No Trespassing

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

"There have been a couple of times where I've had a little extra fun than maybe I should have," he admits. "I would say, 'That was horribly wrong,' but I don't really feel guilty about it. And like I said, I've never actually had sex, so I think I'm good."

Relationships have been confusing for Werner from the beginning. Hal was brought up with the idea that women were for nothing more than cooking, kids and sex. "I found out, very harshly, this was not the truth," he says, grimacing. "They did not appreciate being treated like that." He also tried a goal-focused approach to dating, with little success. "For a long time, I had a big 'dating with intent to marry' thing--I was looking for that serious relationship, and I was looking for it now, which kind of doesn't work," he says.

While he appreciates the need for guys to control their own sexual thoughts, he wishes the girls in his youth group had offered more help. Through high school, Werner participated in most of the activities his church offered: classes, camps, retreats. He says at each an annoying hypocrisy is on display: group leaders admonishing the guys for lasciviously eyeing their female classmates while those same girls flaunted and teased.

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.

"At church camp, these girls would be running around in the tiniest shorts you have ever seen, with the smile of a butt cheek hanging out the back, even when they're standing up, with writing across the tush, and you know, we'll be playing a water game, and they'll be wearing white T-shirts!" he says. "They'd turn around, after wearing almost nothing, and say, 'You need to stop looking at me. You guys are so bad; you're sinning. You need to stop looking at us lustfully.' And I'm thinking, 'You need to stop dressing like a whore!'"

He thinks women as well as men should recognize the power of visual stimulation and that both genders should share the responsibility of guarding against lust. "I'm like, 'OK, stop rubbing each other down with oil in little bitty bikinis and then flaunting yourself for the whole camp to see. This is what causes lusting,'" Werner says. "If you don't want us to stumble, don't try to make us stumble. You're not making it any easier. Everybody should be looking out for everybody."

Werner is uncertain whether his vow to remain abstinent will last.

"Sex is a good thing," he says, smiling. "I don't want to completely miss out on that just because I didn't end up getting married. Like I said, I would most definitely do my absolute best to try to keep it within the confines of marriage, but if I'm 40 years old and I'm still not married, then I'm gonna have to do something."

The Scarlet "S"

Abstinence, according to True Love Waits, is not only a physical health issue, but a mental one also. Ross says that in the past few decades, as sexual mores shifted and premarital sex became more accepted, teen depression and suicide grew at a comparable rate. "Now, you can't really draw a cause-and-effect relationship between two graphs that are ascending together," he says, "but it does raise the question of, Was sexual license a source of joy and peace of mind during those decades? If so, why were those kids increasingly killing themselves?"

Detractors argue that abstinence-only programs like True Love Waits foster shame and ignorance about what should be a natural and positive aspect of life. Advocates for Youth, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit, maintains that abstinence programs' emphasis on negative psychological effects of premarital sex is medically unfounded. According to the group, when premarital sexual intercourse is satisfying, it positively affects the relationship for both males and females. It cites what it calls "the largest study ever undertaken of adult sexual behavior" in reporting that more than 90 percent of men and more than 70 percent of women recall wanting their first sexual intercourse to happen when it did.

A look at True Love Waits' literature suggests why detractors often call TLW a "fear-based" program. Until You Say I Do presents several "accounts based on true stories" of teens who have suffered the consequences of premarital sex. In the first tale, John makes an abstinence vow that can't hold up under peer pressure. He accepts a date from Heidi, a girl with a "reputation for sleeping around." She plies him with beer and convinces him to return to his empty house.

"The alcohol won out," it reads. "John was unprepared for what happened next." John loses his virginity, his Christian reputation and his parents' respect. As well, "a subsequent trip to the doctor confirmed John's fear--Heidi had passed on genital herpes, which could never be fully cured."

However convolutedly, the TLW literature and behavioral studies support the view that one can't simultaneously prevent and prepare for sexual contact. A look at virginity pledges conducted by Peter Bearman and Hannah Brueckner in the American Journal of Sociologyfound that although taking an abstinence vow may delay intercourse under specific conditions in certain groups of teens, pledgers who broke their vow were also less likely to use contraceptives during their first intercourse.

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