A new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows a trend of American adolescents waiting longer to engage in sexual behavior. Certainly, this comes with a lot of good byproducts — less disease and fewer teen pregnancies, to name only two. But there is little reason to believe it is being fueled by a moral awakening or an understanding of the importance of marriage before engaging in such behavior, and that’s a problem.
The CDC report showed fewer 9th and 10th graders having sexual relations than in any previous survey. But the good news should be kept in context.
A Gallup Poll last year found only 28 percent of respondents saying sex between an unmarried man and woman is morally wrong. The survey did not focus on adolescent opinions, but the figure had dropped from 42 percent in 2001, and it is reasonable to assume that adult opinions influence the values of teenagers.
At the same time, enough other evidence exists to give rise to worries that online pornography may be a factor.
That is a controversial opinion in some quarters, and it comes with a lot of caveats. For a few years now, studies have shown teenagers are less interested in a lot of things than previous generations were, from learning to drive to obtaining a job and drinking alcohol. Not all of this is related to pornography.
The lead author of a study published in the journal Child Development told the Washington Post this may be because teenagers no longer feel the need to do such things. She referred to a theory that says adolescents develop more quickly when their surroundings are harsh and unpredictable. But as so many are connected to their electronic devices, they are less apt to be connected to people and develop healthy relationships that stabilize families and society.
Today’s America is generally secure and families are smaller than in the past. In small families, parents spend more time nurturing, which may delay the onset of adulthood.
But while the experts struggle for answers, it would be foolish to overlook studies that show 72 percent of college students — 93 percent of males and 62 percent of females — had seen porn before they turned 18, or that 87 percent of college-aged men and 31 percent of college-aged women reported using pornography.
Surely, the widespread use and acceptance of such harmful images must have some affect on teenage behavior and on the ability to form relationships. One study found that the percentage of high school seniors who had gone on a date fell from 86 percent in the late ’70s to 63 percent between 2010 and 2015.
Likewise, it also would be foolish to ignore research published by the American Journal of Psychiatry showing how the sexualization of young girls in popular media is resulting in “decreased cognitive functioning (e.g., impaired ability to concentrate), worsened physical and mental health (e.g., eating disorders, low self-esteem, depression), unrealistic expectations about sexuality, and reductionist beliefs of women as sexual objects.”
In other words, the CDC’s report may show a positive trend — and that trend may have several contributing factors — but there is little reason to believe it signals good news for marriage, family and the type of commitment that is so important to the long-term functioning of a stable society.7 comments on this story
The American Family Survey, a joint project of the Deseret News and The Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy at Brigham Young University, has convincingly shown the importance of marriage to society regarding a variety of factors, including economic stability. It also showed a distinct difference in attitudes among age groups. Younger adults are more likely to believe it’s OK to have children before marriage.
Everyone should be glad that young people are engaging in less risky behavior. But unless they are taught to also value commitment, marriage and moral values that sustain a stable and progressive society, the trend will have less impact than it otherwise might have.