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Are We Focused On The Wrong Thing?

Velonews and Bicycling, two cycling magazines, are getting a lot of input from their subscribers this month – regarding a full-page ad from Pearl Izumi.  Many of the comments are along the lines of “now I have to hide Velonews’ porn from my 7-year-old”.


I don’t think any 7-year-olds are going to be traumatized by these ads.  Or harmed in any way for that matter.  I doubt most would give even a first thought to the ads.  Let’s consider a 7-year-old who does.

“Dad, what are they doing?”

“They’re having sex.” Dad replies

“Oh, OK.  Can we go play baseball now?”

And if little Johnny does continue his questioning?  Tell him that’s how babies are made.  And if he continues, just continue answering.  He might learn something.  And far better to learn from a parent than from friends at school or ‘uncle Chester’.

And 12-year-old Suzie?  She’s got a pretty good idea what’s going on.  She and her friends have had a lot of conversations about boys and sex over the past couple of years.  She has likely sexted someone and there’s a bit of a chance that she’s let some guys hand wander down her pants or she’s had her lips around something of his.  If she hasn’t, she knows girls who have and she likely will within a couple of years[1].

So, all of these parents angry about the Pearl Izumi ad – when do they plan to teach their kids about sex?

According to the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, only about 30% of American parents have serious discussions with their children about sex.  And on every measure Evangelicals, Mormons, and Mainline Protestants lag well behind other religious and non-religious groups in doing so.  And I’d guess that the people making the biggest fuss over the ad are these very same Evangelicals, Mormons, and Mainline Protestants.

Well, any kid old enough to give any thought to the ad is also old enough to need some education.  This ad may be one of the best opportunities many American parents have for a good conversation with their kids about sex.

In embracing our fears, of this ad and of talking to our children, we are doing a huge disservice to them.  We are leaving them unprepared and vulnerable for challenges most will face before their 13th birthday, whether we like it or not.

Evangelical parents embrace an ideality – of abstinence until marriage.  Reality though is quite different.  While 32% of all U.S. 15-year-olds say that they have had intercourse, 25% of Evangelicals who attend church at least weekly have done so and this more than doubles to 53% by age 18[2].  Not exactly the ideality these parents hope for.

Perhaps worse, we’ve tried to force our children in to what may be an impossible one-option-only situation – abstinence.  Over half of the kids in our Evangelical youth groups have intercourse before they graduate the youth group (and about half the rest will in the next year, and a few more each year after that, including those at Christian universities).  But while many teens are at least somewhat prepared, Evangelicals, and in particular, abstinence pledgers, are not.  They are not as likely to use contraception and they have a higher rate of STD infection.

Interestingly, Evangelical youth say that they’d feel more guilt if they had used contraception, for that would be admitting that their sexual activities were pre-meditated.  Somehow there is less guilt if they fool themselves in to believing that it’s not.  Besides, in hopes of instilling enough fear in them to keep them abstinent until marriage, we’ve told them that condoms don’t work anyway.

Condoms don’t just protect people from STD’s though do they?  If Evangelical youth are not using contraception as often, what is the likelihood that they are using birth-control?  Not very according to most studies.  Despite this, Evangelical teens have a much lower teen birth rate.  Is it possible that the very group who fights abortion so vocally may itself be a primary cause of our highest in the world abortion rates?

Consider a middle-class, white, Baptist, 16-year-old Evangelical (the average age of first intercourse for Evangelical youth is 16.3) who is very active in her church youth group and who just found out that she’s pregnant because she and her boyfriend didn’t use a condom.  Given the choice of facing her church and youth group and school as a pregnant teen, or quietly getting an abortion, what will she (and her Evangelical parents?) do?

The U.S. is much more of a Christian and Evangelical Christian nation than Europe.  And yet, a teen in the U.S. is 3 times as likely to get an abortion as a teen in Europe.  Yes, it’s not only possible.

It’s time to eschew ideality and face reality.  Perhaps we should thank Pearl Izumi.  After we talk to our children.



[1] By age 14 49% of U.S. girls say they have received oral and 44% have given it.  The numbers for Evangelical Christians are about 25% for both.  By age 17 there is little religious distinction left with over 60% having given oral.  National Survey of Youth and Religion, Guttmacher Institute, National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health.

[2] National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, National Survey of Youth and Religion.

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