I gave a talk recently on sex and dating to a group of Catholic 15- and 16-year-olds in New York City. Since my normal audience is young-adults—Catholics in their 20s and 30s—I planned to write a talk that focused on the most innocent parts of dating, geared for teens: some dating advice, good communication skills and a bit about why the Church wants us to abstain from sex until marriage.
I was really surprised to learn that the majority of my teenaged audience was already sexually active. While not all of the kids were actually having intercourse, all but a few were sexually knowledgeable and believed that sex was a necessary part of a dating relationship. As one boy put it, “if we’re not ‘doing it,’ then we’re just friends.”
Mind you, these aren’t bad kids: They are articulate boys and girls who voluntarily attend a weekly Catholic youth group meeting on Saturday evenings. But instead of making my talk as PG as I had intended, we were talking openly about how far is “too far” to go in physical intimacy with your boyfriend or girlfriend, and having an explicit discussion about why premarital sex can hurt you mentally as well as put you at risk physically.
It was when we got to the topic of peer pressure and self-respect that the teens really got interested. As a group we discussed some of the classic “arguments” in favor of premarital sex—and down-to-earth responses that you need to know to help you preserve your own personal beliefs. “Everyone” is having premarital sex, said the teenagers. And really, what difference does getting married make, anyway?
It’s sad that 15-year-
It’s sad that 15-year-olds need to learn these arguments to protect themselves against peer pressure to have sex—but it doesn’t get any easier for young-adults. With that in mind, I wanted to share an abbreviated version of this talk with the BustedHalo community —and offer a few responses to common peer pressure that might help you personally, or help you advise a friend.
Yes, I gave this talk to teenagers. But sometimes getting back to basics—no matter where we are in our dating and relationship experiences —is the best way to more forward.
Argument: It’s absurd to say that sex should be reserved for marriage. What possible difference could a few words make?
Response: Marriage involves a total commitment before God, your community and your family. The formal ceremony makes that commitment public. And that can’t be taken lightly. It’s one thing for a couple to say ‘I love you, let’s have sex.’ That’s not commitment. But when you get married, you are assuming responsibility for what happens in your relationship-and what happens when you have sex.
Argument: You should practice sex early so you will make a good marriage partner.
Response: It doesn’t work that way. Sexual intercourse isn’t like playing tennis or basketball. Sex is a gift God gives us and you don’t need to practice to become “good” – it’s a basic human instinct and married couples learn together very quickly. The basic ingredients for a good sexual relationship are mutual love, respect and a real sense of caring about the other person’s feelings.
Argument: If you really love someone, you don’t have to be married to have sexual intercourse. You should “prove” your love right then and there.
Response: Love can mean different things. And it can also be confused for desire or a heat-of-the-moment crush. Too often a girl is convinced to have sex as the only way to prove her love. But real love doesn’t have to be “proven” that way. Love is not a selfish emotion. It requires two people to respect each other and make sacrifices. If a guy and a girl are really in love, they would certainly not ask each other to assume the risks that go with teenaged or premarital sex.
Argument: Everyone is having sex these days. What’s wrong with you?
Response: First, that’s just not true-as we have explored in previous BustedHalo articles. You have a right to say no and to maintain your own personal standards no matter what ‘everyone else’ is doing. Plus, you don’t ‘owe’ anything to anyone sexually. Just because your friends are doing it or because a guy took you out to a very nice dinner, doesn’t mean that you have to do sexual things. If you really are in a good relationship, talk about it instead-and make your own choices.
Argument: Having sex is a natural part of growing up.
Response: Just because you can have sex, doesn’t mean you are an adult who should have sex. Since a successful relationship requires a lot of maturity, it takes a whole lot of growing up before sex is appropriate. And growing up means more than just changes in your body. It means learning to accept your new role as an adult, and having some time to understand yourself and your goals in life.
Argument: Premarital sex is fine. After all, no one is going to get hurt.
Response: The trap in this argument is that you don’t know that no one will get hurt. She might get pregnant, and either of them might get a disease. Or one of you might decide it’s just not working out and end the relationship-and really hurt the other one. Too often people say that they wished they had waited to have sex, but few say they regretted waiting.