They’re going to school longer, delaying marriage and children, job-hopping and apartment-swapping. They’re also moving back home after college to save money, traveling to faraway places to work and generally taking “me” time to decide what they want their futures to be. While their baby boomer parents lament that they’ve somehow gone wrong, experts studying why these kids aren’t more like their parents’ generation say there’s a clear explanation: It takes longer to grow up these days.
-Tim Dillon, USA Today
I want to spend a couple posts highlighting the broader societal trends related to “prolonged adolescence” . Today I want to focus on teenage sex drive and the delay of marriage.
As a senior high youth pastor I address the topic of teenage sexuality regularly. I know the statistics regarding teenage sexual activity. I also know God’s design is for sexual intimacy to be reserved for marriage. My challenge is to communicate God’s beautiful design to a room full of hormone-crazed teens whose primary decision-making organ right now is not necessarily the one above their neck! While I am committed to teaching our teens to follow God’s plan for sexual intimacy and imploring them to “wait for marriage”, I am also aware that certain societal trends continue to make this fight for “sexual purity” more and more difficult. Let me explain one giant, rather obvious societal shift that has taken place over the centuries.
When it comes to sexual decision-making we have at least three forces exerting their influence on our readiness: physiology, society, and morality. Physiologically speaking our bodies are physically ready for sexual following puberty. Just ask your 9th grade Health teacher for details. Most girls and boys reach puberty in their early teens. You don’t have to be an secular evolutionist to understand that human beings develop strong, natural, sexual urges that begin to exert a strong influence over us during adolescence. For the most part, the age and process of human physiological development has remained quite constant throughout the centuries.
What has changed quite drastically is the age that that young couples in society tend to settle down, get married and begin having children. Without citing hard data, my guess would be that in the last 50 years 30 has become the new 20 as far as when many couples are saying their vows. In more ancient times and in less complex societies such as the time of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, girls were typically given away in marriage in their early teens. For example, scholars generally describe a young 14-year old Mary betrothed to Joseph. Men were often a bit older than their bride — old enough to provide for his new bride and children that would soon follow — but still much younger than newly wed men today.
Finally, the third factor influencing decisions to refrain or engage in sexual activity is one’s morality — in this case one’s commitment to biblical teaching. The main observation I want to point out today is this: Men and women physically hit their sexual prime in their late teens and early twenties, and yet they are not getting married until later and later. This means that guys and girls whose God-given sex drive is in high gear by age 16 and yet are not getting married until nearly 30 years of age are in for one long, tough 14 or so year battle against their strong sexual urges! This brings a whole new meaning to the polite pastorally admonition: “Just wait until marriage.” For the 15 year old in the room another 15 years is quite literally “a lifetime.”
Now, compare this to earlier Bible times when men and women married in their teens (when their sex-drive is at full force), began having children with the man often taking over the family trade where he’s been an apprentice since age 12 and the wife taking on the traditional role of child rearing and household management. Whatever other judgments we may have about this older way of life, it does seem fair to say that such a society would have made “saving oneself for marriage” much easier than it is today.
I am not suggesting or arguing anything here. I am just highlighting an interesting societal shift over the centuries and the implications for remaining faithful to God’s design for sexual purity — i.e., waiting for marriage. What do you think? Does our society set us up for failure when it comes waiting until marriage for sex? How do youth workers address this reality? Do we need provide our young people more counsel and wisdom than just repeating the mantra: “Just wait”?