– By Walt Mueller
©2003, The Center for Parent/Youth Understanding
My adolescent grunts and ambiguous answers used to frustrate my parents like crazy. It was the early ’70s and I was spreading my wings as I took full advantage of the freedom that came with my newly acquired driver’s license. Curious and concerned about where my adventures (and their car!) had taken me, mom or dad would sometimes ask questions like: Where were you? – Who were you with? – What did you do? Their frustration only increased when I would offer detailed answers no more specific than “I hooked up with some of the guys and we messed around.”
I’m grown up and I stand – as my parents told me I would – in their shoes. As a parent of four kids and a full-time student of today’s youth culture, I listen to the world of today’s children and teens with curiosity and concern about where they’re spending their time, how they’re spending it and who they’re spending it with. The grunts and ambiguous answers are still a big part of adult/child communication. But if you ever hear kids – even kids who aren’t yet teens – talking about “hooking up” and “messing around,” don’t make the mistake of believing nothing ever changes.
Today’s children and teens are growing up in a world where “hooking up” and “messing around” are phrases full of new meaning. Increasingly, they are references describing youthful sexual activity that includes anything from mutual masturbation to oral sex to sexual intercourse.
Welcome to the world of teen sex, where more and more kids are believing and living a destructive distortion of God’s wonderful and incredible gift of sexuality and its intended expression. Long before they reach their teenage years, our kids have been bombarded from all sides by a world of new values, attitudes and behaviors that says “Go ahead and do whatever you want,wherever you want, with whomever you want, however you want, whenever you want.” The unified voices trumpeting this message come through loud and clear from media, peers and the wave of postmodern amorality that’s sweeping through our culture.
As we begin another academic year, think for a minute about the kids who will be walking the halls of your local schools. Understand that all of the kids who will populate your schools – both non-Christian kids and professing Christian kids alike – will arrive with much more than pencils, books and calculators loaded into their backpacks. You won’t have to look hard to see that all of their “extra” baggage includes years of exposure to society’s destructive and convincing sexual messages. Many will have taken the bait and bought the goods long before they’ve reached their adolescent years. Some have already acted on those messages. Because you and I have been called to lead young people into an understanding of what it means to integrate the Christian faith into all areas of life, it’s important for us to understand the reality of their emerging sexual beliefs and behaviors so that we might offer a timely and Biblical response. Parents, youth workers and educators must listen to today’s youth culture, learn the facts about the childhood sexuality crisis and make an intentional effort to lead kids into healthy and godly sexual behavior.
Perhaps the best place to start is with a heavy dose of factual reality. Imagine 10 chairs lined up side by side on the stage in your local school’s auditorium. In each chair sits a high-school aged student. Assuming each will answer honestly, you ask everyone who has had sexual intercourse to stand up. How many do you think will stand? According to the latest research, between four and five kids (45.6 percent) will stand up.1 If those chairs are filled with high school freshmen, between three and four (34.4 percent) will stand.2 In addition, one in 10 (9.6 percent) ninth graders admits having intercourse with four or more partners during their short lifetime.3 If the chairs are filled with 12th graders, six out of 10 (60.5 percent) will be standing.4 Two of 10 (21.6 percent) high school seniors have had more than four sexual partners.5 Nationwide, 6.6 percent of our high school students have initiated their first experience of sexual intercourse before they’re 13.6
While these statistics reflect a slight decrease in the number of kids engaging in sexual intercourse since 1995 (that’s good news!), there are several other sexual trends on the rise. First, there’s a fascination with oral sex that’s sweeping through today’s youth culture. Since most research on teen sexual activity has focused solely on vaginal intercourse, we really don’t know how many kids are participating in oral sexual activity. What we can be fairly certain of is that more and more kids are talking about oral sex, it’s happening more than we realize and it’s quickly becoming an expected “activity” at teen parties – much like beer drinking has been for years.
One recent source of data is the Urban Institute’s National Survey of Adolescent Males.7 The 1995 survey found that 49 percent of our 15-19 year-old boys had received oral sex and 39 percent had given oral sex to a female. A more recent survey of 15-19 year-old girls and boys found that 55 percent “reported having engaged in oral sex.”8 Some experts believe that among middle-school “virgins,” oral sex is replacing “making out” at “make-out parties” and is becoming like a goodnight kiss. We know that while more kids are choosing abstinence when it comes to having sex, some of them are defining “sex” as nothing less than the act of intercourse. Fewer and fewer equate the act of oral sex with “having sex.”
More and more of our Christian kids are buying this lie. I recently chatted with a mother who had found a detailed note in her 15-year-old daughter’s room describing the girl’s oral sexual encounters with her boyfriend of the same age. Both kids are professing Christians. When mom confronted her daughter, she denied it. Mom asked me, “Are kids really doing this stuff? Are these two playing me for a fool? I’m wondering because they spend a lot of time alone in the basement. Then, at the oddest times, my daughter will come up and brush her teeth. Do you think they are having oral sex?” My answer was simple and straightforward: “I don’t know your daughter and her boyfriend. But from what you’ve told me I’d have to say yes, yes and yes.”
A second trend is the move toward “hooking up.” “Hook-ups” are casual sexual relationships without the “commitment” of a boyfriend/girlfriend relationship. Others refer to it as “messing around,” “dating” or “friends with benefits.” MTV’s immensely popular “Real World” series rarely fails to show a hook-up or two each week. The show follows the adventures of seven young adults – previously unknown to each other – as they live together for four months. The most recent series featured four girls and three guys living in a Las Vegas penthouse apartment. The camera explicitly followed them as they randomly hooked up with each other and some visitors. All of the televised sexual encounters occurred between couples who were not only unmarried, but not even involved in a “committed” dating relationship. Over one-third of today’s 15-19 year-olds report having done something sexual (including but not limited to sexual intercourse) in a casual relationship.9 Many times that activity includes oral or anal sex.
A third trend is the growing fascination and experimentation with homosexuality and group sex. Our culture’s de-emphasis on biblical morality and growing postmodern emphasis on pluralism, diversity and tolerance have created a ripe environment for “anything goes” sexuality. Our kids have been encouraged to freely express themselves as “anything and everything” sexuality is now permissible. We shouldn’t be surprised that more and more kids who say they are 100 percent heterosexual are experimenting with homosexual behavior just to “see what it’s like.” Others pursue the thrill of “threesomes,” “foursomes” or other types of group sex for the thrill.
Finally, youth culture is displaying a growing commitment to immodesty. The slide in modesty we’ve seen in the world of TV and advertising has barged into the schools and streets of our kids’ world. Everything from clothing to casual conversation to the way kids carry themselves is marked by sometimes surprising immodesty. Blushing may be on its way to extinction!
One concrete example of this decline in modesty (along with the other trends I’ve already mentioned) is a new type of “dirty dancing” you can see on MTV and dance floors at middle schools and high schools around the world. Done mostly to hip-hop and rap music, “freak dancing” (a.k.a. freaking, booty dancing, grinding, jacking and “the nasty”) is one of the latest dance crazes to sweep through today’s youth culture. One high school junior describes it as “like one massive school orgy, with lots of people freak-dancing, which is basically having sex standing up with their clothes on.”10
Freak-dancing is like a dance-floor sexual free-for-all where each individual spontaneously does their own thing. It can be girl-to-guy, guy-to-guy or girl-to-girl. It’s done in pairs, threesomes or groups. Kids are doing it with their girlfriends, boyfriends, acquaintances and complete strangers. What typically remains constant in freak-dancing moves are grinding hips and/or front and back pelvic thrusts. As kids dance, they stand back-to-back, front-to-back or crotch-to-crotch as they simulate anal sex, oral sex, sexual intercourse and group sex (also known as “freak trains”).
A trip to a school dance where kids are “freaking” reveals even greater variety. Some kids slip their hands down the other’s waistbands as they dance. Guys lay on the floor while their dance partners straddle their necks, waists, or groins – all while grinding their hips and thrusting their pelvis. Others intertwine their legs, get on their hands and knees, dance while sitting on laps or bend over at a 45 degree angle while someone thrusts their crotch into their rear-end. Or, you might see a young girl down on the floor on all fours while one guy puts his crotch in her face and another straddles her from behind. Sometimes the dance moves become so explicit and daring that kids play a game of “freak chicken,” where the “loser” is the one who breaks away first.
Since behavior is always an outworking of underlying values and attitudes, it’s important to look at how you and I can address the sexuality crisis. Granted, the challenge is huge. You might be asking yourself how you can possibly help kids hear the still small voice of God on sexuality, especially when they are spending their lives immersed in a world that’s screaming a different message in their ears. But don’t be frustrated. You have incredible opportunity to make a difference. Today’s children and teens learn best in the context of caring relationships. Don’t ever forget – deep down inside, they long for the sexual wholeness that can only come through experiencing the gift as God intended.
Kids are hungry to talk about sex. A few years ago I led a Bible study on the topic of temptation with a group of high schoolers who didn’t know much about the Bible. To bring the lesson to life I asked them to think about a time they had been tempted sexually. Then I told them that God’s Word had something to say about sexual temptation. “You mean the Bible actually talks about sex?!” one of them blurted out. “It sure does,” I said. “There’s an entire book in the Old Testament that is a graphic celebration of the beauty of physical love between a man and woman.” They couldn’t believe it! “Where?” they asked. I directed them to the Song of Solomon and watched them flip frantically through their Bibles to find it. Needless to say, I don’t think anyone heard anything else I said that entire evening. On the way out the door, one girl said, “This was great tonight. I learned that God doesn’t think sex is dirty!”
For too long our children and teens have been subjected to sex education that is anything but correct. Society teaches them to express their sexuality freely. On the other extreme are churches and parents who treat sex as a taboo subject, leading kids to believe that sex is a dirty word. Sadly, many kids (like those in the Bible – study group) are left not knowing the truth about sex.
The sex education that our kids so desperately need will lead them into understanding that God created sex to be marvelous, wonderful and fulfilling when experienced within the bounds of his plan. Here are some “starting point” suggestions on how and what to teach the kids you know and love about sexuality.
First, give them truthful answers to their questions in an age – appropriate manner. Don’t be surprised by the questions they ask. Instead, expect them. Their cultural education begins long before they reach sexual maturity. Even though you might feel uncomfortable with the questions young children are asking these days, you must give them answers. If you remain silent, they’ll continue to listen to the world.
Second, take the time to understand and discuss God’s design for sexuality. Spend time reading and studying God’s Word, making note of passages dealing with sexuality that you can discuss with your kids. Be sure they know the Bible affirms sex as a beautiful gift from God for a man and woman to experience within the context of marriage. Sex is not dirty! God invented sex and gives it to married couples as a way to enjoy themselves, show their love for one another and have children. At the same time, use examples from the world of popular media to show kids what sexual behaviors God forbids.
Third, teach them how to ponder and filter the sexual messages of today’s culture through the framework of a Christian world and life view. Discuss what they watch on TV, see on film, listen to in music and view in magazines. You might even want to devote some time to viewing and listening with them so that they might see these skills modeled. Encourage them to use skills of discernment and make media choices based on what is most pleasing to God. (For help in teaching kids how to make good media choices, contact the Center for Parent/Youth Understanding for information on our music evaluation resource, “How To Use Your Head To Guard Your Heart – A 3-D Guide To Making Healthy Music Choices.”)
Finally, teach them that God’s guidelines for sex don’t result from some divine desire to take all the fun out of life. Rather, they are given to make our sexual lives fulfilling, safe and enjoyable. God has reasons for condemning fornication, adultery and homosexuality, and those reasons flow from his perfect love. Teach them that living a pure life pleases God.
This fall, let’s pray that our kids live their lives and walk the school halls with a head that knows God’s design for sex and a heart bent on bringing Glory to God through their expression of his wonderful gift of sexuality!
- “Trends in Sexual Risk Behaviors Among High School Students – United States, 1991-2001,” Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 27 September 2002.
- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Survey – 2001
- Kaiser Family Foundation, www.kff.org.
- The Kaiser Family Foundation and Seventeen Magazine “SexSmarts” survey. (www.kff.organd www.seventeen.com/sexsmarts), October 2002.
- Seattle Times, 4/24/01.
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For more information on resources to help you understand today’s rapidly changing youth culture, contact the Center for Parent/Youth Understanding.