The following is a very unfinished thought and even more an unfinished manuscript. It’s a work in progress on both levels. Read at your own risk.
There’s an interesting disconnect playing out across our land about age, sex, and marriage.
Through the first few hundred years of our country, up until sometime in the past century, we didn’t have major national issues of unwed mothers or STD’s. There were, to be sure, some of each, but not so many that there were huge concerns. These were footnotes, not major issues.
How quickly things change. Today, Disney can’t seem to find a wholesome teen girl anywhere. If it’s not Vanessa or Miley posing for nude pictures and sending them to friends (and thus the entire internet), it’s their 16-year-old star Jamie Lynn Spears getting pregnant out of wedlock. Then we find out that John McCain’s pick for VP has a 17-year-old daughter who’s 5 months pregnant.
Just over 60% of our high school seniors are sexually active and according to the CDC about 25% of our high school girls have an STD. 76% of sexually active US teens have had at least 2 sexual partners. And this in a supposed highly moral monogamous society.
In middle schools across the country girls are finding that taking nude or panty pics of themselves and emailing them to boyfriends and others is not just fun but an excellent way of getting the attention that so many of them seem to crave. Sometimes far more attention, from tens of thousands of men on the internet, than they’d intended.
Do Christians fair any better than non-Christians? Only marginally. Sarah Palin’s family are members of an Assembly of God church and I think that just about any high school student who’s involved in a church youth group can tell you that her 17-year-old daughter is not an anomaly, at least with regard to being sexually active. Don’t think you’re any better if you’re Baptist, Methodist, Willow Creek, Saddleback, or Lakewood. See the chart above.
Why can’t all our teens just keep their pants on?
Then down in Texas we have that group of strange dressing folks with the funny hairstyles out on the ranch. They likely have about the same number of sexually active teen girls as our Christian youth groups (or lower for 13, 14, and 15 year olds) The difference? While the average teen girl in the US is having sex with multiple guys and isn’t married to any of them (and most of these guys probably aren’t anywhere close to ready for marriage anyway), a sexually active teen girl in the FLDS is likely married to the father – who will stay with her and support her and her baby for life. And these are the ones we’re throwing in jail.
It’s God’s Fault
After all, he made us this way didn’t he?
Generally girls enter puberty in their early teens and guys anywhere from early to mid teens. By design our bodies, physically and mentally, are screaming “time for sex”. Did God screw up? Should he have designed us to not reach puberty and get all of these sexual desires until we’re 23 instead of 13?
For centuries, all of history in fact, these were pretty much non-issues. At least among the common folk. Girls got married at about 14 to a guy old enough to support and care for her and their children. Our actions were generally in line with how we were designed. Sure, there were problems, but apparently nothing even remotely like what we’re seeing today.
Over the past 100 years we’ve seen dramatic changes in our society. One that has had an especially dramatic impact on marriage is the time required to get an education before beginning any kind of career. For an ever growing number of us this is not just until we complete high school at 18, but includes university at 22, grad school at 25 or medical school at 30. This, combined with other issues, has driven up the average age of marriage a bit.
We’ve followed up on these changes by instituting a number of new laws and social norms over the past 50 years regarding age, marriage, and sex for everyone. All with good intentions. We began by saying that nobody under 12 or 13 could legally get married. No problem there. Over the past few years though we’ve slowly increased this minimum legal age to 17 in most states. At the same time we’ve developed this societal expectation that getting married under about 20 is ‘just not right’.
Then we decided that a guy being too much older than the girl was ‘just not right’. This led to a major shift in societal norms regarding the age difference of partners. Norms that had existed for thousands of years. We began to view an age difference of more than 3 or 4 years as abnormal. Then we instituted this in various laws criminalizing a relationship with more than 2 or 3 years age difference. In other words, if you’re going to make a baby just don’t do it with anyone old enough to be in a position to actually take some responsibility for her (note 1).
Have we in effect criminalized what God designed?
It’s like God is saying “I designed you this way and that worked well for a few thousand years, but now you want to do things differently and, well, it’s not working so well is it?”
A solvable problem?
If the question is, can we stop teen aged folks from having sex? I don’t think so.
If God designed us this way, there’s likely little we can do about it. This is wholly different than acting on a sinful desire to gossip, steal a car, gorge ourselves on cream cheese wontons, get drunk, or kill our neighbor. A 15-year-old girl having sex with her 22-year-old boyfriend is acting on a desire given them by God.
For the Bible believers out there, the Bible does not set unrealistic expectations for us and is actually quite practical. It says that if you can’t control your sexual desires, then marry the girl and quench your thirst.
Of course, we make that illegal and then wonder why we have so many problems with teen sex, STD’s, and pregnancy.
Not a popular opinion perhaps, but it is what it is. Nobody ever said God set out to be popular.
Every person is different. Some have lesser sex drives than others and some have more self-control than others. Some have a huge desire to get married or have sex, others focus is so much on other things like education or careers that sex and marriage are hardly a blip in their heads. And there are a boatload scattered throughout the middle. There are people with no sex drive and high self-control, others with high sex drive and no self-control, and others with massive sex drives and massive self-discipline – just not quite enough self-discipline in some cases.
Many have enough self discipline that they can hold off for a year or two. But the prospect of waiting 10 years?
What would happen if, instead of trying to fit everyone in to the same mold, we allowed for the differences in people and perhaps even encouraged some level of responsibility with regard to sex? If we reverted back to traditional laws of a minimum marriage age of 12 or 13 with those younger than 17 needing a parents approval. Maybe even require that one partner be over 17. You know, place responsibility back on the parents for raising children instead of on the state. Let parents who actually know those involved decide if someone is too old or too young or if the guy is a schmuck or if a 25-year-old guy getting a good start on his career will be a good husband to their 15-year-old daughter.
And then at a societal level changed our mindset from everyone waiting to get married until their twenties (and having indiscriminant sex with a variety of people until then) to allowing people to marry when they desired, even if that was 15. And then did away with our newfound fear of a 6 or 8 or whatever age difference. But at the same time strongly encouraged good choice in mates and above all, supported the newly married couple. Helped them complete their education and get settled in their careers.
Before we began instituting all of these laws and societal norms about minimum marriage ages and requiring partners to be close in age we had a bunch of problems. But did those problems even compare to the problems we have today?
Might going back to traditional laws and norms discourage the high numbers of multiple sexual partners we’re seeing in the US today? This would certainly help the STD situation. And while a husband having had multiple previous partners seems to hold only marginal negativity, at best, for his wife, the same is not true the other way. Might a higher number of girls limiting their sexual partners to just their husbands or future husbands have an impact on reducing our extremely high divorce rates?
Instead of encouraging no responsibility like we do today, might this encourage more responsible behavior?
By saying all of this I don’t think that we should stop encouraging people to wait until their twenties. If they can. That’s still probably best for most. At the same time, if they’re going to have sex and make babies anyway, let’s encourage as healthy an environment as we can.
Note 1: Europe, with less than half the divorce rate of the US, one-fourth the unwed teen pregnancies, and one-third the abortion rate, is just the opposite. Instead of requiring partners to be close in age, society tends to favor the guy being somewhat older. Even in their laws, instead of requiring a close age as we do, they require that one partner be over 18, regardless of the age of the other partner.
Note: The chart above is comprised of averaging data from the CDC, Kaiser Family Foundation, and Guttmacher Institute. Some additional notes:
– 18% of US teens have had at least 4 sexual partners. 5 times that of Europe.
– 8% of a teen females had consensual sex with partners at least 6 years older. One third that of Europe and Asia.
– Teen sexual activity is highest among blacks, second highest among Hispanics, and lowest among whites.
– College bound students of any ethnicity are much less likely to be sexually active than non college bound students, in particular among college bound females.
– 8% of US teens between 15 and 19 become pregnant each year (13% of Blacks/Hispanics, 5% of Whites) with 30% ending in abortion.
– The US teen abortion rate is 3 times that of Europe.
– Teens girls in Europe are 5 times more likely to have a single sex partner and 4 times more likely to marry that partner than US teens. Europe has less than one half the divorce rate as the US.