Teens and Sex: What Parents Need to Know
By Belinda Elliott
CBN.com It used to be that most parents didn’t worry that their children would fall into sexual temptation until after they were old enough to drive. Having a car potentially gave them plenty of alone time with a member of the opposite sex, and that was cause for concern.
It’s true that one can still find steamy windows in cars parked on “lover’s lanes” across the country, but researchers say that teens are starting to experiment with sexual behaviors years before they obtain a driver’s license.
Hayley DiMarco, author of Technical Virgin: How Far is Too Far?, has talked with teens from across the U.S. and heard their accounts of engaging in sexual behavior at a young age with disastrous results.
“What used to be happening in high school is now happening in eighth grade,” DiMarco said.
Even Christian teens are not immune to the rampant sexual temptations bombarding their generation.
“I found no difference between Christian girls and non-Christian girls,” DiMarco said. “No difference, except that they talked a good show and acted really nice in front of me.”
When she probed deeper she found that Christian teens were engaging in the same sexual behaviors as their non-Christian friends.
Recent research affirms her conclusions. According to researchers at Yale and Columbia University teens pledging virginity until marriage are just as likely to have STDs as their peers. Other research shows that each day 8,000 teenagers in the United States will become infected with an STD, with more than 3 million teens becoming infected this year alone. (See Note 1 below.)
Popular Christian campaigns like True Love Waits -- a program that encourages teens to pledge that they will remain virgins until they get married – are not enough, DiMarco said.
The problem that she has found with abstinence pledges is that teens have misconceptions about what it means to be a virgin. “Teen girls don’t understand what virginity is,” DiMarco says, “so everything except intercourse is considered okay even by Christian girls.”
These behaviors can include everything from deep kissing and heavy petting to oral sex. In some cities she visited, teens told DiMarco that a rite of passage from eighth grade into high school was attending a “rainbow party” – a gathering where girls apply different colors of lipstick and provide oral sex to the boys in attendance.
One of the most common misconceptions that teens have, DiMarco said, is that oral sex is harmless and not really considered to be sex at all. “It’s become as casual as a hug,” she said.
Most teens do not realize that oral sex can transmit many of the same STDs that can also be contracted through intercourse.
Why Are Parents the Last to Know?
DiMarco said that many of the teens she hears from grew up in good Christian homes but still gave in to sexual temptation in their dating relationships. Typically, their parents are shocked and overwhelmed when they find out.
The reason parents are often the last to know, she said, is because parents do not fully understand how commonplace these sexual behaviors have become in their children’s generation. The teens have been desensitized by the sexual messages on television, in movies, in magazines, and from their friends. But parents would never imagine that these things are taking place. “It just seems atrocious, so parents don’t want to believe it,” DiMarco said.
The solution, she said, is for parents and youth pastors to take a more active role in teaching teens God’s standards and design for sex. This often means learning the slang terms that teens use for sexual acts and being willing to broach uncomfortable topics.
“Parents, adults, and pastors are so afraid of saying the wrong words that they are just turning a blind eye. Rather than offend somebody and say a bad word, they are just going to keep letting them do what they are doing,” DiMarco said.
While it is primarily the parents’ responsibility to pass on their values to their children at home, DiMarco said churches also have a responsibility to guide the teens in their congregations. That means giving youth pastors the freedom to frankly discuss modesty, purity, lust, and sex with teens.
“From when teens walk in with their breasts kind of showing or their stomach showing, and (pastors) don’t say anything, to when they don’t say anything about their sex lives, DiMarco said, “when pastors ignore it, it is a tacit endorsement of it.”
Educating teens, especially girls, about the pitfalls of becoming sexually active outside of marriage is a mission that hits close to home for DiMarco. After accepting Christ at age 27 and learning of God’s plan for sex within marriage, the author realized that her past years of painful and broken relationships were a result of her sexual sin.
DiMarco writes in her book, In high school I always knew that sex was wrong. I got that. But I didn’t know how far was too far. I didn’t know what else, if anything, was bad. And so I experimented.
Now her passion is to save other teens from experiencing the depression and agony that she experienced. In her book, she writes candidly about the physical and emotional dangers associated with sexual behaviors as well as what God’s Word says about where couples should “draw the line” concerning physical behaviors in their relationships.
Rather than telling teens exactly how far is too far, DiMarco points them to Jesus’ teaching that if a man merely looks at a woman lustfully, he has already committed adultery in his heart.
DiMarco tells teens, “If what you are doing is going to in any way lead one of you to think about sexual thoughts, then you have gone too far because what you are thinking in your mind is what you are going to be accountable for.”
What if My Teen Has Messed Up?
For parents who discover that their teen has been sexually active, it is important to handle the situation in a healthy way. DiMarco said parents should become more involved in the couple’s relationship and set boundaries to help the couple avoid sexual temptation. For instance, parents could refuse to allow the couple to spend time alone together or to be in a room with the door closed.
Parents don’t necessarily need to mandate that the couple break up, DiMarco said. Their teen is just as likely to repeat the behaviors in another relationship. Sometimes the best approach, she said, is to talk with the teen couple about their mutual sexual attraction and support them by establishing guidelines for their relationship.
“If (the teens) really want to be obedient to God, they can’t do it on their own," DiMarco said. "They have to have their parents’ support.”
It is also important that parents exhibit forgiveness for their teens. Parents should remind their children that God forgives any sin that we commit when we confess it to Him and stop doing the behavior.
“If God could forgive Paul for all the murders and all the things he did to believers before he became a believer, He can forgive you for slipping up with your boyfriend,” DiMarco said. “It’s never the end of the world.”
Parents may need to help teens forgive themselves and deal with the feelings of guilt that they experience.
The author has several resources for both teens and parents. Her other books, Dateable: Are You? Are They?, Mean Girls: Facing Your Beauty Turned Beast, and Sexy Girls: How Hot Is Too Hot address the topics of dating, bullying, modesty, and sexual purity for teens.
For parents, DiMarco is currently developing two new Web sites, HowFarisTooFar.com and SaveOurMen.com (not online yet). Both of these sites will offer free downloadable curriculum for parents or youth pastors who want to lead a weekend retreat or conduct weekly studies for teens.
She also encourages parents to seek out other resources that will help them talk about sex with their children. Parents should not rely on schools to provide appropriate sex education. “It has to start at home,” DiMarco said. “Don’t wait to have “the talk,” just talk about it all the time.”
1. These statistics are from research conducted by the Heritage Foundation, www.heritage.org.
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