Youth Culture Window
“Hooking up.” “Booty calls.” “Friends with benefits.” Regardless what you call it, casual sex – with “no strings attached” – is a reality for many young people.
But what’s fueling this reality?
Filling in the Gaps
Let’s face it: there’s a fair bit of ignorance surrounding the issue of young people’s sex these days. There seem to be conflicting reports on how many kids are having sex, how often, and in what ways. Many wonder who’s right. Some just want to know who’s to blame. With all the banter, it’s really hard to know what to think about teens and sex.
But only a few have actually pondered what teens think about sex.
So in their most recent study, The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy set out to discover what young people really think about sex, relationships, dating, and contraception. The results indicate the existence of a dangerous paradox.
For instance, most sexually active (but unmarried) young people believe pregnancy is best if planned, but at the same time, almost half of them do not use contraception devices regularly.
Ladies and gentlemen, that’s what we call a “gap” in sex education.
To make matters worse, The National Campaign also discovered that 29% of females and 42% of males said it was at least “slightly likely” they will have unprotected sex in the next three months. These aren’t good trends.
But, how did we get here?
When folks ponder the prevalence of the “hook up” culture, many point a condemning finger at today’s society in general, and media in particular…and for fairly good reasons. In recent research on media and teen sex by The Rand Corporation, the pollsters discovered that adolescents with “high levels of exposure to television shows containing sexual content were twice as likely to be ‘involved in a pregnancy’ as those with less exposure.”
Surprised? Me either. (By the way, the same is true with sex-laden music.)
If you need evidence of the assault that kids undergo with respect to sexual images and messages from culture, just check out some of the racy photo shoots Shrek just had in the men’s magazine, Vman.
It’s little wonder why so many young men feel pressured to have sex these days. (Yes, I said young men.) The report already cited above from The National Campaign found that 78% of guys believe “there is ‘way too much pressure’ from society to have sex.” Therefore, it’s not surprising that many of them – 23% to be exact – have lied about not being a virgin when they really were.
Think about that for a moment. No. Really, stop and think about what you just read.
Kelly Clarkson or Lady Gaga
In a world dripping with sex, it’s rare that kids hear a wholesome message from a media giant. But, there are momentary blips of hope that cross the radar screen of today’s culture.
One recent – and inspiring – example is a song by American Idol winner Kelly Clarkson entitled “I Do Not Hook Up.” In this rock song, Clarkson unabashedly proclaims:
Oh, no, I do not hook up, up, I go slow
So if you want me, I don't come cheap
Keep your hand in my hand, and your heart on your sleeve
Oh, no, I do not hook up, up, I fall deep
‘Cause the more that you try
The harder I'll fight to say goodnight
You can view the rest of the lyrics for yourself. Arguably, this is the most encouraging message from one of media’s most wholesome acts.
And then there’s Lady Gaga.
Given her latest music video, which peaked at #3 on the Billboard charts, you may be (very) surprised to learn that Lady Gaga claims to be celibate.
In what has to be the most conflicting message of all time, Lady Gaga, the 24 year old international sex icon – and sex promoter with songs like “Love Game” and “Bad Romance” – recently issued a real head-scratcher while speaking on behalf of HIV/AIDS projects in Europe. She starts off with a statement that even shocks her: “I can’t believe I’m saying this — don’t have sex.”
But then, she begins to muddy the waters.
“It’s OK to be whomever it is that you want to be,” says Gaga. “You don’t have to have sex to feel good about yourself, and if you’re not ready, don’t do it. And if you are ready, there are free condoms given away at my concerts when you’re leaving!”
Geez. No wonder kids are confused about sex. Perhaps this explains all the trouble Miley Cyrus has gotten herself into, lately.
Different World…Different Definition of Sex
Times have definitely changed as it relates to teens and sex. Teenagers haven’t always been in this sinking ship. A study by Guttmacher found that, “Only about 20% of university students participating in a 2007 survey agreed that oral-genital contact constituted sex.” However, when a similar study was performed back in 1991, Guttmacher found that almost twice as many students thought oral sex was real sex. Of course, that was on the other side of “Lewinski-Gate.”
I guess that’s what happens when Bill Clinton teaches sex ed.
It’s very difficult to predict where we’re heading with teens and sex…mainly because we don’t know where we are at this exact moment. But the good news is there have been some recent examples of forward momentum that parents and youth workers can take advantage of for positive traction.
For example, though “hooking up” has been the trend for a several years, a growing number of young people, mostly girls, are pushing back against the norm and refusing to hook up.
Can we give the credit to Kelly Clarkson?
As it turns out, “hooking up” can get you a bad reputation, or at least that’s what the latest findings from The University of Illinois suggests. (Who knew, huh?) Their research revealed that “both men and women lost respect for members of the opposite sex who hooked up with a lot of people.” Perhaps the most interesting finding was that more students said they would be more inclined to lose respect for a guy who had sex with a lot of girls than a girl who did likewise with lots of men. It sounds like the male-dominated double standard is finally breaking down.
And one more piece of interesting – and good – news is that it seems abstinence-only sex education programs might actually work. According to research released earlier this year by The University of Pennsylvania, kids who were subjected to abstinence-only sex ed. were less likely to begin having sex within two years as the kids who were exposed to safe sex ed.
These simple findings should stir parents and youth workers with some hope. All is not lost – nor are our kids – even though our risqué culture is fighting hard to taint their purity! Here are a couple ways you can help your teenager as he or she wades through an oversexualized society.
- Stay informed. Unfortunately, young people aren’t the only ones who are suffering from “gaps” involving teens and sex. CBS polled parents in December of 2009 and discovered that 75% of parents believe their teens have NOT become sexually active. Unfortunately, too many other studies paint a very different picture. Don’t be taken by surprise! Know what your kids are truly up against! We must pull our heads out of the sand and survey the surroundings, no matter how bleak they are.
- Don’t pass the buck. Throughout this article, I have ranted against the sex-crazed media that is drowning our teenagers. It’s really easy for us to want to place full responsibility on Hollywood and Music City, but if we do, we’re overlooking something very important: our responsibility. Yes, the media targeting kids is saturated with sex. Yes, it has dangerous effects. But, there is a remote control! Use it…starting with the off button. Just don’t forget, WE are the ones who must filter and control the media intake of our kids. Check music downloads. Monitor internet history records. Inspect game and movie ratings. And then talk with your teen.
Sex definitely falls under the category of “make or break” with young people today. In the parenting seminar I do called “The 7 Sins of Parenting,” the 6th Sin is “Don’t Govern Your Kids Media.” That’s the quickest and surest way to allow your child to be hurt…and hurt badly. How teens handle themselves during these turbulent years can ruin their future or bless their future. Jump in and do all you can to ensure they have the latter.
David R. Smith
is a 15-year youth ministry veteran who helps youth
workers and parents through his writing, training, and speaking. David specializes in sharing the
gospel, and equipping others do the same. He co-authored his first book this year,
Ministry By Teenagers
. David provides free
resources to anyone who works with teenagers on his website, DavidRSmith.org
David resides with his wife and son in Tampa, Florida.