Source: "Sex: A Woman's Perspective," The Repair Shop, 1993.
I frequently receive e-mail and questions about birth control and sexuality, and I am glad to answer these questions whenever possible. However, I have noticed that a number of people are participating in what I would term "reckless sexuality" -- situations or patterns of behavior that will lead to unfortunate consequences. I attempt to respond to what I have noticed are the most common problems facing couples.
Whenever I become aware of teens having sex, I am deeply concerned. Sex is a wonderful and powerful expression of love. Like a fire or a gun, it should not be used by someone unprepared for the consequences of its use. I have counseled with many, many teens, and I have yet to find one who was even partially prepared to deal with the consequences of sexual behavior. Pregnancy is the natural result of having sex. Even if you are extremely careful and consistent in your birth control -- and few teens are -- you can wind up pregnant and scared.
Once a pregnancy results, there are usually three options, and each has its own set of unpleasantries. Abortion is a common response to teen pregnancy. Usually teens feel terrible about this option, but pressures from boyfriends, parents, and others can leave a teen feeling as if she has no choice. When one has an abortion because she feels helpless to do otherwise, it sets the stage for a wide variety of emotional and relational problems which can last a lifetime. The second oft chosen alternative is single parenting. Teens in this category are forced to assume adult responsibilities before they are ready, and thus miss many opportunities for socialization which their peers may enjoy. The least popular alternative is adoption, a very loving but difficult choice which may leave the teen mother wondering about the fate of her child for the rest of her life. Needless to say, no teen is really mature enough to effectively deal with any of these outcomes. Sad proof of this is the rising number of teens who choose to hide their pregnancies. A number of teen mothers who have resorted to this subterfuge have been discovered and later found responsible for the fate of their babies -- abandoned or dead -- and now face prison. All this said, it seems wisest to completely avoid activities which may result in an unplanned pregnancy.
There is one other route for pregnant teens that I hesitate to mention because it is rarely the best choice. However it should be noted that some pregnant teens choose to marry. While I commend the desire to provide a two parent home for an expected baby, no woman should ever marry a man simply because he happens to be the sperm donor to the child she is carrying. Now, if the teen is exceptionally mature and there is genuine love and commitment between the two persons, marriage may be a good choice. But few teens are ready for the responsibilities of marriage. The divorce rate for these types of unions is very high.
Another unfortunate but very real consequence of sexual experimentation is the contraction of a sexually transmitted disease. Sex may seem like harmless fun at the time, but STDs can permanently impair reproductive functioning or even cause death. A teen with an STD is more likely to ignore the symptoms, hoping the problem will just "go away." Depending on the type of STD, it may indeed go into a "latency period" only to resurface later when permanent damage has already been done. Most STDs can be cured with medical treatment, but diseases like herpes, HPV, and HIV are incurable. HPV can cause cervical cancer and HIV results in a long, painful death. I have never met a teen who was ready to face the rest of her life with AIDS. Early onset of sexual behavior and multiple sex partners are the number one risk factor for cervical cancer. It's heartbreaking when so many teens have to worry about these issues when they should be enjoying their high school years and planning for college.
I have gotten some negative feedback from teens who claim to be very careful in their sexual behavior and insist that if they want to have sex it's their own business. My questions is this: Can you on your own afford maternity care, a baby, medical complications from an abortion, and/or a long, slow death from AIDS? Or will mom and dad have to foot the bills? If you can't afford to pay for the fallout of your sexual behavior, you owe it to your parents to wait until you can. And even if you can afford it (which would be rare), do you feel ready to deal with any or all of these not-so-unlikely possibilities?
If you are an unmarried teen, do yourself a favor and stop having sex immediately.
Many adults, especially young adults, begin a sexual relationship with someone without the benefit of a long-term commitment. Although adults are more likely to use birth control consistently, even a perfect user can expect more than one unplanned pregnancies in her lifetime. And sexually active young adults are actually more likely to experience an unplanned pregnancy than a sexually active teen. An unplanned pregnancy can put an enormous strain on a boyfriend-girlfriend relationship as each person is unsure of his or her responsibility to the other in the situation. Abortion is a common recourse in such a situation, and in fact women who live with a partner outside marriage are 3.5-4.0 times more likely to have an abortion than the general population. The male partner is usually ready to "move on" long before the female partner is, resulting in confusion and tension. The woman may feel resentful that her boyfriend rejected their unborn child. Few relationships are able to survive an abortion. Some women choose to continue the pregnancy, and in too many cases the man leaves her to care for the child alone. It's only at this point that she may realize that he really didn't love her but was only using her for sex.
Sex tends to act like the "glue" in a relationship. And when you're involved in a stable, long-term relationship like marriage, that "glue" can be really helpful when the inevitable difficulties in the relationship arise. However, when sex is used to cement just any relationship, it can distort your judgement. Especially for women, having sex can intensify the feeling of being in love without actually deepening or solidifying the relationship. It can make either partner less able to look at the relationship objectively, making it more difficult to initiate a break-up even though it might be time, because you've invested something so precious.
And practically speaking, an unmarried sexual relationship typically involves no mutual understanding regarding expectations of commitment and responsibility. Either person might take-off when "the water gets too hot." The results of such a breakup are always painful, and possibly involve an unwanted pregnancy and/or a sexually transmitted disease. The fall-out can last a lifetime.
Some couples think they are practicing abstinence, while participating in variety of sexual activities. Oral sex, anal sex, mutual masturbation, and other similar activities do not qualify as abstinence. If you are involved in these practices, you are fooling yourself if you think you are not having sex. And most of these activities can still result in pregnancy and/or sexually transmitted disease.
Anytime you enter a relationship where two persons are physically intimate you create strong emotional and spiritual bonds. When the relationship is over are you going to be glad that you were physically intimate with a person who you can no longer stand the sight of? If you are a normal, emotionally healthy individual, you will probably feel regret and discomfort for some time.
Marriage is the ideal environment for a sexual relationship. Usually there are very clear expectations for the relationship, involving mutual fidelity, a promise to care for one another through hard times, and an openness to the possibility of children. Of course, even the "best" marriages can and do fail, but sex within a marriage is the safest and sanest choice for a person looking for true intimacy with another. When both persons honor the marriage vows, the relationship becomes better on all fronts.
Although a faithful marriage to an uninfected person precludes the possibility of a sexually transmitted disease, pregnancy may be a possibility for up to thirty years. Birth control can and does fail. Unless at least one person is infertile, a surprise pregnancy can happen at any time. The most common response to this biological fact is the use of contraceptives. Contraceptives can provide reasonably good protection from an unexpected pregnancy, but they are not foolproof. Stress can occur when an unplanned pregnancy arises at a difficult time. Since married couples generally do not consider adoption a viable option, they will either choose parenting or resort to an abortion. Abortion within a marriage is an unfortunate event which can negatively affect the whole family.
A few couples choose not to contracept, trusting God for however many children come along. Very large families can result, but some of these couples have surprisingly few children. Benefits of this type of sexual relationships is that the couples don't have the worry of an unplanned pregnancy.
Marital unfaithfulness is the ultimate act of selfishness. When one partner is unfaithful, this undermines one of the basic foundations of the marriage. Infidelity is always very painful for everyone, especially the faithful partner. It puts both partners at risk for sexually transmitted disease, one partner by choice and the other unknowingly. Usually there's a great deal of secrecy involved. Infidelity can result in pregnancy involving an outside party. The lies are compounded by a secret abortion, questionable paternity, or a child by another woman. This kind of trouble is never worth the few fleeting moments of enjoyment from the affair.
If you are being unfaithful to your partner, why are you even married? The sooner the problem is brought to the light the better. Don't use excuses for staying with an unfaithful partner like "the kids," "the extra income" or "what will everyone think?" The longer this charade continues the more you degrade yourself and your whole family. Demand that the problem be resolved immediately.
With good counseling and lots of effort on the part of both parties, many marriages can survive the problem of infidelity. Often the problem is caused because one or both persons are afraid that they cannot get their relational needs met in the marriage. If you are in a troubled marriage, get marital counseling now to avoid the problems caused by infidelity. If the other partner won't participate, go to counseling alone.
There are many other forms of reckless sexuality which I will not expound upon here. These include:
If you are engaging in any of these practices, you have issues which probably cannot be resolved simply by reading this article. I encourage you to get professional help immediately, before you hurt yourself or someone else.
Although relationships can be complex, the main issues are pretty simple. Any time you choose a sexual relationship outside of marriage you short-change yourself and set the stage for disaster. Maybe you are desperate for love and feel like you have to take whatever you can get. Low standards will only increase your feelings of worthlessness and almost guarantee that you will end up in a bad situation. Spend some time learning to value yourself before being intimate with someone else. You will be glad you did.
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