What prevents teen sexual activity? Parents, sex education, or social programs?

Christine Kim
Christine Kim

What are some of the measurable consequences of pre-marital sex?

The kinds of problems most people think of when they think of pre-marital sex are problems like sexually transmitted diseases, unwanted pregnancy, abortions, reduced ability for stable marriage, and maternal poverty.

What’s the best way to prevent teens from engaging in pre-marital sex?

On the one hand, social conservatives on the right favor the traditional family structure, complete with a father who lives in the home and is an involved parent. On the other other hand, social liberals on the left favor laws that promote pre-marital sex and no-fault divorce, which tends to weaken marriage and break up families. Those on the right prefer strong families and involved parents, while those on the left prefer to tax money away from families and use that money to provide sex education, taxpayer-funded abortions, and single-payer health care.

Who’s right?

Well, consider this research paper from the Heritage Foundation, my favorite think tank.

It’s written by Christine C. Kim. The title is “Teen Sex: The Parent Factor”. (PDF)

She writes:

Many policymakers, health professionals, and “safe sex” advocates respond to these troubling sta­tistics by demanding more comprehensive sex edu­cation and broader access to contraceptives for minors. They assume that teens are unable to delay their sexual behavior and that a combination of information about and access to contraceptives will effectively lead to protected sex, preventing any form of harm to youngsters. Not only are these assumptions faulty, they tend to disregard impor­tant factors that have been linked to reduced teen sexual activity. A particularly noticeable omission is parental influence.

[…]The empirical evidence on the association between parental influences and adolescents’ sexual behavior is strong. Parental factors that appear to offer strong protection against the onset of early sexual activity in­clude an intact family structure; parents’ disapproval of adolescent sex; teens’ sense of belonging to and sat­isfaction with their families; parental monitoring; and, to a lesser extent, parent-child communication about teen sex and its consequences.

That parents play a role in teen sex points to at least two significant policy implications. First, pro­grams and policies that seek to delay sexual activity or to prevent teen pregnancy or STDs should encourage and strengthen family structure and parental involvement. Doing so may increase these efforts’ overall effectiveness. Conversely, programs and policies that implicitly or explicitly discourage parental involvement, such as dispensing contra­ceptives to adolescents without parental consent or notice, contradict the weight of social science evi­dence and may prove to be counterproductive and potentially harmful to teens.

She supports her conclusions using her research findings and some very helpful graphs (see the PDF version).

My thoughts

So what does this mean? It means that parents need to be trained and equipped to talk to their children about topics like pre-marital sex. It means that unmarried men and women need to be serious about choosing their spouse so that there is an increased likelihood that the spouse will have the knowledge, the time, and the disposition to talk to their children about sex. The best way to find a spouse who can make moral judgments and be persuasive on moral issues with the children is to choose some who demonstrates those capabilities over a significant period of time, during the courtship.

I’ve noticed that many young people reject prospective mates who make moral judgments and who have definite ideas about moral issues. What young people seem to want is complete autonomy to pursue their own happiness. They don’t even want to deal with the normal demands of relationships with friends, co-workers, pets, children – and even with God. They just want to pursue their own vision. And if their own choices make them unhappy, then they blame others and demand to be bailed out, (often by the government).

But valuing amorality and permissiveness in prospective mates is not going to attract a spouse who is capable of teaching children right from wrong. Instead, young people should seek to marry someone who is informed on moral issues, and who is passionate about persuading others. Marriage is not the kind of thing that two selfish, amoral people can do well – there has to be a vision and a way of settling disagreements using a standard of objective morality and moral reasoning. Children don’t do well being raised by parents who have no vision for how the children ought to be.

I think a pretty good question to ask a prospective mate is “how would you like your children to turn out?”. What you are looking for is a person who wants their child to have respect for objective moral values and duties and a strong relationship with God. And then ask a second question, “what capabilities do you think your spouse should have to achieve that vision?”. And finally ask, “how have you prepared yourself to guide your children towards that vision?”. These are the questions that we should be asking during courtship to find out whether prospective mates are capable of imparting moral knowledge to their future children.

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