Girls by many measures are doing better in today’s world than boys, according to statistics related to academic achievement levels, college attendance rates, professional and career opportunities, or even crime/death rates. There is one notable exception, which Carol Liebau contends in her new book Prude: How the Sex-Obsessed Culture Damages Girls (and America Too!). She believes that the area of sex “is a minefield more challenging, difficult, and pressure-filled than ever before” for girls. She shares some very frank and brutally honest examples of sexual misconduct in our schools and society that she backs up with voluminous research. Here are some examples from the research cited in the book:
- Between 1943 and 1999, the age of first intercourse among those sampled, dropped from nineteen to fifteen for females. During that time period, the number of sexually active young women grew from 13 to 47 percent. As of 2005, 46% of high school girls surveyed had engaged in intercourse.
- Between 1969 and 1993 the percentage of female teens and young adults having oral sex went from 42 to 71 percent. More recent figures estimate that 54% of girls between the ages of 15 and 19 have engaged in oral sex.
- 12% of females approved of premarital sex in 1943, by 1999 73% did. 61% of girls aged 15-19 agreed or strongly agreed that it was all right for unmarried 18 year olds to have sex if they had strong affection for each other.
- “Hooking up” or “friends with benefits” – reportedly half of adolescents are having sex in a casual relationship or with someone who is “just a friend.” More than one third of sexually active teens have had sexual intercourse with someone who they were not dating.
- It is estimated that the average 12 year-old girl is exposed to about 280 sexy images in the course of a day. The Parent’s Television Council estimates that in reality based shows there are 3.9 instances of sexual content per hour with some shows nearing 7 scenes with sexual content.
- 77% of prime time shows include sexual content and the sexual content in general has doubled in less than a decade.
- Teens watching TV away from their families had a rate of intercourse 3-6 times higher than those who watched with their families.
- The age of children first viewing pornography has dropped due to the Internet. 90% of kids between 8 and 16 were exposed through online access.
Liebau points out that while there is more information available than ever, the most significant deficit is that the overwhelming majority of information on the Internet and in the media is presented without any moral, ethical, or religious context. She points out that in our postmodern culture there is no value judgment made – all answers are presented as equally valid. In line with the title of her book, she is concerned that the only answer, sexual restraint and premarital virginity, is portrayed by culture as “out of vogue” and “prudish”. Youth are encouraged to do “what is right for you.”
The author points out four key developments in our culture that have created a problematic culture of sex for girls:
- The elevation of self-expression over self-restraint: feeling justified in indulging impulses without restraint.
- The privatization of religion and sexual morality: “…the marginalization of religious faith in public debate and the identification of chastity as nothing but a religious issue have one result: The pro-sex messages directed at young girls go largely unchallenged…rebuttal is limited to adverse health or economic consequences of giving too much too soon. And such arguments are woefully incomplete.”
- The rise of moral relativism and the death of shame: “…there’s no objective criterion…different ways and different truths…are entitled to equal respect…the primary evil becomes exercising judgment about the behavior of others.”
- The advent of the “cool mom”: Moms who want to be “buddies” give their children minimal or no supervision and treat them as little adults. Girls are left to decide by themselves what morals they will base their decisions upon because the mom has abdicated her role.
I appreciate that Liebau closes her book on a positive tone, noting that there are kids and parents who are doing the right things and pointing to a number of concrete programs that are making a difference. This book is a strong call to action and one that is helpful in framing the problem and encouraging good solutions and dialogue.
In our over-sexualized society, this issue needs to be a major focus in terms of our curriculum choices in our schools and our discussion topics with youth (and parents) in our churches. Our girls (and guys) deserve our strong stance and support so that they can be strengthened and encouraged to do the right things, letting the Bible and not the culture guide their actions.