Indispensability Of Virtue
Liz Butterfield, PFHS Winner of the Community Levee Scholarship Award, 2010
Across the Board
It is incredibly difficult to gage how teenagers of my generation feel about sex, because there are a million different statistics with conflicting answers for and against your point. Our generation has been shaped by plus 50% divorce rate among our parents, an elevated rate in teen pregnancy, and an overwhelmingly high tolerance for uncomfortable media. The average age of first intercourse is 16 1⁄2 years old. Eighty-four percent of teens ages 16-17 see pregnancy as a serious problem among their friends, and a majority of teens ages 16-17 say that both pregnancy and STD’s are “very serious” problems (according to The Gallup Youth Survey, 2004). Famous sex educator Sue Johanson says, “Kids are curious about sex from when they’re about five minutes of age, and little boys discover they’ve got a penis. All of a sudden, it feels good. And they’re curious, and they want to know more.” Even early on youth are curious about sex; they wonder why boys and girls are different and what is so taboo about each other’s parts. Hormones eventually change everything, and our relationships overflow with emotions we have never felt before, and we become infatuated with the feeling of our overpowering desires.
A youth will always question why he should hold back from giving into his sexual desires. In The Lessons of History by the Durants, youths are painted as if they were “boiling with hormones,” coloring us in the previously unfelt emotions we are drowning in during the stages of puberty and beyond. The youth struggles with temptation, with his overwhelming curiosity and instinctual, adult desire for what his body needs. Why should he hold back? A single thread of consciousness stops us all before we make the fatal mistake before it is too late: we are not ready for sex.
A youth unchecked by his own discipline, morals, or maturity, may not understand that he is not ready to take that final leap into adulthood. He may be swept away in a torrent of feelings, overwhelmed by what he does not understand, consumed by desire and then drowned by the consequences thereof. The Durants say, “sex is a river of fire that must be banked and cooled by a hundred restraints,” as a lesson to the youth that he may hold his desires under control; if he lets the desire get the better of him, he will be swept away before he is mature enough to understand why it is important to wait for sex. A teenage couple is struck by the same, age old desires we are rammed with every day. One of the hardest decisions teenagers make when they are young is the decision to have sex. Our bodies feel sure we are ready, but our hearts wonder if we are really mature enough to handle the consequences. The desire is not meant to be quenched, but is meant to be held back to grow, until ripe enough to consume with maturity and understanding. The desire, rather, the control of the desire makes the youth mature. Discipline and steady, unflinching morals keep him strong against the torrent and is why it is important to wait until we are fully ready for sex.
Jane Eyre felt the same kind of temptation as the drowning youth, but it was through her maturity and her understanding of the need for restrictions that stopped her from following through with her desires to break her morals. Because of her power over her feelings, Jane was able to attain a level of grace and confidence that is very unfamiliar to most teenagers.
Jane’s level of respect for her body and her actions are vastly different to the how most teenagers feel about themselves. In growing up, we are still not sure who we are to become much less if we are proud of who we already are. Our confidence is low, and we walk timidly among our peers, looking for someone to admire, love and respect us like we want to love and respect ourselves. We compare ourselves to the norm, but there is nothing normal about growing up. Boys are tempted by the uncontrollable desires of their bodies, girls are tempted by the boys who offer them the praise and affection they deserve, and both are swept away in charging waves of feelings for each other’s physical being; suddenly in love, even if it is only the feeling you are in love with. To Jane, temptation proves the necessity for morals. When you do not want to, when your body begs and writhes against the moral, it tries to break you down. It is the fight that makes you stronger. Laws are in place for a reason, be they written or implied by the thin line of consciousness; they are not designed for the times when everything runs smoothly, but are made for times of uncertainty and temptation so we may have an answer to what is right.
But every teenager overwhelmed with desires like these does not have the strength that Jane Eyre had to resist. It is unbelievably hard to learn confidence, self respect, and discipline on your own when you still want some direction of the choice you are supposed to take. Women especially have a hard time keeping good self-esteem, and maintaining the dignity, the self- respect of body and spirit, and the precious confidence that holds our heads above water during times of desperation. When you are alone, you can be at your most desperate. Jane knows the struggle behind the desperation, and refuses to give in to the immoral, to compromise the respect she holds in herself.
Teenagers and young adults are swarmed by the desire for sex, and it is not like they leave it behind when they go to college. College is the one real test of their ability to make responsible, and healthy decisions on their own. Colleges are allowed to make their own policies regarding sex in dorm rooms, and certain schools have come under storms of controversy with their new policies. The administration of Tufts University recently made a revolutionary change: officially reprimanding a roommate who deprives her roommate of privacy, study, or sleep time. Most universities skate around the topic of sex in dorms because there is no clear way on how to handle such an awkward situation. But Tufts, and a growing number of universities agree, that there needs to be a concrete policy regarding how to handle the “sexiles.”
Although many families and students might see these changes as a desensitizing or disrespect of morals, colleges are not telling their students to go have sex. In fact, most colleges mix dorms because they want to build more maturity in their students in their relations with the opposite sex.
By opening the doors for students to become more sex “neutral” colleges have tried to empower their students. Colleges recognize that having a mature conversation with your roommate on just about anything, let alone sex, can be hard; many universities make students sign contracts divvying responsibilities, and signing their understanding’s for what is (and is not) acceptable behavior in the dorm. Where other universities recommend “civil and respectable” behavior from the dorm mates, Tufts takes it one step further by trying to motivate the students to have these conversations through consequences.
These policies benefit individuals more than they benefit families. Families back home have a plethora of things to worry about for their child. Their son or daughter is alone mostly for the first time, and it may be incredibly difficult for these families to accept these kinds of changes. But students are becoming empowered by these moves towards more liberal dorms. Living on the same floor, or in the same room with a member of the opposite sex is no longer taboo; it has become normal. Having boys room next door might seem like a shocking novelty at first, but it makes us more comfortable with each other in the long run. Students are becoming more comfortable, and hopefully more mature in their decisions to interact with members of the opposite sex.
As for “sexiles,” they have become the sad subjects of bad communication. Kids have a hard time, especially if they are less mature, having the adult conversation that asks for privacy, or for respect. Students living on their own similarly have a hard time of maturely understanding that they are sharing their personal space with someone else, and the rules of respect and civility that apply.
Colleges that recognize the need for rules, or changes, are moving forward in leaving the ignorance that kids are not going to have sex. The hard part is encouraging the conversation between the roomies. Colleges are trying to cope with the times, and whether that means opening up their dorms to both sexes or creating stricter policies, they are still acknowledging a new world.
Teenagers of the 21 Century are swarmed with images. We consume the projections of pop stars and idols like candy, swallowing the icons of people on screen. We digest our surroundings, built up of magazine articles, of YouTube clips, and of morning radio talk shows giving the latest scoop on things that have no effect on our actual lives.
But how does a generation still full of growth react to the unspoken demands of all these images? How is it possible to grow up being bombarded by mirages of what may feel good but seems wrong, and survive with a good head on our shoulders?
It is wrong to believe that our generation is being molded simply by the images that surround us. True, we live in a highly visible world, full of the eccentric, the intangible, and the vulgar, but do people really think that these images are going to revolutionize all of teen behavior? Is it really going to be the shocking shots of Miley Cyrus poll dancing, of Lindsey Lohan’s drug addiction, or of Megan Fox’s “hot bod” that make them idols of our generation?
Or, is it going to remain to be the images of our heroes, of the Mia Hamms, Taylor Swifts, and Oprah Winfreys of our generation that become our champions? Of the women that remind us of our mothers that we idolize? Of the physical being of someone to be proud of, rather than an illusion of someone who will only last a second.
Taking away the taboo about sex would be ideal, but it is the lack of maturity in the participants that make it so inviolable. Mature partners will make good decisions about when it is the right time to have sex, but that is not something you can teach in public school.
Sex education in schools is a vital part of public health as a whole; without a good sexual education teenagers who fall to their desires will not know what to do about it. In the midst of feeling good, they forget or do not know about birth control. But good sex education is not just about teaching effective birth control methods; it is about teaching teenagers to make mature decisions about their sexuality, and learning how to behave as an adult when we are faced with tough choices regarding our bodies. Revolutionizing sexual education in schools is absolutely essential if we are to change rising trends in teen pregnancy and STDs and to continue strong public health for the future. Sexuality is only one topic that helps us articulate the morals this generation has decided to keep, and our guidelines for our own actions as we mature to adulthood. The media may have a large impact on what we do, but it will come down to the lessons of our families and the strength of our communities that dictate how we will teach our own children later on.