Commentary on social and moral issues of the day

Protecting Our Young People in a Sexually Licentious Culture

Rev. Johannes L. Jacobse

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We live in a society saturated with sex. Sexual topics dominate television and magazines. Pornography is available everywhere. Even popular music needs ratings.

Hardest hit is the youth culture. Young people breathe the air of the dominant culture deeply. Cultural gatekeepers tell them that their sexual desire deserves immediate gratification. False messages cover the real risks of sexual activity that harm young people.

Sound alarmist? Look at some statistics. In the 1970's, one adolescent in 47 contracted a sexually transmitted disease (STD). Of the 15 million people infected today with an STD -- 10 million are 25 or younger. Teenagers account for 3 million new cases each year. Overall, 25 percent of all sexually active teens have been infected.

Previously syphilis and gonorrhea were the dominant diseases. Both were symptomatic and easily treated with penicillin.

Today there are over 25 significant STDs including the human immunodeficiency virus and herpes. The human papillomavirus is the leading viral STD with 5.5 million cases reported each year and causes most of the cervical cancer that kills over 4,800 women each year. Chlamydia trachomatis is a bacterial STD that scars the fallopian tubes. It is the fastest growing cause of infertility in women. These STDs cannot be cured.

Sexually active teens suffer in other ways as well including a loss of self-confidence, difficulty developing permanent relationships later in life (they are 50 percent more likely to divorce than abstinent teens), and anxiety about pregnancy and disease.

Clearly sexual activity outside of marriage carries high risk and high costs. Yet the marketing of sex to our children continues unabated.

The marketers offer frequent exhortations about using a condom. They understand that STDs can have devastating consequences. But this advice about "safe sex" sidesteps any serious examination about the moral culpability of marketing sex to children. Moral posturing replaces clear moral thinking here.

Media apologists quickly respond that people should turn off the TV if people don't like what they see. This is advice more parents should heed. At the same time, it does not address the media's reach into many corners of a young person's life.

Sound exaggerated? Watch MTV for four or five hours any evening. Leaf through the magazines sold to teens, especially girls. ("My boyfriend didn't tell me he had HIV!" shouts the latest cover of Cosmo Girl.) Check out Abercrombie and Fitch on the next trip to the mall. Then go inside and page through their catalog -- if it's not sealed in plastic. Ask yourself if this is a good world for your child.

Moral culpability doesn't end with the marketers, however. Missing in action are the clear thinking adults -- including parents.

A teen is capable of making the right decisions if he first knows right from wrong. When adults remain silent the teen won't know how to protect himself from the false promises of the licentiousness culture. Silence contributes to this victimization of our children.

Teens need to hear the message of abstinence as clearly as they hear the message of licentiousness. They don't need self-serving exhortations about "safe sex." Abstinence strengthens a person. Licentiousness weakens, harms, and can even kill him. Adults give our teens the false message. Adults must give them the true message too.

Clear teaching about clean living can change sexual behavior. Current studies cite ten programs that have succeeded in reducing sexual activity among teens from 10 to 40 percent. All stress abstinence, not "safe sex." The most effective program is the "Virginity Pledge" where teens pledge not to engage in out-of-marriage sexual activity. When the pledge is backed by strong parental disapproval towards early sex, the probability of initiation into early sex is reduced by 75 percent.

The Scriptures say that anyone who offends a child should have a millstone tied to his neck and be thrown into the depths of the sea.

The Scriptures also say that the man who has been given a talent is required to invest it to create something good. The man who buries his talent ("fear" was the reason given) meets the same judgment as the corrupter. He is "wicked, lazy... and unprofitable" and will be "cast into the outer darkness (Matthew 25:26-30)."

Our silence about the marketing of sexual licentiousness makes us complicit in the moral corruption of our youth and contributes to their harm.

Rev. Jacobse is a priest in the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America. This article was published in The Hellenic Voice on August 28, 2002.

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