The Sexual Wilderness

"If we talk about marriage, the schools won't let us in." The speaker was Elayne Bennett, executive director of Best Friends, a program that teaches girls to delay sexual involvement until after high school. She was explaining why the program does not stress keeping sex for marriage. Bennett's answer was shocking: The public schools won't even consider a program that holds up marriage as an ideal. What a vivid illustration of the philosophy that shapes standard sex-education programs today. Educators argue that they're just being "realistic" about today's sexually active teens. But the truth is that these programs are hopelessly unrealistic. In a penetrating article in the Atlantic Monthly, Barbara Dafoe Whitehead argues that standard sex-education programs adopt a rose-tinted view of teenage sexuality. For starters, they assume that teens are rational, deliberate decision-makers: If adults give them accurate information and access to birth control, they will make the right decisions. Second, they assume that teen sex is basically benign, so long as one avoids pregnancy and disease. The typical sex educator is a middle-aged woman, and many of the arguments for sex education reflect what it was like for an 18-year-old coming of age in her generation, during the sexual revolution of the 1960s. But these arguments have little to do with what 15-year-olds face in the 1990s. The truth is that, first, teens are not rational about sex; they're impulsive and emotional. And far from being benign—for girls at least—most sexual relationships are exploitative. Statistics show that most sexually active 15-year-old girls are involved with men who are 18, 21, or even older. And a relationship between an adolescent girl and a man 5 to 10 years older can hardly be considered consensual. No wonder one survey of 1,000 sexually active teenage girls found that what they want most is to learn how to say no. Not long ago adult society helped teens say no—by reinforcing a moral code against adolescent sex. The idea was to protect young people so they could acquire the skills of adulthood before taking on the responsibilities of marriage and parenthood. But today an influential segment of adult society accepts adolescent sex as normal. Susan Wilson, a prominent sex educator, writes, "It is developmentally appropriate for teenagers to learn to give and receive [sexual] pleasure." In this view, the role of adults is not to protect teens from sexual involvement; their role is merely to teach teens to manage their own sex lives, while giving them access to health technology, like birth control. This is a completely novel view of adolescence: It lets adults off the hook and leaves kids to fend for themselves in today's free-wheeling sexual culture. You and I need to take a close look at the sex education our own children are receiving. Programs that refuse to give kids any moral code—that treat marriage as a dirty word—are not only hostile to Christian morality. They're also downright cruel to kids desperately looking for guidance in today's sexual wilderness.


Chuck Colson


  • Facebook Icon in Gold
  • Twitter Icon in Gold
  • LinkedIn Icon in Gold

Sign up for the Daily Commentary