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“The only thing necessary for these diseases to the triumph is for good people and governments to do nothing.”

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Sexual Attitudes and Abstinence Among Christian Youth

Paul A. Twelker

Professor Emeritus of Psychology

Trinity College

Trinity International University

Deerfield, Illinois

How Do Sexual Attitudes Relate to Level of Religious Commitment?

 

As shown in Table 36, there is a significant relationship between religious commitment and sexual attitudes with respect to what is appropriate for females when the partners are strangers: as religious commitment increases, attitudes toward making out, petting, oral sex and intercourse become increasingly negative (χ2 = 42.23 p = .000).

Tables 37 through 40 reveal statistically significant relationships between religious commitment and sexual attitudes with respect to what is considered appropriate sexual behaviors for women. In each case, as religious commitment increases, youth find making out and petting more appropriate for women while oral sex or intercourse are found less appropriate (Table 37, χ2 = 71.18, p = .000; Table 38, χ2 = 73.73, p = .000; Table 39, χ2 = 80.92, p = .000; Table 40, P2χ2 = 66.48, p = .000). It is interesting to note the percentages of youth approving of oral sex and intercourse for women increases at each level of the relationship. If the partners are strangers, less than one percent of the youth in the highest category of religious commitment approve of oral sex or intercourse for women. The percentages for partners dating, partners going together, partners in love, and partners planning marriage, are 3 percent, 8 percent, 16 percent, and 25 percent, respectively. On the other hand, the percentages of youth who state they have a medium level of religious commitment and who approve of oral sex or intercourse for women are remarkably higher: 6 percent, 16 percent, 41 percent, 65 percent, and 77 percent, respectively, for the various stages of relationship as noted above.

Table 37. The Relationship Between Approved Sexual Behaviors for Females When the Partners are Dating, and Religious Commitment

Table 38. The Relationship Between Approved Sexual Behaviors for Females When the Partners Are Going Together, and Religious Commitment

Table 39. The Relationship Between Approved Sexual Behaviors for Females When the Partners Are In Love, and Religious Commitment

Table 40. The Relationship Between Approved Sexual Behaviors for Females When the Partners Are Planning Marriage, and Religious Commitment

As shown in Table 41 , there is a statistically significant relationship between sexual attitudes about what is appropriate for males in a relationship with a stranger, and religious commitment (χ2 = 39.99, p = .000). Youth who state that they have high levels of religious commitment are least approving of boys making out or petting (17 percent) while youth with medium levels of commitment are most approving of boys making out and petting (36 percent). On the other hand, youth who are most approving of oral sex or intercourse show the least religious commitment (16 percent).

Table 41. The Relationship Between Approved Sexual Behaviors for Males When the Partners Are Strangers, and Religious Commitment

Tables 42 through 44 show statistically significant relations between sexual attitudes regarding appropriate sexual behaviors for boys, and religious commitment. At each level of relationship, from partners dating, partners going together, and partners "in love", as religious commitment increases, youth find oral sex and intercourse less appropriate for women. (Table 42, χ2 = 59.49, p = .000; Table 43, χ2 = 72.84, p = .000; Table 44, χ2 = 78.86, p = .000). Table 45 also shows a significant relationship between sexual attitudes and religious commitment, but there is an interesting deviation from the other three relationship stages. When partners are planning marriage, youth with the highest levels of religious commitment again find oral sex and intercourse least appropriate for boys (24 percent), but youth with medium levels of commitment (not the lowest levels) find oral sex and intercourse most appropriate for boys (77 percent, χ2 = 70.46, p = .000).

It is instructive to again note the percentages of youth approving of oral sex and intercourse for men increases at each level of the relationship. If the partners are strangers, only one percent of the youth in the highest category of religious commitment approve of oral sex or intercourse for boys. The percentages for partners dating, partners going together, partners in love, and partners planning marriage, are 4 percent, 9 percent, 16 percent, and 24 percent, respectively. These percentages are for all practical purposes identical with those obtained for girls. On the other hand, the percentages of youth who state they have a medium level of religious commitment and who approve of oral sex or intercourse for women are remarkably higher: 8 percent, 18 percent, 44 percent, 63 percent, and 77 percent, respectively, for the various stages of relationship as noted above. These percentages are very similar to those noted for girls.

Table 42. The Relationship Between Approved Sexual Behaviors for Males When the Partners Are Dating, and Religious Commitment

Table 43. The Relationship Between Approved Sexual Behaviors for Females When the Partners Are Going Together, and Religious Commitment

Table 44. The Relationship Between Approved Sexual Behaviors for Males When the Partners Are In Love, and Religious Commitment

Table 45. The Relationship Between Approved Sexual Behaviors for Males When the Partners Are Planning Marriage, and Religious Commitment

How Do Sexual Attitudes Relate to Parents' Marital Status

As shown in Table 46, there is no significant relationship between sexual attitudes of what is appropriate for girls when partners are strangers, and the parents' marital status (χ2 = 4.66, p = .097).

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Table 46. The Relationship Between Approved Sexual Behaviors for Females When the Partners Are Strangers, and Parental Marital Status

Table 47 reveals that when partners are dating, youth from intact families are more apt to approve of making out or petting (60 percent) than youth from non-intact families (43 percent; χ2 = 10.13, p = .006). On the other hand, when partners are dating, youth from intact families are less apt to approve of oral sex and intercourse for girls as compared with youth from non-intact families (8 percent vs. 17 percent).

Table 47. The Relationship Between Approved Sexual Behaviors for Females When the Partners Are Dating, and Parental Marital Status

Table 48 reveals that when partners are going with each other, the same pattern described above applies in this case (χ2 = 10.61, p = .0050). Youth from intact families are more apt to approve of making out or petting (72 percent) than youth from non-intact families (54 percent). On the other hand, youth from intact families are less apt to approve of oral sex and intercourse for girls as compared with youth from non-intact families (14 percent vs. 27 percent).

Table 48. The Relationship Between Approved Sexual Behaviors for Females When the Partners Are Going Together, and Parental Marital Status

Tables 49 and  50 reveals that although the relationship of sexual attitudes about what is appropriate for girls and parental marital status trends in the same direction as noted above for partners who are in love or planning marriage, the relationships are non-significant (χ2 =2 .26, p = .332 and χ2 = 3.54, p = .170, respectively).).

Table 49. The Relationship Between Approved Sexual Behaviors for Females When the Partners Are In Love, and Parental Marital Status

Table 50. The Relationship Between Approved Sexual Behaviors for Females When the Partners Are Planning Marriage, and Parental Marital Status

As shown in Table 51, there is no significant relationship between sexual attitudes of what is appropriate for boys when partners are strangers, and the parents' marital status (χ2 = 5.34, p = .069).

Table 51. The Relationship Between Approved Sexual Behaviors for Males When the Partners Are Strangers, and Parental Marital Status

Table 52 reveals that when partners are dating, youth from intact families are more apt to approve of boys making out or petting (59 percent) than youth from non-intact families (41 percent; χ2 = 11.73, p = .003). On the other hand, when partners are dating, youth from intact families are less apt to approve of oral sex and intercourse for boys as compared with youth from non-intact families (8 percent vs.18 percent). These percentages are very similar to those obtained for girls' approved behaviors.

Table 52. The Relationship Between Approved Sexual Behaviors for Males When the Partners Are Dating, and Parental Marital Status

 

Table 53 reveals that when partners are going with each other, the same pattern described above for girls also applies for boys ( χ2 = 9.54, p = .008). Youth from intact families are more apt to approve of boys making out or petting (70 percent) than youth from non-intact families (52 percent). On the other hand, youth from intact families are less apt to approve of oral sex and intercourse for boys as compared with youth from non-intact families (16 percent vs. 27 percent).

Table 53. The Relationship Between Approved Sexual Behaviors for Males When the Partners Are Going Together, and Parental Marital Status

As shown in Tables 54 and 55, there are non-significant relationships between sexual attitudes about boys' sexual behaviors and parental marital status for partners in love and planning marriage (χ2 = 2.60, p = .273 and χ2 = 3.42, p = .181, respectively).

Table 54. The Relationship Between Approved Sexual Behaviors for Males When the Partners Are In Love, and Parental Marital Status

Table 55. The Relationship Between Approved Sexual Behaviors for Males When the Partners Are Planning Marriage, and Parental Marital Status

Reflections

Although it is clear that high religious commitment drastically lowers the acceptance of oral sex and intercourse at each stage of relationship, it cannot be denied that the levels of acceptance of oral sex and intercourse at the more intimate stages of relationship are still high. For youth with medium levels of religious commitment, 77 percent of the youth believe that either oral sex and intercourse is acceptable when the partners are planning marriage. That percentage drops to 24 percent for youth with the highest levels of religious commitment. For partners in love, the percentage drops to 63 for girls to 65 percent for boys when youth report medium levels of commitment, and 16 percent for youth with the highest levels of commitment. It is not at all clear from this research why Christian youth are holding these sexual attitudes. It is possible that at the highest level of religious commitment, oral sex and intercourse are justified on the basis of the high levels of commitment to the bond and the high probability of marriage. Alternatively, youth are not linking oral sex and intercourse before marriage to Biblical injunctions against fornication or unrighteousness. As has been stated elsewhere (Twelker, 2002), the church's message regarding premarital intercourse does not acknowledge and proclaim the crucial role that sexual intercourse has in the establishment of the one-flesh union, a type of blood covenant. And what information is communicated has low impact on youth since it does not give them workable models of self-regulation that are rational and appealing.

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The discrepancy between how youth think and how youth behave has been discussed at great lengths. This should come as no surprise. Writers such as David Elkind have attributed this discrepancy to teens and youth not being fully able to exercise their newly-developed skills in formal operational thought. The youth in this study come across as espousing traditional values in a number of areas including gender roles, cohabitation, and limits to sexual behavior in relationships. One could argue that perhaps these are not really values at all, but simply attitudes or opinions that do not have the commitment behind them that guides behavior. We hear a lot of rhetoric about the erosion of values in our society. Perhaps what we are facing is a subculture that is not being guided by any values at all, just whims and attitudes and opinions. This argument can be substantiated by the observation that youth today are being affected by myths or false expectations about what their same-sex peers are doing (such as having sex) as well as what peer are thinking about them (such as shock at their being sexually active). These data suggest that opinions and attitudes that are based largely on myths and false perceptions must be corrected before values can be fostered that guide abstinence behavior.

There is a second very interesting finding that relates to the remarkable consistency that was revealed: males were much more likely than females to permit or encourage intercourse at all stages of a relationship, for both males and females. However, as the relationship progresses, females become perceptively more permissive so that by the time the couple is planning marriage, the percentage of females agreeing with the males rises to about 46 percent of the male percentage. At the stranger level, less than 10 percent of the females agreed with the males about allowing intercourse.

When it comes to sex education, parents seem to be falling short of the ideal. About 38 percent of the youth said that their parent did not teach them about sex. Males were consistent in their assessment of the difficulty in talking with parents: over 65 percent found it hard to talk with either parent. Females found it much harder to talk with father (85 percent) than with mother (47 percent). Perhaps if youth were able to talk with their parents, they might have an opportunity to better understand their parents’ expectations. Youths' ratings of their parents’ disapproval of sexual behaviors were not all that different from their own, although parents were seen are slightly more disapproving in all categories.  Youths' perceptions about the inadequacy of parental sex education bring into question their perceptions about what their parents expect.

There is a general undertone of pessimism among many parents in their own confidence and ability to teach their children about sex, and distinguishing right from wrong, and they look to outside resources to fill that void. A Gallup Poll in 1987 found that 85 percent of parents feel that sex education should be taught in the schools (West Virginia Department of Education, 1987). A recent poll of 1,245 adults by Zogby International commissioned by conservative Christian groups found that most parents want schools to teach their children sex education but disapprove of the more explicit guidance commonly used in sex-education classes, such as masturbation, sexual fantasies, and homosexuality (Schemo, 2003). Seventy-four percent of parents approve or strongly approve of abstinence-centered sex education, while 61.1 percent of parents disapprove or strongly disapprove of "comprehensive" or "safe-sex" education.

Since schools in the public sector are not perceived as able to lay good moral foundations, (let alone keep the peace in the classroom,) parents are turning to independent schools, especially church-related schools to teach values. Either way, parents are bound to be disappointed. The public school will teach sex education, but often too late, and when it is taught, it largely assumes that all youth are sexually active. The church-related school is often out of touch with its youth to the point that it acts as though most youth are sexually naive, and its best to keep them that way. In abstinence-only classes, the issue of contraception can't even be discussed.

There are those who say that it is time that parents assume full responsibility for teaching and nurturing their children about sex. Some of these people feel that the school might serve as a backup, but not the initiator of, sex education. For this strategy to succeed, parents must be comfortable with their own sexuality, well-versed in sexual ethical decision-making strategies, and comfortable in initiating sex education with their children. If parents did a good job, then whatever the school did could be complementary. Unfortunately, we cannot assume that parents will be in a position to act as teachers and nurturers without some assistance in the form of sex education, sexual counseling, or in some cases, sexual therapy.

I wish I had an answer to this dilemma. For Christian families, public school options that teach comprehensive sex education will not be satisfactory since it will include information on masturbation, contraception and homosexuality. For other Christian families, the favored abstinence program will fall short if contraception is not included since a significant portion of the teens will become sexually active. Further, many programs will fail to show how many precoital sexual behaviors in addition to sexual intercourse carry the risk of STDs. I am firmly persuaded that Christian parents must not cease trying to be salt and light to people in their community, and this includes speaking out for an appropriate. age-graded sex education curriculum. On the other hand, parents must accept primary responsibility for educating their children about sexuality. This should begin when the infant is in the cradle, when she cannot understand a word being said. This will help desensitize parents and will provide then with valuable practice in "talking sex" later. Also, the sex education should be initiated about two years earlier than the time thought appropriate. Most sex education has already be done on the street and in the locker room before parents get around to it.

References

West Virginia Department of Education, (1987). Choices Today: Consequences Tomorrow, Adolescent Pregnancy, Parenting, and Prevention in West Virginia . Report prepared by the Adolescent Pregnancy and Parenting State Task Force.

Schemer, Diana Jean (2003). Explicit Sex Education Is Opposed By Most Parents in Survey. New York : The New York Times ( February 13, 2003 ). Internet resource available at URL: www.nytimes.com/2003/02/13/education/13SEX.html?ex=1066449600&en=ad33fe9711b8bc7f&ei=5070

Twelker, Paul A. (2002) Youth, Abstinence and the One-Flesh Union. Paper presented at the American Association of Christian Counselors 2002 Super Conference, Dallas, Texas, April 24-26, 2002. Internet resource available at URL: <http://www.tiu.edu/psychology/Twelker/AACC_Paper.htm > (last updated December 11, 2009)