No Trespassing

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

One tale even suggests that teens who become even mildly physically intimate expose themselves more so to sexual assault. In the chapter "Flirting With Temptation" of Until You Say I Do, Sarah, a 14-year-old, repeatedly sneaks out of the house to meet Gary, a 23-year-old who eventually date-rapes her, saying, "It's time for you to follow through on your teasing and really grow up." The booklet implies that Sarah could have protected herself from the rape by not romanticizing the relationship and by not letting "self-assurance blind [her] to the possibility of an attack. Sarah mistakenly believed she was above the temptation and could remain in control regardless of the circumstances around her."

Following stories of such weighty warnings and dire consequences, it's easy to see how teens who break their pledge can become traumatized by guilt.

Mallory (who asked that her last name not be used) is 17, brunet and freckled. She first signed her TLW pledge about four years ago. And Mallory has spent almost a year regretting one day of playing hooky--and dealing with the crushing guilt that has followed.

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.

While the rest of her private school classmates visited a Bible museum, Mallory and a male friend ditched the field trip to hang out and play video games at another friend's house. Video games turned into making out, and making out turned into sex. As she was losing her virginity, Mallory says, she could hear the sounds of the Grand Theft Auto: Vice City theme music playing in the next room.

Though it occurred months ago, Mallory agonizes over the incident almost every day.

"When it happened, I was like, 'Oh, my gosh'--I was just in shock. I just kind of sat there. I didn't know what to do. I kept saying, 'I'm supposed to be a virgin until I'm married. What am I doing?' It felt like it took forever...I was crying. I didn't know what to think. I thought I was a horrible person."

Before she joined an abstinence program in middle school, Mallory had already made a personal decision to save sex for marriage. By ninth grade, when her church had a Valentine's Day presentation of the True Love Waits program, she was prepared to sign the pledge. "You have a bond with somebody you have sex with, whether you want to or not. You take a part of them, and they take a part of you," she says. "So it's better to just be 'one' with one person than just bringing other partners into it." As a symbolic gift, she received a ring inscribed with hearts and the words "True Love Waits."

Mallory admires the fact that others have managed to remain faithful to the pledge. "I can think of this one girl...you see how pure she is and how close she is to God, and you just sit there and you think, 'Why wasn't I like that?'

"And I feel like I can't get that back, because I've lost my virginity. It's like I've already lost my chance."

After having sex, Mallory says, she spent the rest of the day crying. She called her best friend, a boy she had dated previously, to tell him what happened. She expressed her anguish and remorse, her need for comfort; he stepped in, and they began dating again. One night over dinner he told her they should break up--it wasn't working out, he said; he wasn't getting what he wanted from the relationship. Sex was what he "wasn't getting," Mallory says. She put $5 on the table and walked away, calling back to him, "Find your own damn ride home!"

She didn't understand why her best friend would try to coax her into doing something that had sent her into a downward spiral just months earlier. "I thought I knew everything about him," Mallory says. "I thought he knew everything about me."

The pain of what she calls her failure is still fresh in every word and gesture. "Since that day, it's like everything around me has crumbled," Mallory says. "I've recently realized that it all, in some way or another, was because of that day." She occasionally uses marijuana and prescription drugs like Xanax to stave off the overwhelming depression. She admits that the guilt has consumed her to the point of destroying her spiritual life: She no longer goes to church; she doesn't pray--she doesn't think she deserves to.

"It's not a matter of God forgiving me, because I've asked for forgiveness, and I know that he's forgiven me," Mallory says. "I have to start living the way I'm supposed to, the way I've been taught, the way I want to, then maybe I can forgive myself."

Ross believes that teenagers whose broken pledges cause pain, doubt and depression are feeling a natural response comparable to what any person feels when he or she violates an internal standard. "I think, though, this is exactly the same pain that adults in marriage feel when they promise 'till death do us part' and then fail to keep that promise," he says. "I don't think being a part of the True Love Waits movement creates anything not typical with just the human experience." The program focuses more on the positive aspects of abstaining rather than the negative aspects of being sexually active, says Ross. "Rather than creating fear about consequences, we spend much more time talking to them about the joy of sexual expression--with a lifetime partner in marriage."

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