No Trespassing

When teens vow not to have sex, the moral to their story isn't always clear

Stacy was 13 when she signed the True Love Waits pledge at her church, a large suburban Baptist congregation. She says that even though she hasn't fully lived up to the pledge, it hasn't changed her feelings about what is right and what is wrong. "When [the Bible] says, 'flee from sexual immorality,' that doesn't mean push it as far as you can but don't cross the line. That means go as far as you can in the opposite direction. I'm saying all of this because this is what I believe. This is not necessarily what I've done and am doing."

Emotional neediness has often led Stacy to go further than she knows she should. "It becomes almost like a drug--not in that it's addictive, but the emotional attachment will make you do things you don't want to do," she explains. Or, at least, things that she regrets later. Knowing her weaknesses, though, hasn't kept her from falling into the same traps over and over again. Her experience following the cheerleading tryouts was repeated, with less intensity, a year later when she didn't win the student council presidency.

Often, the young men she turns to for comfort are members of her church youth group. The close, spiritual atmosphere of the group sometimes fosters physical relationships, and confessional sharing among the teens can be exploited. "If I have this friend, and we've shared our sexual histories with each other and pledged to pray for each other and I know that that's his weakness, of course the devil is going to tempt me to call him up when I'm feeling lonely on a Friday night, because I know that that's something he struggles with," Stacy says. "I know that he's an easy target and, as a guy, not likely to say no." Yet from her past experiences, she knows that if she fools around with a guy from the youth group, within a week, they will call each other to apologize.

The virgin diaries: In 1994, top, more than 200,000 True Love Waits commitment cards were displayed at the national mall in Washington, D.C., to raise awareness of the burgeoning teen abstinence movement. Since then, TLW estimates more than a million teens have signed such pledge cards; left, pledge drives like this one two years later at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta are still used today to increase TLW commitment numbers (at this display, more than 340,000 cards were stacked from the dome's floor to its roof); students at a high school in Tennessee, right, sign pledges. A TLW spokesman says teens are so willing to commit to abstinence because "teenagers today are standing up to adults."
top:Jim Veneman
The virgin diaries: In 1994, top, more than 200,000 True Love Waits commitment cards were displayed at the national mall in Washington, D.C., to raise awareness of the burgeoning teen abstinence movement. Since then, TLW estimates more than a million teens have signed such pledge cards; left, pledge drives like this one two years later at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta are still used today to increase TLW commitment numbers (at this display, more than 340,000 cards were stacked from the dome's floor to its roof); students at a high school in Tennessee, right, sign pledges. A TLW spokesman says teens are so willing to commit to abstinence because "teenagers today are standing up to adults."
Dr. Richard Ross, a seminary professor in Fort Worth, helped launch True Love Waits a decade ago. "These young people have a warmth toward God that is much more intimate and much more real than would be true for many adults," he says.
Mark Graham
Dr. Richard Ross, a seminary professor in Fort Worth, helped launch True Love Waits a decade ago. "These young people have a warmth toward God that is much more intimate and much more real than would be true for many adults," he says.

TLW's Ross says this is typical with the teens he's counseled. He says teens seek sexual expression because of parental abandonment or emotional emptiness. "They come to believe that if they give their body to another lonely teenager, maybe somewhere in that relationship they'll find something that resembles authentic love," he states. But in the end, he says, "there's just sadness with the loss of innocence. There is sadness among young people that trusted a partner to protect their heart, and now they have discovered that partner was not interested in their heart at all, but only some organs."

But even though the True Love Waits pledge offers a goal and a focus, Stacy recognizes that controlling her sexual nature will be an everyday battle. Her faith has given her confidence that the battle is not in vain. "I don't think I ever would have gotten how sublime a relationship with Christ is unless I'd seen, by comparison, that other things don't work," she says. "I know it's not a pretty testimony, but it's mine."

Anger Management

Hal Werner's always been different. In blue jeans, purple sport coat and matching violet sunglasses, Werner, 19, stands apart from the crowd at First Baptist Church of Richardson. Before he began attending church, the University of Texas sophomore dressed in baggy black pants with chains and ripped-up black T-shirts and listened to music by Rob Zombie, Pantera and Marilyn Manson. "Not just that it was 'heavy rock,'" he says. "It was the death metal, 'I'm-going-to-feel-up-dead-people' and really weird stuff like that, talking about flying limbs and all kinds of general mayhem."

In junior high, he saw his grades slip. Werner's father, a strict, retired U.S. Army major, intervened. "My dad would lecture me anytime I got anything below a 97 on an assignment," Werner says. So he transferred to Trinity Christian School in Cedar Hill, which required that all students and their families attend a Protestant church at least once a week.

Werner took the True Love Waits pledge his freshman year, two years after his parents divorced. "My main reason, at the time, was just religious conviction. I didn't think it was right," he states. "I've still got the religious backing; I still think it's a wrong thing to do morally--which helps if you're trying to abstain, but also, since then, I've come to realize a lot of the practical consequences of getting yourself involved before you're married, because I've seen people getting pregnant; I've seen people's lives screwed up, people getting STDs."

Despite his personal commitment to the program, Werner doubted that his peers took the pledge as seriously. "A lot of people sign the cards because their parents are going to ask them about it. They've grown up in church their entire lives, and that's just what's done. You go to church, True Love Waits, you listen to the thing, you sign the card, you go on home and have dinner."

Six years later Werner has continued to hold to the pledge. He says he hopes that he'll make it to the altar a virgin. For Werner, oral sex is OK. It's a gray area, but not a pledge-breaker.

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