September 2, 2008

Locker-Room Sex Education
by Pastor George Van Alstine

A high school gym locker room is not an ideal place to acquire your sex education, but that was one of my major sources of information.

My parents never sat us down and told us the facts of life. I guess it was too embarrassing. My father told me that long after his four boys were adults and successfully married off, he was asked to be on a panel for younger parents on “How to Tell Your Children About Sex.â€? He declined, saying that he still hadn’t gotten around to it.

The church confused me a lot. On the one hand, boys and girls were pushed together in organized youth activities, but on the other hand, they were not told what to do with the feelings they had when they got close. There was usually no attempt to teach about sexuality, even from the Bible. Just a list of taboos, which made the whole thing more enticing.

The public schools had a “Healthâ€? class for kids in their early teens, in which an uncomfortable teacher tried to share some helpful information. But the teacher was always following a delicate path between the titters of kids who seemed to believe they knew everything already, and the fear of how up-tight parents would react when their kids answered the suppertime-question “What did you learn in school today?â€? As a result, they taught very few facts, and these were in carefully coded language.

Maybe girls did some mutual sex education in their little friendship circles, but not boys. To ask a friend, even your best friend, a question about sex would be to admit to ignorance in an area where you’re automatically supposed to know everything. That’s the macho self-delusion.

So the locker-room was the best place to learn. You just had to shut up and listen to the boasting and the obscene stories. And here’s what I learned in the locker room: Girls were pushovers; they wanted sex, but didn’t know it; if any guy played it right, he’d have no trouble landing his share. The impression was, based on what I heard in the locker-room, every guy in there (except my nerdy friend and me) had had sexual relations with girls.

Of course, I later realized that wasn’t true. Most of them were telling blatant lies. And some of the worst liars were the big-men-on-campus, the super-athletes, the social elite. Some of them were actually as virginal as the day they were born.

This was my high school sex education. Through my college years, I took in some more realistic information. Then I was married, and Judy sat me down and told me the true facts!

During the early years of our marriage, the 1960s, our culture went through a “sexual revolution,â€? due to the development of the birth-control pill, the influence of drugs on youth, and many voices that questioned all traditional values, including sexual attitudes. “Free loveâ€? became the new name for promiscuity, celebrities paraded anything-goes lifestyles, and people talked much more openly about sex.

The AIDS epidemic put the brakes on everything, and the whole “sexual revolutionâ€? became a lot less fun. This has had a sobering affect on today’s young people. Fortunately, parents and teachers are a lot freer in discussing things, and teenagers’ peer groups also seem to be much more honest and open about sexual realities.

So where are we now? Most adults seem to have the feeling that modern young people’s sexual behavior is entirely out of control. But the facts don’t show this. The New York Times recently reported on a study published in August by “Centers of Disease Control and Prevention.â€? This analysis was based on extensive interviews with young people over the past 18 years. This study showed that by four key measurements, the sexual behavior of high school age youth is actually more conservative than it was at the beginning of the study:
â—? The percentage of high school students who have ever had sex is down 12%. It is now under 50%.
â—? The percentage who have had sex with four or more partners is down 20%. Certainly the result of knowledge about AIDS.
â—? The percentage who are currently sexually active is down 7%.
â—? The percentage who are active and used a condom last time is up 33%.

To me, this says that young people have begun to figure things out a little better. They’re acting more from an informed knowledge than from hormonal impulses they don’t understand. This is a good thing.

The fact that young people are actually thinking more about sex gives the church an opportunity to offer the Biblical perspective on this important subject. But we can’t just repackage old taboos and quote a few proof texts. We need to present powerful Biblical principles in a creative new way.

So, in next week’s Messenger I’ll try to begin to do this. Meanwhile, feel free to give me any thoughts you have.