AUSTIN, Texas -- Oftentimes those who preach sexual abstinence have been told to stop trying to impose their beliefs on others. But what if science could prove sexual permissiveness does great damage to future sexual happiness?
That's what Dr. Joe McIlhaney of the Medical Institute for Sexual Health in Austin says. New research shows that sleeping around now could ruin your chances of having a happy, fulfilling marriage later.
"Neuroscientists have produced a lot of information in just the last few years. This is new," he told CBN News.
The sex reseacher recently co-authored the book Hooked: New Science on How Casual Sex is Affecting Our Children with Dr. Freda McKissic Bush. McIlhaney said the book contains, "The most modern neuro-science available to man today."
Chemicals Create a Powerful Bond
Research using brain scans now shows powerful chemicals are released during sex that should create a powerful, everlasting bond.
"When women are skin-to-skin with a man, their brain secretes oxytocin that causes them to bond emotionally to that man. Men secrete a hormone called vasopressin when they're having that kind of intimate behavior. And that hormone has even been called 'monogamy hormone' for men. And it bonds them to the woman," McIlhaney explained.
This oxytocin is so overwhelming in a woman's brain that just a 20-second hug can cause a female to become bonded to a male.
Both sexes get addictive doses of the pleasure-chemical dopamine as well during intimate behavior. That works out well for couples out to create lifelong marriages and stable families.
"They're addicted to sex, and babies result from that. They're bonded to each other," McIlhaney said.
Sleeping Around Weakens Bond
But that bonding, which acts like adhesive tape or Velcro, is weakened when people tear away at its power by breaking off with a sexual partner and moving on from one to another to another.
So when it does finally come time to bond permanently with a spouse, the ability to bond is damaged.
"The brain actually gets molded to not accept that deep emotional level that's so important for marriage," McIlhaney told CBN News.
One huge result for the permissive is that, as McIlhaney explained, "When they do marry, they're more likely to have a divorce than people who were virgins when they got married."
Teens in a Sexual Wild West
Across much of the American culture, this big scientific news isn't known and certainly isn't much communicated to youth, who these days live in a sexual Wild West.
Teen evangelist Jeffrey Dean administers Web sites viewed by more than 350,000 young people every year. Thousands of them tell him they're pressured to be sexual and are often wounded by it.
"Anything goes is the new rule, and in the process, kids are experimenting," Dean told CBN News. "But they're finding out there is great hurt and baggage along with that."
Dean said he hears all the time from kids who've started having sex way too young about the effect these bonding chemicals in the brain have. They often write to him and tell him of the problems they are having.
"Well, this relationship didn't work, but I'm so emotionally attached to what happened there," Dean quoted from one of the notes he has received. "I'm looking for that again, even if that means making choices I don't want to make or that I know are against God's will for my life."
McIlhaney said the long-term harm from ripping away at that chemical bonding in the brain is bad enough. But he points to research which also shows how damaging this bonding can hurt young people now.
"If adolescents are sexually involved, they're more likely to be suicidal than their friends who are not sexually involved," he said. "Girls are three times as likely to be suicidal. Boys seven times as likely to be suicidal as their friends who are still virgins."
Such research is why McIlhaney pleads with parents to counsel kids to stay abstinent. He also warned that parents must realize it's a much more dangerous world sexually today then when they were young.
"Only about one in 50 kids for example had a sexually transmitted disease back in the 1960s. Today one in four of all adolescents has a sexually transmitted disease," McIlhaney noted.
STD's Rapid Rate Among Teens
Every four seconds, one more young person gets an STD. Dean can't shake from his mind a note he got from a young woman who'd only slept with one guy.
"She went on to college and three years after the sexual relationship from high school," he recalled. "She had not had another sexual partner, and she found out that she was HIV positive from this guy, three years later."
One more piece of information from brain scan research shows that the prefrontal cortex where wise decisions and judgments are made doesn't fully mature until the mid-20s.
"So it's impossible, because the brain tissue is not there in a mature way, for kids to make fully mature decisions. We're talking 24, 25, 26 before the brain is really mature," McIlhaney told CBN News.
Parents Must Keep Guiding
McIlhaney and Dean both insist parents have to guide and keep guiding their young people. Dean said they actually want it.
"Students tell us overwhelmingly at the top of the list, at the top of the list, the greatest influence in my life is my mom and dad," he said.
In his book The Fight of Your Life: Why Your Teen is at Risk and What You Can Do About It, Dean said parents should explicitly state to their kids they expect them to remain abstinent, and back it up with scripture like I Corinthians 6:18 -- "Flee from sexual immorality."
"What God is saying here is don't even dance around it, don't even get around it," Dean explained.
Monogamy: Nature's Design
McIlhaney pointed out you now have science of the brain to back you up.
"The science proves that human beings are made to be monogamous for life with one other person in a faithful relationship. It is the way human beings are made," he said.
Dean warned you just need to make sure you back up your demands with solid support.
"My teens need to see from me that I am approachable and that I am unshockable," he said.
And no matter how badly a young person might fail, Dean said they should know, ".Mom and Dad are going to have my back."
*Original broadcast March 5, 2010.