The rise in underage sex is not an issue of sexual liberalization or promiscuity ("Underage sex on the rise in Singapore, say social workers", Feb 9). The fall in teen births is not an issue of contraception or health education ("Teen births drop to 20-year low", Feb 9). The underpinning common issue here is how our teens see and value themselves.
Over the weekend, 171 fathers spent a few hours valuing their daughters at Focus on the Family's annual Date with Dad event. Why? Because research shows unwaveringly that Dad is the first guy a girl gives her heart to.
The reality though is this:
- With many dual-income households today, children return home after school to an empty house or to non-parental caregivers. They are imbued with messages that they need to excel academically, that their worth is based on their performance. Often, less attention is given towards filling their love tanks with the knowledge that they are accepted, affirmed and approved by their parents for who they are and not what they have accomplished.
- Movies and television programs have become more sexually graphic and explicit, with characters in the media losing their virginity and engaging in sex with "benefits" without the reality of consequences like pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections and being emotionally hurt. Pornography teaches young men that women are mere sexual objects to be used for physical pleasure, while young women receive the message that to get "love" they have to give sex.
- Explicitly or implicitly telling our youth that "they are going to have sex anyway, so we might as well teach them how to do it safely" can send them a disempowering message that they have neither the ability for self-control nor delayed gratification.
Research shows that teens are less likely to engage in premarital sex if they have a close, warm relationship with their parents, and whose parents clearly communicate their expectations regarding sexual behaviour and the reasons for sexual boundaries. When teens feel the unconditioned love from the parents, it will prevent them from looking for love in the wrong places.
People are built for intimacy. As parents and society, let's give the message to our young people that intimate sexual activity is an expression of love reserved for marriage. Why? Because they are worth the wait!
- Cheryl B. Aspy et al., Journal of Adolescence 30 (2007): 449–466.
- Bruce J. Ellis et al., "Does Father Absence Place Daughters at Special Risk for Early Sexual Activity and Teenage Pregnancy?" Child Development 74, No. 3 (2003): 801–821.
- Resnick MD et al. Protecting adolescents from harm: findings from the National Longitudinal Study on Adolescent Health. JAMA 1997;278:823-32.
- Karofsky PS et al. Relationship between adolescent parental communication and initiation of first intercourse by adolescents. Journal of Adolescent Health 2000: 28; 41-45.
Editor's note: This letter was sent to The Straits Times Forum on February 10 in response to the issue of rising numbers of teens engaging in sex before marriage.