Love, Dating, Sex and You
I walked down the hall from the staff room to my classroom, carefully balancing my morning mug of coffee in one hand and a pile of photocopies and a video in the other. Loud and cheerful morning greetings echoed off the metal lockers and swirled around me. Locks rattled under impatient fingers; shoes squeaked on the shiny linoleum. Suddenly one clear voice rose above all the rest, jarring at my eardrums. “Well, of course it makes a difference what kind of protection you use!”
I almost spilled my coffee. I looked at the girls – two of my Bible students – whose words had assaulted my ears. No, I could not have heard that right! With relief I heard the next sentence. “No wonder you got such a sunburn. You should have used a No. 15.” “Girls,” I exclaimed, “I'm so glad that you weren't talking about what I thought you were talking about!” They looked at me, first in puzzlement and then consternation, as they realized what their words might have meant. “Mrs. V., how could you even think that of us?” I laughed and agreed with them, “Yes, how could I think that? I'm sorry the thought even crossed my mind!”
A good and perfect gift
As parents we can be thankful that our teens are horrified that we should think they might be engaged in premarital sex. For very many teens – if surveys are correct – it is a normal part of a dating relationship. But do we parents actually talk to our children about sex? For most of us, it is one of the most difficult topics to broach with our teens. Yet it was not always so. In Genesis 2, we read that Adam and Eve were both naked and not ashamed. As with everything else in paradise, they recognized God as the creator of their perfect sexuality. They felt no embarrassment about their sexual organs, or about expressing their sexuality. They were given the gift of marriage within which they could fully explore and enjoy this closest of relationships. We can only imagine their joy and thankfulness as they discovered what a perfect match they were – spiritually, psychologically, emotionally and physically. “Amazing!”
The fall changed everything. Scripture is filled with examples of the way human sexuality was distorted also by God's own children (for example, Judah and Tamar, Dinah and Shechem, David and Bathsheba, Solomon and his many wives). Today this gift is openly and flagrantly corrupted. Beth Swagman (Too Close for Comfort, CRC Publications, 1994) notes the following tendencies.
We often “refer to human sexuality by its cruder term: sex. Sex can refer to an act of intimacy or an impulsive act of self-gratification. Our society does not refer to sex as a gift but as a skill to acquire as soon as one is able. Obviously, that idea goes against God's intentions. The term sexuality connotes maturity, honesty, comfort, responsibility and mutual respect. The term sex connotes something cheap, quick, dirty, and secretive.”
It is also a result of the fall, that many parents have such a difficult time giving guidance to their children on this sensitive and personal issue, and yet it needs to be done. Don't wait until your son comes home with his first girlfriend. Start young. There is help available. Sometimes a magazine article, a book or video can be the starting point of a wholesome discussion, where both teens and their parents can learn.
Love, dating, sex and you
One advantage to being a high school teacher is that students alert me to good material. This past year, one student provided me with a transcript of a taped speech by Greg Speck, “Dating, Sex and You.” Shortly before that, the local Baptist Church Newsletter (Cloverdale Connector, May 1994) included an excerpt from a book by George Eager, Love, Dating and Sex (Gospel Publishing Ass'n., Box 94368, Birmingham, AL, 35220). Speck concentrates on the dating relationship in general, while Eager offers some very practical advice on setting parameters within the dating relationship.
Speck begins by giving results of his informal surveys, “What do I look for in a dating relationship?” For the most part, the answers are surprisingly traditional. The girls like a young man to be a gentleman; they want a man who loves the Lord and is not uncomfortable to talk about it, a man who is the leader of the relationship, a man who can withstand peer pressure, a man who is clean – soap and water clean (use deodorant, please!), a man who has a wholesome sense of humor, a man who cares about her and lets her know he is pleased to be with her, and lastly, a man who is self-disciplined.
Speck describes a self-disciplined young man (or woman) as one who has his priorities straight. This means that God is number one, parents are number two and girlfriend or boyfriend, number three. To put a dating relationship before the relationship with the Lord or with parents will undoubtedly lead to problems. Keeping the priorities straight will lead to a good dating relationship as well.
The young men were no less forthright in their answers. According to the survey, a young man wants a girl with manners, who will not embarrass him in public. He likes a girl with a good sense of humor, not one with a too-sophisticated, superior attitude. He wants a girl who loves the Lord so that the two of them will feel free to share this. He wants a girl who is clean and dresses appropriately – jeans for football or hockey and more formal for going out for dinner. He likes a girl who can make good conversation – listen as well as talk. He wants a girl who likes going out with him, and doesn't just string him along for the sake of having a date. Lastly, he wants a girl who feels free to be herself. He's not interested in someone who plays mind games to make herself look better or different than she is. No charades, please.
Reasons for dating
Speck suggests that the “world” has four reasons for dating: preparation for marriage, for enjoyment, for acceptance and prestige, and for sex. He would prefer to look at the dating experience as a triangle. You put your name in the one bottom corner, your date's name in the other, and God in the very top of the triangle. Whenever the two of you move along the arms of the triangle towards the top, towards God, you also move closer toward each other. If you honor God in your relationship, He will take your relationship and help it to grow and develop. If you move only towards each other along the base of the triangle, you leave God out of the picture, and the relationship will flounder.
Speck cites some letters from young people, letters which bear out the truth of this analogy. These are responses from Christian young people who do have some space for God in their lives, yet for whom the dating relationship had priority. In each instance it led to a sense of estrangement from God, a weakening of their relationship with Him. For some, sexual intercourse, or at least heavy petting, had become a part of each date. Most of the young people noted that once they had gone this far it was next to impossible to go back to a less physically intimate relationship. That is not surprising. That is the way God created men and women. There is a progression involved that begins with kissing, heavy kissing, then petting, heavy petting and finally sexual intercourse. Once a couple has reached the heavy petting stage, it becomes next to impossible to put on the brakes.
When we parents are talking to our teens, this is approximately the point where we get really embarrassed. Sweat breaks out on Dad's upper lip. Junior is looking for a way out of the conversation. But the reason we need to talk about this is not because our teens are abnormal, but because they are normal – very normal, but lacking experience. And then we parents, embarrassed or not, have to give them the benefit of our own experience. Sometimes it forces us to remember certain episodes in our own dating years that we'd rather forget. “Sins of youth remember not, nor recall my hid transgression…” I don't suggest you relate the incidents, but remember what it was like, how hard it was to be good!
George Eager has some practical advice that a couple should make at the beginning of a serious relationship. Write out your standards – what you will and will not do, things like: I will keep myself pure for the one I will marry. I will not go to my boyfriend's house or have him at mine when no one else is home. I will not go to parties where I know there will be drinking, drugs and sex. Plan your dates. Know what you will be doing and when the planned part is over, let the date be over. Unplanned, free time can lead to trouble. Communicate your sexual standards up front. This is probably a difficult one, but necessary. Being up front will remove a lot of tension in the relationship.
Eager also suggests there is a formula of sexual progression, even for those couples who don't intend to go all the way. He maintains that they will be involved sexually after approximately 300 hours spent alone with each other, unless definite steps are taken to prevent this. (That's two 3-hour dates per week for one year.) His equation is as follows:
Percolating Sex Glands
+ Time Spent Alone Together
+ The Law of Progression
= Sexual Intercourse
He notes that just as an automobile is equipped with safety devices, to let the driver know when there is danger, so a couple needs to be aware of the “warning lights” in their relationship. Here are some of those warning lights that let you know when you are going too far. You are going too far if your (his or her) hands start roaming, when either one starts to remove or loosen clothing, when you arouse genital feelings, when you are doing something you would not do around someone you respect.
So before you start dating, set your own definite guidelines. Once you are dating, very simply: Keep your hands off and your clothes on. Sometimes the wisest word you can use is that little word found in the middle of the alphabet…
Young people also need to know that males and females react differently to similar stimuli. Men are visually oriented. They become sexually stimulated, just visually. If this were not true, the “girlie” magazine industry would be broke. Women are not as visually oriented. They generally are not as quickly sexually aroused. This leads people to put the onus on the girl to control the physical relationship. This is unfair. The man is to be the leader in this part of the relationship, too. Of course, a girl – perhaps naively – can make it very difficult for her date. The way she dresses can have quite a visual impact on him. In fact, some of the in vogue T-shirts (buttoned or demurely unbuttoned), halter tops, shorts and even dresses leave little to the imagination. Some girls tend to lead a guy on, and then are surprised when he wants more. To have a guy lust after you – lust after your body – is not particularly flattering. It makes for a pretty one-dimensional relationship.
George Eager notes that sometimes the guy will need to instruct his girlfriend on the facts of togetherness. He might need to say, “I love you very much, so much that I want you close always. But when you sit on my lap like this, my feelings become almost more than I can cope with. So slide over on your side of the seat and let's call Bob and Jen and go for a pizza.”
Toes over the precipice
It should never be a question of “How far can we go?” Speck gives the analogy of going on a sightseeing tour in the Colorado Rockies. Everyone is safely on the bus. At the summit, there is a cliff, a sheer drop of 1000 meters. How many would climb out of the bus and say, “I'm going to stand right on the edge. I can handle it. I won't fall or slip. Look, I'm standing with my toes over the edge. Wow! See I can do it!” Some will undoubtedly give it a try – and fail. Hopefully most would stay on the bus and enjoy the view. That should be a dating couple's attitude toward sex. Not how close can we get, but how far away can we keep. The gift of sexuality is a wonderful gift to be fully explored within the God-given context of marriage. It's too beautiful to mess it up ahead of time.
Living a truly chaste life as a teen in this sex-crazy world is not easy. It takes courage and commitment to God's way. Eager tells of a young girl who wondered what she was waiting for. Her father replied wisely that she was waiting to be free. Free from the nagging voice of conscience and the grey shadow of guilt. “Free to give all of herself, not [just] a panicky fraction,” one grudging little bit at a time. The reward for saying no to sex before marriage comes later, but it is a wonderful reward: the gift of beginning married life without shame, without guilt and without regret.