Advice for Young Adults About Premarital Sex

RISKY SEXUAL BEHAVIOR REDEFINED:

COUNSELING TIPS for TEENAGERS ABOUT PREMARITAL SEX

by

David Kanski

Pastor at Emmanuel Community Church

Jersey Shore, Pennsyvania

Within the helping professions of social services, health care, and psychology exists a genuine and legitimate concern for what is commonly referred to as “high-risk sexual behaviors” among adolescents. High risk behaviors are usually defined as unprotected sex (sexual activity without condom use), having multiple sex partners, or sexual activity under the influence of drugs or alcohol. These behaviors are risky because they may result in contracting a sexually transmitted disease (STD) or an unplanned pregnancy. Therefore, the underlying assumption is that not all sexual activity by young people is risky, and that by responsible behavior the hazards of sexual behavior are expunged.

However, this paper will attempt to show that any sexual engagement outside of a monogamous, life-time commitment introduces other grave risks which are beyond the scope of much of the current discourse: risks to emotional well-being and risks to a young person’s future ability to form a permanent attachment to a life partner. With an understanding of these emotional and relational risks of sexual activity, parents will be better equipped to help adolescents and young adults avoid repercussions that are often pernicious and far-reaching.

EMOTIONAL RISKS

“For human beings, of course, sex is about much more than the body. Our entire person is involved. That’s why sex has uniquely powerful emotional and spiritual consequences. And there is no condom for the heart” (Lickona, 2004a, p.56).

Thomas Lickona, a developmental psychologist, has identified numerous dangerous, emotional consequences of premature sexual involvement that, most often, “last a long time, even into marriage and parenting” (Lickona, 2007, para. 12).

  • Regret and self-recrimination are among the most common repercussions sexually active teens experience (Lickona, 2007). Teenage boys and girls can both experience painful regret following a sexual relationship, but girls are usually more vulnerable because research shows that there are gender differences when it comes to sexual scenarios: “Women are likely to have sex to strengthen relationships and increase intimacy, whereas men are likely to have sex to gain physical pleasure” (Davis, 2008, p.468). A girl is more likely to approach sex to prove her love, leading her to experience the terrible pain of feeling used when, after having had sex, the boy is no longer interested in her. “According to a 2000 survey conducted by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, 72% of teenage girls and 55% of boys who have had sexual intercourse say they wish they had waited” (Lickona, 2004a, p. 86). A large number of young people are burdened by sexual regrets for many years after their sexual encounters.
  • Loss of self-esteem and self-respect is another consequence (Lickona, 2007), and sometimes that loss of self-respect makes a person vulnerable to further uncommitted sex, resulting in a devastating downward spiral.
  • The corruption of character is a likely result when we treat others as objects to be used for sexual pleasure (Lickona, 2007). Personal character is deformed when our selfish desires lead us to lie (“I love you”), or use coercion (“I’ll break up with you if you don’t”), to get sex.
  • Damage to the ability to trust can also occur. “Young people who feel used or betrayed after the break-up of a sexual relationship may experience difficulty trusting in future relationships” (Lickona, 2007, para 76).
  • Stunted personal development is another consequence Lickona identifies (2007). When a romantic relationship becomes sexual, teenagers tend to become so absorbed that other important relationships are neglected, and opportunities are missed which may never come again.
  • Depression is one of the most serious consequences of adolescents’ becoming sexually involved (Lickona, 2007). New research in the area of neuroscience has revealed that sexual activity triggers the release of powerful bonding hormones in both males and females (Bush, 2008; see also McElhaney, 2010). When the sexual partners are in a committed relationship, these bonds promote harmony and joy; but for non-committed couples, such bonding becomes the source of pain and despair. When these relationships come to an end, at least one of the partners will most likely experience a profound sense of loss, betrayal, and abandonment.

Most adolescents begin to engage sexually in the context of a romantic relationship because they believe they have found their one true love with whom they will share the rest of their lives. The likelihood is that the relationship will end before long, however, because throughout adolescence and early adulthood, the human personality changes rapidly. The biggest changes in personality traits occur from childhood through the 20s (Dahl, 2014, para. 7). The brain, also, is not fully developed until people reach their mid20s (“Understanding”, n.d., para. 2-3). Studies have shown that the median duration of adolescent romantic relationships is between 12 and 16 months (Karney, 2007, p. 20).

The powerful emotional bonding that occurs when romantic relationships become sexual, together with the transient nature of teenage romances, has resulted in a drastic increase in depression among sexually involved teens. Teenage boys who are sexually active are more than twice as likely to be depressed compared to those who are not sexually active (Rector, 2003). The outlook is even more dismal for sexually active girls, who are more than three times more likely to be depressed than are girls who are not sexually active (Rector, 2003).

A full quarter (25.3 percent) of teenage girls who are sexually active report that they are depressed all, most, or a lot of the time. By contrast, only 7.7 percent of teenage girls who are not sexually active report that they are depressed all, most, or a lot of the time. (Rector, 2003a, para. 11)

In the two charts below, Rector (2003a, para. 11) breaks down the data taken from the National Longitudinal Survey of Adolescent Health, Wave II, 1996:

Kanski #1        Kansk;i #2

  •  Lickona also warns about the clear link between sexual activity among teens and attempted suicides (2007). Girls who are sexually active are almost three times more likely to attempt suicide than are non-sexually active girls. Over 14 percent of sexually active girls report having attempted suicide, compared to only 5.1 percent of sexually inactive girls. Boys who are sexually active are eight times more likely to attempt suicide than are non-sexually active boys. Six percent of sexually active boys have attempted suicide, compared to only 0.7 percent of sexually inactive boys who have attempted suicide (Rector, 2003a).

RELATIONAL RISKS

  • Another of the most serious repercussions of teenage sexual involvement is the negative effects on marriage (Lickona, 2007). As detailed above, when people engage sexually with another person, their brains release hormones that cause them to bond and emotionally attach to the person with whom they engage. However, if they unattach from that person and reattach to another sexual partner, once or perhaps even multiple times, the ability to stay attached is significantly weakened, and “it is common for the first bond to haunt all future relationships” (Joy, 1985, p. 59).

Studies have shown that when people have had multiple sexual partners before marriage, they are more likely to divorce because they actually weaken the pathways that are necessary to attach at the deep and necessary emotional level important for marriage. (Bush, 2008, para. 13)

With repeated attaching and unattaching, the brain actually gets molded not to

accept the deep emotional bonding that is necessary for a lasting commitment.

“One huge result for the permissive is that when they do marry, they’re more likely to have a divorce than people who were virgins when they got married” (McIlhaney, 2010, para.13).

Sociologist, Jay Teachman, conducted a study to determine the association between premarital sex, premarital cohabitation, and the risk of divorce among women. Teachman concluded that “intimate premarital relationships with other men are associated with a substantial increase in the likelihood of divorce” (2003, p. 445).

TIPS FOR COUNSELING TEENAGERS ABOUT SEX

Faced with a cultural environment in which casual sex is the norm, how can we equip our teenagers and young adults to make good sexual choices which will promote happiness and emotional well-being, while protecting their futures and their future marriages? Lickona quotes the rationale of one college senior, who expresses a moral ambiguity common in our contemporary culture, “I got sexually involved because I couldn’t answer the question, Why shouldn’t  I have sex?’” (Lickona, 2004b, p. 5).

In order to abstain from premature sex, young people need internallyheld convictions about why it makes sense to save sexual intimacy for a truly committed relationship, with support from their families and their faith communities to live out these convictions (Lickona, 2004b, p. 4).

Kanski #3

1. Link to personal happiness

First of all, young people should be told that sexual activity in teen years is clearly linked to reduced personal happiness. Teenage boys and girls who are sexually active are significantly less likely to be happy, compared to teens who are not sexually active. The next “Depression and Sexual Activity” table illustrates the findings of the National Longitudinal Survey of Adolescent Health, Wave II, 1996 (Rector, 2003a).

Rector notes that “a full 60.2 percent of sexually inactive girls report that they “rarely or never” feel depressed. For sexually active teen girls, the number is far lower: only 36.8 percent” (2003a, para.13). For either gender, however, the data makes it clear that adolescents who are not sexually active are markedly happier than those who are active.

The impact of sexual activity on personal happiness persists even into adulthood. A report entitled, “The Harmful Effects of Early Sexual Activity and Multiple Sexual Partners Among Women,” found the following:
“an inverse relationship between personal happiness and the number of lifetime non-marital sexual partners. The greater the number of non-marital sex partners, the lower the probability of personal happiness” (Rector, 2003b, p. 20).
Fifty-six percent of women who have had sex only with men they married report that they are “very happy, while only 37 percent of women with five non-marital sex partners report that they are very happy (2003b).

The report also found that delaying sexual activity is linked to greater happiness. More than half the women who waited until their mid-20’s to have sex reported that they are “very happy(Rector, 2003b, p.13). The younger a woman was when she began sexual activity, the less likely she was to report high levels of happiness. Only a third of women who began sexual activity as young teenagers reported that they were currently “very happy” (2003b, p.13).

2. The Link to a happy marriage

Most teenagers report that they dream of being happily married someday (Lickona, 2007). In light of this fact, teens need to be told about the link between abstinence and the prospects for a future happy and stable marriage.

They should be taught to ask themselves the following question, before they consider engaging in any sexual activity: 

“What sexual decisions at this point in my life will help me realize my dream of a happy marriage? What problems might this sexual intimacy cause for me or my eventual marriage? What precious gift am I stealing from my future spouse?” (2007, para 14).

The Bible exhorts, “Let the marriage bed be undefiled” (Heb. 13:4). Fornication, or pre-marital sex, is one way the marriage bed is defiled. Many married men and women, report having flashbacks to earlier sexual encounters, along with the tendency, sometimes beyond their control, to compare their spouse with previous partners (McDowell, 1987, pp. 285-288). As McDowell observes, “Our sexual experiences seem to be written in ‘indelible ink’ in our memories, never to be erased” (1987, p. 286).

The following chart illustrates that over 80% of women who never had a sexual partner other than with their husbands were in a stable marriage. By contrast, women who had even one sexual partner prior to her husband were significantly less likely to have a stable marriage. The greater the increase in the number of non-marital sex partners, the lower the probability of marriage stability (Rector, 2003b, p. 18). 

                 Kanski Big Chart

The emotional and spiritual bond that is created between two people through the sexual act is too precious to be exploited for the sake of a transient, uncommitted liaison. “Marriage is essential to provide an adequate protection for the jewel of pair bonding in a relationship” (Joy, 1985, p. 54).

3. Don’t believe the hype

Young people need to be told not to believe the hype that “everyone’s doing it.” Joe McIlhaney, MD, founder of the Medical Institute for Sexual Health, excoriates the Planned Parenthood organization for bombarding kids and parents with the distortion that “essentially all high school students will be having sex by the time of graduation” (McIlhaney, 2015). The truth is that “nationwide stats show that the majority of kids in high school are still virgins” (2015, para.6).

According to the Centers for Disease Control’s latest data: High school students who have not had sexual intercourse are now in the majority (53%), and have been for the past 15 years (“Trends,” 2013). And of those who have had sex, nearly three-quarters of teen girls and nearly two-thirds of all teens admit that they wished they had waited longer before becoming sexually active. (Rector, 2003a).

Young people also need to be told not to believe the hype that virgins are looked down upon or stigmatized by their peers. In 2014, The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy conducted a survey of attitudes and opinions of young adults regarding virginity and sexual experiences (“Virginity,” 2015). The survey found that young adults’ attitudes toward virginity are positive ones. Less than 1 percent of young adults say they think less of someone their age who has not had sex, and 46 percent of young adults say they “feel respect” for other young adults who have not had sex. Eighty-six percent say it is important for young teens to know that “it’s okay to be a virgin when you graduate from high school” (2015, para. 2).

4. Explain the benefits of waiting

It’s important to help teens realize the physical and emotional dangers of premature sex; however, too often, we leave them ill-equipped to face the inevitable temptation because we have not also made them aware of the rewards of saving sex for a truly committed love relationship.

  • Waiting will improve the quality of a couple’s relationships because they will spend more time getting to know each other.
  • Waiting will increase a person’s self-respect.
  • Waiting preserves a clear conscience and provides peace of mind, with no guilt,  conflicts, and no regrets.
  • Waiting will help people to find the right mate, one who will value them for the person they are.
  • By waiting, people develop character, and they will be able to attract a person of character, the kind of person people want to spend their lives with.

When a young adult does find the right person, waiting will allow the bond between the couple to grow deep and strong enough to last a lifetime.  Finally, Likona makes the following observation:

  • Waiting results in a better sexual relationship in marriage — free of comparisons and based on trust. By waiting, a person is being faithful to his other spouse even before meeting him or her. (Lickona, 2007)

Professional Counselor, Debra Fileta, elaborates this last point on her blogpost entitled, 5 Reasons Married Sex is Best!:

1.) Married Sex offers Unmatched Emotional Intimacy:

The commitment of marriage provides a safety that allows two people to be totally vulnerable to one another, which leads to great emotional intimacy, and the deeper the emotional connection between two people, the greater the sexual intimacy.

2.) Married Sex Provides An Ongoing Psychological Connection:

The beautiful thing about marital sex is that it’s not actually about the sex; it’s about something so much bigger, and greater, and more meaningful. It’s about a constant connection with another human being throughout the journey of life. This deep psychological connection between two people who truly know, love, serve, and sacrifice for one another spills out into sex and turns it into something more meaningful than anything Hollywood can muster.

3.) Married Sex Thrives in the Safety and Security of a Forever Commitment:

 Like anything worthwhile in life, a deep and meaningful sexual relationship takes time, effort, and a whole lot of practice. The beauty of marital sex as God intended for it to be is that there’s no rush. There is time to learn, time to grow, time to savor, and time to enjoy.

4.) Married Sex Maximizes the Physical Pleasures of Familiarity:

To know and be known is one of life’s most amazing gifts. Within the familiarity of marriage, we are more than free to try new things, but we’re also free to enjoy the same things again, and again. Gone is the pressure to “look perfect” or to “be an expert” because within the familiarity of a healthy marriage you are already known, already loved, already desired, and already accepted just as you are.

5.) Married Sex Involves a Supernatural Spiritual Oneness:

The beauty of sex within the framework of a loving, committed, God-honoring marriage is that there is a love present that surpasses all understanding. It’s an unconditional love between two people that overflows into their life, into their marriage, and into their bedroom. (Fileta, 2015)

5. Parental involvement.

The final tip for parents in counseling their teenagers about sex is, don’t underestimate your influence in their lives. It is hard to believe, sometimes, that you have any impact on their behavior, especially when they don’t seem to care or even want to hear what you say, and may at times seem to be ignoring you altogether, but the research indicates that parents do strongly influence their teens’ sexual behavior (“Parents,” 2015).

In survey after survey, children report that they want to talk to their parents about their sex-related questions, that it would be easier to delay sexual activity and avoid teen pregnancy if they were able to have more open, honest conversations about these topics with their parents, and that parents influence their decisions about sex more than friends do. (“Tips,” 2015, para. 4)

  • Parental Guidance: Teenagers whose parents discussed the social and moral consequences of being sexually active are more likely to be abstinent, and youths whose parents talked to them about what is right and wrong in sexual behavior are far more likely to be abstinent than those whose parents did not (“Parents,” 2015). Research also shows that teens are significantly affected when parents strongly disapprove of their being sexually active (“Parents,” 2015), so it’s important to be clear and specific about family beliefs and values about sex, and to communicate those plainly. Also, be ready to explain why you have those beliefs and values.
  • Parental Monitoring: Children whose parents monitor them more closely are less likely to be sexually active when they are in their teens” (“Parents,” 2015). Rules and curfews should be clear and lovingly reinforced. Openly and respectfully discuss with your teenagers the standard of behavior you expect from them. And know what your kids are watching, reading, and listening to. TV shows, movies, music videos, magazines, and the internet are saturated with material sending the wrong messages. “Young adults list Mediaas the main source of pressure to be become sexually active(“Virginity,” 2015, para 5).

It is common in our current culture to hear people talk about “safe sex. A recent Google search brought up websites entitled “Safe Sex for Teens,” “A Woman’s Guide to Safe Sex Basics,” and, “10 Ways to Make Safe Sex Fun.” The truth is, however, there is no such thing safe sex outside of marriage. Sex is too powerful to ever be “safe,” because with every sexual encounter we give a part of ourselves to another person.

In the current culture, sex may often seem like a casual thing. But sex is an act that is full of consequences. Sex, as one philosopher observed, is essentially deep. That’s a very good reason to save it for marriage, the deepest and most loving commitment two people can make to each other. (Lickona, 2004b).

REFERENCES

Bush, F., & McIlhaney, J. (2008) “Hooked: The Bonding Power of Sex.” Retrieved December 9 2015, from FamilyLife Web Site:mhttp://www.familylife.com/articles/topics/parenting/challenges/sexua -purity/hooked-the-bonding-power-of-sex.

Dahl, M. (2014, November 24).  “How Much Can You Really Change After You Turn 30?” Retrieved December 9 2015, from NYMag.com Web Site: http://nymag.com/scienceofus/2014/11/how-much-can-you-really-change-after-30.html#.

Davis, S. F., & Buskist, W. F. (Eds.) . (2008). 21st Century Psychology: A Reference Handbook. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc.

Fileta, D. (2015). “5 Reasons Married Sex is Best!” Retrieved December 9 2015, from True Love Dates Website: http://truelovedates.com/5-reasons-married-sex-is-best/.

Holy Bible, English Standard Version. (2007). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

Joy, D. (1985). Bonding: Relationships in the Image of GodWaco, TX: Word Books Publisher.

Karney, B., Beckett, M., Collins, R., Shaw, R. (2007). Adolescent Romantic Relationships as Precursors of Healthy Adult Marriages. Santa Monica, CA: Rand Corporation.

Lickona, T. (2004a). Character Matters: How to Help Our Children Develop Good Judgment, Integrity, and Other Essential Virtues. New York: Touchstone.

Lickona, T. (2004b). How to Talk to Kids About Sex, Love, and Character.

Retrieved December 9 2015, from The State University of New York Cortland Website: https://www2.cortland.edu/dotAsset/20ec200d-f585-4968-b1d2-c439fb2622e3.pdf.

Lickona, T. (2007). “The Neglected Heart: The Emotional Dangers of Premature Sexual Involvement.” Retrieved December 9 2015, from Catholic Education Resource Center Website: http://www.catholiceducation.org/en/marriage-and-family/sexuality/the-neglected-heart-the-emotional-dangers-of-premature-sexual involvement.html.

McDowell, J., & Day, D. (1987). Why Wait?: What You Need to Know about the Teenage Sexuality Crisis. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

McIlhaney, J. (2010) “Sexually Indulgent Now, Marriage Ruined Later?” Retrieved December 9 2015, from CBN News Website: http://www.cbn.com/cbnnews/healthscience/2010/march/sexually-indulgent-now-marriage-ruined-later/?mobile=false.

McIlhaney, J. (2015). “Comprehensive Sex Ed Curricula Distorts Truth.” Retrieved December 9 2015, from the Medical Institute for Sexual Health Website: https://www.medinstitute.org/2015/07/comprehensive-sex-ed-curricula-distorts-truth/.

Mintle, L. (2011). “Helping Your Young Adult Resist Pre-marital Sex.” Retrieved December 9 2015, from CBN Family Matters Website:http://blogs.cbn.com/familymatters/archive/2011/09/01/helping-your-young-adult-resist-pre-marital-sex.asp.

“Parents Influence on Adolescents Sexual Behavior.” (2015). Retrieved December 9 2015, from The Heritage Foundation Website: http://www.familyfacts.org/briefs/42/parents-influence-on-adolescents-sexual-behavior.

Rector, R. E., Johnson, K., & Noyes, L. R. (2003a). “Sexually Active Teenagers Are More Likely to Be Depressed and to Attempt Suicide.” Retrieved December 9 2015, from Center for Data Analysis Website: http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2003/06/sexually-active- teenagers-are-more-likely-to-be-depressed#_ftn1.

Rector, R. E., Johnson, K. A., Noyes, L. R., & Martin, S. (2003b). The Harmful Effects of Early Sexual Activity and Multiple Sexual Partners Among Women: A Book of Charts. Retrieved December 9, 2015 from The Heritage Foundation Website: http://s3.amazonaws.com/thf_media/2003/pdf/Bookofcharts.pdf

Teachman, J. (2003). “Premarital sex, premarital cohabitation, and the risk of subsequent marital dissolution among women.” Journal of Marriage and Family, 65(2), 444-455

“Tips for Parents.” (2015). Retrieved December 9 2015, from Office of Adolescent Health Website: http://www.hhs.gov/ash/oah/adolescent-health-topics/reproductive-health/teen-pregnancy/tips-for-parents.html.

“Trends in the Prevalence of Sexual Behaviors and HIV Testing National YRBS: 1991—2013.” Retrieved December 9, 2015 from YRBSS CDC Website: http://www.cdc.gov/healthyyouth/data/yrbs/pdf/trends/us_sexual_trend_yrbs.pdf.

“Understanding the Teen Brain.” (n.d.). In University of Rochester Medical Center Health Encyclopedia. Retrieved December 9 2015, from University of Rochester Medical Center Web Site: https://www.urmc.rochester.edu/encyclopedia/content.aspx?ContentTypeID=1&ContentID=3051.

“Virginity Revisited.” (2015). Retrieved December 9 2015, from Medical Institute for Sexual Health Websitehttps://www.medinstitute.org/2015/06/virginity-revisited/.

 

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