How do you prevent teenagers from having pre-marital sex?
"We have a little sister, and she has no breasts; what shall we do for our sister on the day when she is spoken for? If she is a wall, we will build on her a battlement of silver; but if she is a door, we will barricade her with planks of cedar."
"I was a wall, and my breasts were like towers; then I became in his eyes as one who finds peace. Solomon had a vineyard at Baal-hamon; he entrusted the vineyard to caretakers. Each one was to bring a thousand shekels of silver for its fruit. My very own vineyard is at my disposal; the thousand shekels are for you, Solomon, and two hundred are for those who take care of its fruit."
(Song of Solomon 8:8-12)
The book titled "The Song of Solomon" deals with romantic love between Solomon and a woman he marries. It is an interesting book because it is told from the woman's point of view. The last chapter deals with the happy love of an older couple now long married. People approach the couple to ask questions about how they managed to gain such a love. In the verses quoted above, they want to know how they will be able to ensure that their younger sister gains a happy marriage. They are thinking ahead, knowing that such plans cannot be carried out at the last minute and succeed. So even though she has not yet reached puberty, they have laid out two courses of action. If she is resistant to the advances of men and doesn't allow men to get too close, then they will aid her in making her attractive. But if she is attracted to men and easily lets them into her life, then they will protect her by making it harder for her to have access to men.
Solomon's wife comments that personally, she was a girl of strong will-power. She guarded herself well until she found her husband, whom she met in a vineyard. She knew that her body (her vineyard) was at her own disposal. Her appreciation was most for her husband, but she also appreciated those who watched over her as she grew up.
In Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health, 2002, 34(4), a study by Renata Forste and David Haas divided survey information from teenage males into two categories: those not expecting to have sex in the next year and those expecting to have sex in the next year. Not surprisingly, those anticipating to have sex soon managed to do so. The 35% who didn't in this group cited a lack of opportunity as their primary hindrance.
While there are many contributing causes, one of the reasons teenagers are experimenting with sex at alarming rates is that parents give them plenty of opportunities. Ellen Goodman for the Boston Globe wrote an article back in 1997 noting a study that asked, "What time of day do teenage girls get pregnant?" The number one answer was mid-afternoon (between 3 and 6 p.m.). This is the primary time that most teenagers are unsupervised. In our culture, both parents are likely to be working and once their children reach their teenage years we feel sure that they are old enough to fend for themselves for a few hours until the parents get home. Sexual urges are strong and teenagers, while strongly aware of the desire for sex, have no experience in controlling the desire. Put a teenage boy and girl alone in a house with little to do and what else would you expect to happen? In an article published in Pediatrics 110(6):66, titled "When and Where Do Youths Have Sex? The Potential Role of Adult Supervision," 91% of those who were having sex said their last intercourse took place in a home setting (37% in their own home, 43% in their partner's home, and 12% in a friend's home).
Another major problem is what parents allow their children to watch. Numerous studies show that casual sex is depicted, talked about, or hinted at during prime-time viewing hours on more and more stations. With the advent of cable and satellite television, teenagers are fed a steady diet of shows that contain sexual intercourse between unmarried characters. Often the sexual interplay has nothing to do with the show, but it seems the movie makers feel obligated to have some sex somewhere in their films. A survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 67% of all prime-time shows contained sexual content, but only one in ten of those shows mentioned any possibility of risks in a sexual relation. In Pediatrics, 2004 114(3), another study concluded that "Watching sex on TV predicts and may hasten adolescent sexual initiation." Interestingly, this same study found that it wasn't the quantity of TV viewing, but simply the exposure to sexual content on TV that strongly predicted the likelihood of teenagers becoming sexually active.
In a survey done by EDK Associates of teenage girls who have had sex, 73% said they did so because their boyfriends pressured them into having intercourse. Again this is not surprising. Both boys and girls strongly experience a desire for sex, but boys face fewer risks of consequences than girls. Boys don't have to worry about getting pregnant. Interestingly, yet another study -- this one done by the Kaiser Family Foundation -- found that boys face a lot of pressure from other males to have sex. One in three boys said they felt pressured into having sex by their friends.
All of this supports the obvious facts: pre-marital sex is a sin of both expectation and opportunity. Prevention of pre-marital sex requires the same two avenues mentioned in Song of Solomon: personal commitment and monitoring.
Personal commitment requires both a love for God and knowledge of what needs to be avoided. When Joseph was a young man, he was sorely tempted by his master's wife to engage in sex. "Now Joseph was handsome in form and appearance. And it came to pass after these things that his master's wife cast longing eyes on Joseph, and she said, "Lie with me." But he refused and said to his master's wife, "Look, my master does not know what is with me in the house, and he has committed all that he has to my hand. "There is no one greater in this house than I, nor has he kept back anything from me but you, because you are his wife. How then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?" So it was, as she spoke to Joseph day by day, that he did not heed her, to lie with her or to be with her. But it happened about this time, when Joseph went into the house to do his work, and none of the men of the house was inside, that she caught him by his garment, saying, "Lie with me." But he left his garment in her hand, and fled and ran outside" (Genesis 39:6-12). Despite being sold by his own brothers into slavery, living in a foreign country, and apparently abandoned by his family Joseph had the strength of character to resist the temptation to engage in sexual intercourse. Even though Joseph was in his late teens at this time, a time when male hormones are raging; being solicited repeatedly by a willing woman, and being caught in a house alone with that woman Joseph remain true to his nature. Notice too that he left his garment behind, which implies that not only did she have a grip on his clothing, but that she was in the process of removing them. I know far too many who would have succumbed to the temptation for far fewer reasons, yet Joseph managed not to give in to his body's desires. How? He saw it as a sin against his master and God. Joseph knew that God is always present. The world may never find out, but God would know. His commitment to God got him past the temptation.
Joseph also knew that what Potiphar's wife was asking of him was a sin. Too many parents shy away from embarrassing topics, such as sex, and as a result, many teenagers only have vague ideas of what sex is, let alone why it is wrong to engage in sexual activity. There is material available on this website to help explain sex -- the good and the bad.
Finally, as parents, you must realize that your job is not finished until your children have moved out on their own. You need to monitor and or screen what your children watch. In my own case, we found TV so bad that we stopped watching it for the most part. The kids still watch cartoons at times and we might take in special events, but when we want to watch a movie, we rent one. We also have a large stock of videos that we built up over the years of movies we trust that the kids can watch at any time. Our entertainment system also contains a TV Guardian box that turns off the sound when bad words are being used, so we don't have to listen to even occasional bad language. Our family computer is in a public area and the screen is situated where anyone walking by can see what you are looking at over your shoulder. There is software available that will limit the number of bad sites a child can visit and it behooves a parent to once in a while look through the history of where a child has been on the Internet.
Teenagers should not have members of the opposite sex over without adult supervision; that includes not going off to their rooms and closing the door. They should not be allowed to visit friends when their friends' parents are not home. Make sure you have alternatives available so that they can always be where someone is watching them.
While this completely eliminate pre-marital sex? No. If a teenager is determined to have sex, he or she will find a way despite your best efforts. That is why monitoring needs to be combined with a commitment to wait until marriage for sex. Even then, we know that the temptation is powerful and not all young people will resist the Devil. But by doing what we can, the incidences of pre-marital sex will drop dramatically.
Growing Up in the Lord: A Study for Teenage Boys
Growing Up in the Lord: A Study for Teenage Girls
Preparation for a Lifetime (Pre-marriage material, useful for late teens and young adults)
The Greatest Love Song Written: A Study of the Song of Solomon
Raising Godly Children in a Wicked World