Joe Bob's America: Hey mom I'm abstinent

By JOE BOB BRIGGS  |  Jan. 3, 2003 at 6:02 PM
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NEW YORK, Jan. 3 (UPI) -- Teenagers Swear Off Sex!

"No Nookie For Us!"

Virginal and Proud!

Upstanding American Youth Triumph Over Perverse Advertising


Why am I not buying this? I'll tell you why. I first saw this story in The New York Times in the early 1980s. "A new generation of teens are deciding to delay sex until marriage ... blah blah blah." And then I saw it four years after that, and four years after that, and so on until the big Newsweek cover story in December called "Choosing Virginity."

If you got all your information about the sexual habits of teenagers from the mainstream middlebrow press over the last 20 years, you'd be convinced we're a nation of eunuchs and ice queens who reproduce through osmosis. The Chaste and Proud Youth story has become a journalistic evergreen, just like other staples such as The Last One-Room Schoolhouse and America's New Breed of Businessman: No Button-Down Collars for Us.

So my question is: If we have one of these "new virgin" stories every four or five years, with youth reacting AGAINST the prevailing trends, why don't they alternate with stories announcing Sex-Crazed Teenagers Are Fornicating Like Energizer Bunnies? In other words, if they're CHANGING their behavior, how come the media are silent when the behavior changes back to good old-fashioned illicit lust?

But listen to this. You almost need a trumpet fanfare to back up the steroided prose of Newsweek. "Rejecting the get-down-make-love ethos of their parents' generation," write Lorraine Ali and Julie Scelfo, "this wave of young adults represents a new counterculture, one clearly at odds with the mainstream media and their routine use of sex to boost ratings and peddle product."

Wow! Have there ever been more loaded words in a single sentence? Let's break that down:

1. Exactly which "get-down-make-love" generation would that be? A kid who's 16 years old today could have parents who turned 21 in 1987. That would be basically your hair-band generation (but then there were those pesky "new virgin" articles even then). Or perhaps the 16-year-old would have slightly older parents, who turned 21 in 1977. That would be your "Saturday Night Fever" generation. Seems kind of quaint at this point, doesn't it? If the parents had waited until age 41 to give birth -- and it does happen quite a bit these days -- then Mom and Dad would have come of age in 1967. Now THERE you have a "get-down-make-love" generation, but somehow I don't think aging hippies -- who would now be 57 -- are necessarily telling their teens to get high and make love.

2. It's a "counterculture"? If it's a counterculture, then it's a minority. And if it's a true American counterculture, it's a full-scale rebellion against the older generation. In all the anecdotal stories related by Newsweek, these virginal kids are so close to their parents it gets to be a little cloying. To appropriate the name counterculture -- used by the Sinclair Lewis generation of the roaring 1920s, the reds of the '30s, the beats of the '50s, the hippies of the '60s, the punks of the '70s -- is to essentially say that there IS no counterculture today. One thing all those previous countercultures had is radically new poetry and music. Are we about to be treated to some freeform verse on the Zen-like nirvana of perfect sexual self-control? Let's hope not.

3. And then there's the old "routine use of sex" by the media to sell Sony Walkmans and sweaters from the Gap. This is so vague as to be almost unanswerable, but it IS true that all previous American counterculture movements rejected Madison Avenue in one form or another. Unfortunately, the photos in Newsweek give the lie to this claim. Looks like these particular high school students have purchased everything they own at the mall, which is, of course, the principal machine that runs on the engine of advertising. If the "sex-drenched media" thesis has any validity, it seems to be doing a pretty good job of turning THESE people into bourgeois consumers who have their Victorian values intact.

Listen up, people. There is no such thing as a "new" teenager. The hormones that pumped through the veins of dissolute aristocrats in 1912 are at the SAME level today when they happen to be found in the bloodstream of suburban-dwelling Nebraskans.

There's no time in human history when a 17-year-old boy has decided, "Oh well, I guess sex is overrated." In fact, there's some evidence that, the more you preach against it, the more the hormonal indicator tends to fly off the scale.

For those biblical scholars out there -- since many of these abstinence movements are church-based -- I'm referring to St. Paul's observation in the book of Romans that anything we're consciously against, we're subconsciously subject to.

Even the statistics quoted by Newsweek aren't particularly compelling. At the outset of the article the authors claim that the number of high school students claiming to have never had sex rose 10 percent between 1991 and 2001. You have to go back into the body of the report to find the actual numbers: 46 percent up to 54 percent. Check my math here. No, check THEIR math here. And by the way, this one survey carried out by the Centers for Disease Control is the sole scientific evidence in the entire issue.

How to explain this 8 -- not 10 -- percent jump? Easy. For the first time in recent history, it became cool to claim you were a virgin. If you entered college in the '70s, you would have been humiliated to tell anyone you were a virgin. Today they even have seminars and conventions where people take a public "abstinence pledge" and announce their virginity on T-shirts -- after they've been shown one of those old venereal disease films, of course, with the graphic photos of disease-ridden nude bodies.

Fifty years ago you had to buy a furtive ticket to "Mom and Dad" to see these syphilis-and-gonorrhea grossout classics, but today they're long-running features at the local Baptist church.

All of this ties in, of course, with our president's Don-

Quixote-like fixation on teen morals, in the form of doling out funds to groups that preach abstinence. In order to get those funds, you have to teach that "sexual activity outside the context of marriage is likely to have harmful psychological and physical effects" and "a mutually faithful monogamous relationship in the context of marriage is the expected standard of human sexual activity."

The "expected standard"? There's an "expected standard" for sex? Expected by, of course, THE STATE! There may be a more Soviet sentence written by an American bureaucrat, but I've never seen it.

And furthermore, if you endorse condom use, you get ZIP federal money. It should be called the Restrain-Yourself-Or-Die-Trying theory of teen sex.

If I had a 16-year-old son who claimed he didn't want sex, I'd probably take him to the Johns Hopkins Gender Clinic to get checked out. But just in case there are a few moms and dads who are genuinely clueless out there, let me point something out about teenagers:

They'll usually say what you want them to say. When two of them both want sex -- even if they've taken the pledge - they've eventually going to do something very intimate together, whether you call it sex or not.

Please, people, let's just get a condom into the general vicinity of that moment in time.

I'm surprised I have to explain these things.

(Joe Bob Briggs writes a number of columns for United Press International and may be contacted at or through his Web site at Snail mail: P.O. Box 2002, Dallas, Texas 75221.)

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