“Disturbing teen sex trends reported,” the local press noted recently.
The article stated that one in four teenage girls has a venereal disease; the promotion of condoms is being ignored; the teen birth rate is increasing. National sex educators are “on red alert” according to one spokesman. The new report “did not examine the reason for the trends,” the press continued with incredible naiveté.
The reader had merely to read on in the same newspaper to get a pretty good grasp of the situation. “Teens sending nude photos via cell phones,” read the headline three pages later. “I don’t understand why kids would do a stupid thing like that,” remarked one unsuspecting parent. A psychologist passed some of the blame on to technology, which has multiplied the potential for “mischief.”
Next the statewide news, above the fold, offered a colorful photo of a Providence assemblyman who makes no apology for embracing a same-sex lifestyle that not too long ago would have been the end of his public life. And in the entertainment section, a celebrity item informed the reader that the mature female star of the once popular X-Files “and her boyfriend” have welcomed their second child into their home.
In a world where pornography, homosexuality and illegitimacy no longer raise eyebrows, it is no wonder that teenagers treat sexual activity very causally. If the supreme judicial courts of Massachusetts and California can endorse the rights of couples to perform unnatural acts, then kids cannot be faulted for believing that other previously-taboo sexual activities are now acceptable. “Sex and the City” debuted to a $55.7 million take, the fifth-highest debut for an R-rated film, and sent producers into a huddle to create a sequel. This says a lot about today’s values. Notice the small but indicative adaptation by furniture companies who refer carefully to one’s “partner” when promoting mattress sales. Gone are traditional, specific words like “wife,” “husband,” or “spouse.” Intimacy is generalized — marriage be damned!
Sexual relations have clearly been trivialized. An adult world in which sex has become nothing more than entertainment has little foundation for criticizing the teenage world which follows its lead. Sex as a prerogative of that exclusive, permanent, life-giving relationship called marriage is a notion that has gone the way of nuns’ veils and priests’ birettas. In relieving sex of its responsibility to be exclusive (I, John, take you, Mary…) and to be permanent (‘til death do us part) and to be creative, society robs sexuality of everything that makes it noble, that makes is dignified, that makes it sacred. After taking sex off its pedestal, society cannot complain if it finds sex on teenage cell phones. Adult lack of respect engenders teenage lack of respect. Don’t blame the kids!
A cousin of mine once remarked with practical insight, “There are two reasons we didn’t have sex when we were teenagers: first of all, it was a sin; and second, our fathers would kill us when we got home.” Certainly some teenagers did have sex in the middle of the last century — and clearly before that as well. But extra-marital sex was done in those days with peril. Mercifully, sex was still dirty and to abuse it was punishable — both in this life and the next. Teenage sexual impulses will never be regulated until society agrees to return sex to the marital bed. Unless sex is plainly and universally appreciated as a select and stable relationship open to new life then promiscuity will remain rampant. Classroom teachers, school psychologists and discussion facilitators cannot correct the unbridled sexual permissiveness that pervades the media.
“The fear of God can never be taught by constables,” wrote the essayist Sydney Smith in 1806. And his words are still accurate. Respect of any kind is not the task of lawmakers or schools; it is the duty of society. Teenage sexual abstinence will not result from a government program; it will be ensured only by the example of the adult world. Liberals are right, for once, when they claim that morality cannot be legislated. All the laws, all the forums, all the committees in the world will not convince teenagers of the value of chastity if they can still turn on the TV, open the newspaper, or overhear adults who insist on celebrating the tawdry, the titillating, and the tasteless. Teenage self-respect is guided by adult self-respect. The irony of the phrase “adult programming” says it all.