Friday, April 01, 2005

The unfortunate side of virginity pledges

I grew up along with the increasing prevalence of virginity pledges amongst young Christian people. True Love Waits was a true phenomenon among my Christian cohort in high school and college. Unfortunately, as the church tragically tends to do, the gospel message has been too easily diluted and distorted.

A recent study concluded that virginity pledges actually increase the likelihood that young people will engage in dangerous sexual activity; additionally, they don't so much diminish the likelihood that young people will remain virgins until marriage but that they will wait a little longer to join their sexually-active peers. Something is seriously wrong with the church's efforts to educate young people and to help them develop a healthy sexual identity. Ignoring the topic only exacerbates the problem. Apparently, virginity pledges are having a similar effect.

Although the topic of virginity may emerge in youth group meetings because of these efforts, the wider topic of teen sexuality remains repressed. The complex facets of sexuality have been subsumed to a single sexual act. Virginity pledges provide a black-and-white response to a question that evokes many a shade of grey. While sexual intercourse is labeled sinful for unmarried people, sexual intimacy in all its forms is not discussed; young people are left to their own devices (in other words, hormones and a brain still in the early stages of moral reasoning) to distinguish between acceptable levels of sexual intimacy.

I think that the gospel message is being lost amidst our repressed sexual mores. As Americans, we are generally uncomfortable with the topic of sex. Even more and perhaps a good source for further reflection, American notions of sexuality are coded in a gendered mode in such a way as to lay the burden of purity nearly solely upon the shoulders of women. Mix in a culture soaked with immature and titillating sexuality, and you have a potently dangerous concoction. How can we best communicate with our young people both the joyful grace of human sexuality and the need for them to protect their bodies from disease and their emotions from potentially destructive damage?