On Psychology

Jewish World Review April 12, 1999 /26 Nissan, 5759


Dr. Wade Horn

Teen Deserves Support for No-Sex Stance

By Dr. Wade F. Horn

Q: I am an 18 year old guy who doesn't drink or do drugs. I have also never had sex. Although I have had girlfriends in the past, I am now avoiding relationships with girls because I don't want to risk becoming a father. Literally everyone I know has had sex at least once, and I am feeling like the odd one. But I think I am too young to have sex.

Because I don't want to have sex with girls right now, some people think I am gay or bisexual. But I'm not. All I want is to hold a beautiful girl in my arms. But almost every girl that I was ever interested in wants sex to be part of the relationship. I just want female support in my life.

My mom and dad broke up before I could walk. Since then, I have lived in a number of different foster homes, and have no one to turn to for advice about all of this. That's why I'm writing to you.

So, have you got any advice for me? It would be nice to know that I am not alone.

A: This is what our culture has come to. In the past, remaining a virgin until marriage was considered a virtue. Today, if you are an 18-year-old and haven't had sex, you're the odd-ball. What a world.

Despite all the popular media accounts of rampant sex among teenagers and young adults, pre-marital sex is neither desirable nor inevitable. Let's take a look at the desirable part first.

There are many today who counsel teenagers and young adults to engage in "safe" sex. But sex outside of marriage is never completely "safe" for several reasons.

First, all birth control methods -- every single one -- has a failure rate. One in five teen couples using condoms, for example, get pregnant. Even the much vaunted birth control pill fails to protect against pregnancy if not taken precisely as directed -- and who hasn't forgotten to take their morning vitamin pill once in a while? The only sure-fire method of avoiding pregnancy outside of wedlock is abstinence.

Unfortunately, our culture seems reluctant to embrace this truth. Today, one in ten girls under the age of 20 -- one million every year -- becomes pregnant. Forty percent of these pregnancies will end in abortion, 10 percent in miscarriage, and 50 percent in live births.

Becoming a teen mom makes it less likely that person will ever finish high school, get a good job, and get married or, if she does get married, stay married. Becoming a teen dad can be just as devastating.

Second, all birth control methods -- every single one -- also introduce the risk of contracting a sexually transmitted disease (STD). In fact, STDs have reached epidemic proportions in the U.S., with over twelve million new cases occurring each year. Three million of these are contracted by those under the age of 20.

Sexually transmitted diseases are no laughing matter. Chlamydia, a very common bacterial STD, has no overt symptoms and, if untreated, can cause sterility. Human papilloma virus and genital warts, two other common STDs, are both associated with the development of cervical cancer. Herpes, a viral infection for which there is no cure, can cause miscarriage or stillbirth during pregnancy. And, of course, there is AIDS, for which the prognosis is death.

Now let's look at the inevitable part.

The good news here is that there seems to be a yearning among the younger generation for something better than casual sex, unwanted pregnancies, and sexually transmitted diseases. According to a 1997 Parade magazine poll, after happiness and longevity, what teens and young adults want most out of life is to be married and have a family. In a survey conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation and YM magazine, 87% of teenage girls and 62% of teenage boys thought saving sex for later in life is a "good thing." And in the largest study of its kind every undertaken, fully 16% of adolescent girls and 10% of adolescent boys reported having signed a written pledge of virginity until marriage.

The bad news is that despite this yearning on the part of the younger generation for help in postponing sexual activity, most adults have bought the message that nothing can -- or should -- be done to help our young avoid sex before marriage.

Incredibly, one out of five parents of teenagers say it would be alright with them for their children to have sex once or twice with a steady boyfriend or girlfriend. One out of ten said they would not discourage their child from having sex at all. It is simply horrifying that so many parents are apparently willing to abdicate their responsibility to protect their teenagers from an activity that is known to present such high risks for negative outcomes.

So here's my advice to you. Not having, or wanting to have, sex before marriage does not make you an oddball. It makes you courageous. For true courage is not about going along with the crowd, but resisting it when the crowd is wrong. And in the case of early and promiscuous sex, the crowd is definitely wrong.

While certainly not yet a majority, be assured you are definitely not alone. There is a growing movement among young adults to place virginity until marriage back onto the mantel of virtue. Witness, for example, the explosion of interest in the "True Love Waits" campaign. And abstinence is the only sure-fire way to prevent your becoming a father prematurely or contracting a sexually transmitted disease.

If all of this is not sufficient reason for maintaining your virginity, here's one more.

Research shows that couples who marry as virgins have a better married sex life than those who do not. So, if you want decades of good sex, and not just a few minutes of passion, save it for marriage.


JWR contributor Dr. Wade F. Horn is President of the National Fatherhood Initiative and co-author of The Better Homes and Gardens New Father Book. Send your question about dads, children or fatherhood to him C/O JWR

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© 1998, Dr. Wade F. Horn