don’t feel any better about themselves or their life outlook. In fact two-thirds of sexually active teens wish they had waited to have sex.

But regret is not the only issue. Girls in dysfunctional families are more likely to exhibit problems such as drinking, substance abuse and early sexual debut.  Early sexual activity often transitions into “meaningless” sex, which is associated with low self-esteem and depression. In fact, depression is a leading psychological repercussion of teen sex, and that, paired with suicidal tendencies, increase among sexually active teens compared to those who remain virgins.

It’s rather ironic, according to The Journal of Sex Research, that teens whose first sexual experience is negative tend to engage in casual sex more often as they get older, perhaps in some sort of quest for what they had hoped to find, but failed to experience.

A cycle that begins with dysfunction in the family, and then spirals downward with risk-taking and its consequences, evolves into another generation of poverty – both emotionally and socially.

That, unfortunately, is what happened to Amanda.

When her son was born, Amanda was fifteen. She dropped out of school and tried to take care of her baby while her mother worked an hourly job at the drive-through near their home. Before all was said and done, Amanda was trapped in a pattern of behavior that inevitably led to another pregnancy two years later. And just a few months after her daughter was born, Amanda found a new home… in the county detention center… arrested on drug charges.

It’s been four years now, and Amanda will be released soon. Her children are being raised by their grandmother and great-grandmother. They all live in the same neighborhood and environment where Amanda’s dream of becoming a doctor, and helping people, became less likely with every step she took.

It is not that every young person that has sex early will face such challenges; rather, it is that so many do. The repercussions can be overwhelming for the children born into such cycles and their communities. Dropout rates of 50%, culture wars over who will pay for their health care, violence and overcrowded jails…it all points back to chaotic family formation.

The collective broken hopes and dreams of Amanda’s family, as well as that of the culture that tries to support them, is stressed beyond its capacity to function effectively.

There is a solution found in the heart of the authentic abstinence education message. The federal government, when it established guidelines for abstinence education, said that students must be taught that “sexual activity outside of the context of marriage is likely to have harmful psychological and physical effects.”

Amanda’s life is testimony to what they need to know. Ask her today whether she was told the impact that sex could have on her life and she’d be quick to tell you, “No. Not at all.”

She did not have the opportunity to learn options that might have helped her avoid the risks that eventually shaped her young family’s formation and its future. A look at the abstinence education programs taught in South Carolina, programs like the Heritage Keepers® Abstinence and Life Skills Education, reveals messages that might have helped her understand herself, establish healthy boundaries for herself, and defend herself and her future. Had there been trained adults to equip her to practice the self-control needed to accomplish her objectives, she might have had a chance to break out.

Yet, there are extremists that demand the obliteration of such programs from federal options, despite the fact that participants in many of these programs initiate sex at half the rate of similar non-participants a year later. But both the Obama administration and key Congressional leaders have zeroed out funds for abstinence education in the next federal budget, virtually killing any opportunity for making real change in the lives of Amandas across America. Much of the media has appeared completely disinterested, but in the wake of a communications revolution, this story is getting out.

If these ideologues have their way, young women, like Amanda, and young men, like those who fathered her children, will never hear a convincing argument for waiting.  They’ll simply have techniques for making condom use more fun, which is the objective of many of the programs the government recommends for students.

Those who indoctrinate school children into sexual mores, once reserved for the pornography industry, are being called out.  It’s time to recognize that the vast American experiment to, as Hugh Heffner put it, “sexualize the girl next door,” has demeaned male-female interaction, crumbling relationships that form the infrastructure for strong families. Low standards for sexual activity, which require no commitment at all, build an ever-increasing class of dependent adults that struggle to meet even the most minimal cultural expectations.

Abstinence education challenges these assumptions and offers an alternative to those who would relish a real change.

If we don’t stand up and call for the reinvestment in abstinence education, the long-term effects on our society will be yet another drain on generations to come.

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