We need to take our teens back from age of hypersexuality to learn self-respect
Published 10/12/2013 | 23:32
There is no condom for your heart. So says a team of young Irish Catholics who are on a mission to encourage restraint and abstinence amongst our youth.
Pure In Heart began in Ireland but has spread its messages to other countries including the UK, US and Germany. Its message is to 'promote the true meaning and beauty of human sexuality through practising the virtue of chastity'.
The group goes around to secondary schools and gives lessons on sexual restraint and abstinence. The members encourage young people to chose pre-marital chastity instead of contraception.
A few years ago this earnest group would have been sneered at, as many young people were far too busy spending money on designer underwear and vajazzaling to listen to talk about abstinence.
But with the recession giving everyone more time for reflection and the recent spate of overt sexual displays (twerking anyone?) and aggression towards women on Twitter and Facebook, Pure In Heart may now find a more receptive audience.
We are seeing rising numbers of teenage pregnancies, an increase in the number of abortions, an escalation of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and increasing levels of anxiety and depression amongst the young. Perhaps it's time they did reflect on their sexuality and where, how and when they want to use it.
Can sex education in schools help? Can it keep up as it tries to compete with the barrage of sexual imagery children are now exposed to?
Teenagers are being taught safe sex and the mechanics of sex in school. Perhaps schools should focus sex education on self-worth, having choices and saying no until you feel comfortable?
I remember sex education in my school consisted of 'just say no'. When a girl put her hand up and asked, 'what if you decide to say yes?' she was dragged out of the room and sent home in disgrace.
The efforts that Pure In Heart and other groups like them are making to show young people that they have the option to say no and respect their bodies is all very well, but it leans too far in one direction. The group's teachings are too conservative to reach most teenagers and they completely fail when it comes to homosexuality.
Fr Alan O'Sullivan, the spiritual director of Pure In Heart, admits that answering the questions of homosexuals is a 'thorny issue'. He says: "We are presenting sexuality within a Catholic framework, that it's about a man and a woman and a heterosexual relationship."
Perhaps we should look to the Dutch. I realise this may seem like a strange option. The Dutch appear to be obsessed with sex. You only have to look at their capital, Amsterdam, where sex is readily available everywhere to see that they're mad for it.
But they must be doing something right because Holland has the lowest rate of teenage pregnancy in Europe and some of the lowest abortion and STD rates.
So how do they do it? In Holland, sex education starts with students as young as five. The Dutch believe that information is the key to giving children the tools to deal with the choices they will have to make later. And while Dutch children are taught about sex from a young age, they opt to have sex at a later age than most of their European counterparts.
I'm not sure parents around Ireland would be thrilled about their darlings starting sex education at the tender age of five, but surely a happy medium would work.
Telling young people to 'just say no' is unrealistic. Teaching them the biology of sex is useful but doesn't help with the emotions involved. What we need is for our young people to learn how to respect themselves and trust their own judgment. To only do things when it feels right to them.
This applies to all aspects of their lives. It's the same with alcohol or drugs or going out in mini-skirts that show off their underwear. All we want is for our teenagers to be strong enough and brave enough to say no when they don't want to do something.
We've all been there. We've been that awkward, gangly teenager who just wants to fit in. We've all been swayed by peer pressure at some point in our lives. We can't expect our teens to say no to everything, we just need to hope that if they have enough self-belief, they'll say no to the important things.