Last week, I shared my dismay at how “unimportant” sex has become to young adults these days. By this I meant how our culture simultaneously places a tremendous premium on having sex, and in so doing, empties sex of its God-given meaning and value.
I think this is worth exploring a little further.
First there are a few statistics that can serve as a startling frame of reference. A fact sheet recently published by the Guttmacher Institute points out, for instance that:
- Nearly half (46%) of all 15–19-year-olds in the United States have had sex at least once;
- By age 19, 7 in 10 never-married teens have engaged in sexual intercourse;
- There were 200,420 abortions among 15–19-year-olds in 2006;
- 12% of teen males and 10% of teen females have had heterosexual oral sex but not vaginal intercourse.
Such statistics are driven by what can only be described as a sex-crazed culture. And may I ask: Have we not grown dangerously accustomed to that fact that we can’t sit down to our coffee and morning newspaper without reading something about sex? In the New York Times two weeks ago, it was about the growing phenomenon of “open relationships” in which partners, whether heterosexual or homosexual, mutually agree to allow each other to engage in sexual activity with other persons.
In the New York Post last Thursday it was about the percentage of New Yorkers that hear their neighbors having sex, but are too embarrassed (or voyeuristically curious) to complain about it to the landlord.
Consider also a new book/documentary that is, hopefully for the better, raising quite a few eyebrows these days: Oral Sex is the New Goodnight Kiss. Author Sharlene Azam maintains that not only has oral sex replaced the erstwhile social custom of the goodnight peck on the cheek, but more alarmingly, even pre-teen girls are being lured by older girls into macabre sex rings where they are pimped off for sex favors in return for gift cards, money, or help with their homework.
Such a sad scenario is only aggravated by efforts of International Planned Parenthood. A recent report issued by Planned Parenthood in November of 2009, criticizes the Catholic Church for negative teaching about sex and for obstructing access to education about sex. It encourages PP-style sex education for children as young as ten. And what’s PP’s message for children that young? Messages like this one I pulled randomly off their website:
The bottom line is that safer sex can be fun. It is a great way to explore who we are sexually, express our feelings, bond with others, and have a good time. Practicing safer sex can enhance our pleasure — and who doesn't want more pleasure?
Such “education” is to the moral fiber of our culture what sulfuric acid is to the skin and cyanide to the central nervous system.
It has rendered our young people sex-saturated. Our teens are having sex so often, so recreationally, that they literally cannot imagine going for an extended period of time without a “hook-up.” They believe “abstinence” and “chastity” means limiting oneself to oral sex or masturbation.
And this—as I explored last week— is why sexual intercourse has been so utterly separated conceptually from marriage.
I believe, nonetheless, that most young women in their heart of hearts still long to maintain the strong linkage between sex and marriage. This was brought home to me the other day in a conversation with a friend of mine who teaches in the Milwaukee public school system. Recently, he had is daughter and fiancé (both deeply committed Christians) speak to his eighth-graders about their experience of dating and engagement.
In the course of the conversation, they also spoke about the importance of abstinence until marriage. At one point, his daughter passed a rose around the room and asked each student to remove a petal from the rose as they passed it from one kid to the next. As the students were picking away, she described how the rose represents the heart of a woman, and how, with each different sex partner she has, part of her heart is left with that person, leaving—like the tattered rose—only a badly damaged heart for her eventual husband.
Even weeks after the presentation, my friend assures me that his eighth-graders can’t stop talking about it.
Father Thomas Berg is a priest in the Archdiocese of New York and Professor of Moral Theology at St. Joseph’s Seminary (Dunwoodie).