The National Center for Health Statistics recently published a report on the sexual behavior of men and women between the ages of 15 and 44. The results show a high rate of sexual activity among teenagers.
According to the study, one in four 15-year-olds has already had vaginal intercourse, another 13 percent has engaged in oral sex. Put another way, 38 percent of 15-years-olds have been the victim of what would be considered statutory rape under Massachusetts law. As one might expect, the numbers sharply rise with age. By age 18, 72 percent of youth were sexually active.
These results show first and foremost the suffering our society is inflicting on our youth by trivializing sexual activity. Sexuality is not an external and superficial action of the will. It is not merely a biological urge. It affects the totality of the person, the innermost being. It is intrinsically linked to the essential components of our well-being such as interpersonal relations, affection, love, self-image and self-confidence.
Sexual activity among adolescents is not a game or a frivolous adventure. Since it touches on the deepest level of human existence, it can easily create scars and traumas that last a lifetime. For instance, the sense of being used as a sexual object rather than loved as a whole person can lead to feelings of isolation, failure, and often to desperation. Eventually these experiences can cause one to develop a cynical view of human relations resulting in loneliness or difficulty in maintaining stable adult relationships.
Our popular culture tends to dismiss religion as irrelevant and even as an impediment to a healthy, full life. Religious discourse is routinely disregarded as dogmatic and based on ancient premises alien to modern times.
Still, the Judeo-Christian message brings a powerful antidote to the tremendous anguish and self-destruction that can come from the misuse of the gift of human sexuality.
When properly used, sexuality is a source of happiness and self-fulfillment. Its proper place is in the context of marriage, a permanent relationship in which a man and a woman share the fullness of their lives.
How can this message be brought to the youth? Education in chastity and modesty may sound old fashioned, but our children have the right to know that they can only find true happiness in fulfilling the plan of God in their lives.
And that plan of God with respect to sexual life is guarded by marriage, and by sexual relations that do not separate the unitive and procreative aspects God intended for human sexuality.
It is easy to avoid addressing this subject with our children because it makes us uncomfortable. Yet, we have an obligation as Catholics to present the splendor of the truth to the next generation, even if it is challenging, even if the message might be rejected. Young people are always in search of ideals. They need to hear about them so they can make them their own. If we teach them, they will listen.