Raise the Bar, Don’t Lower the Standard

The decision for Brigham Young University to suspend one of their best players this month for having premarital sex generated a flurry of reactions. Some supported the decision, as I did, saying that BYU acted fairly and commendably because students who attend the school sign the honor code prohibiting the behavior. Others disparaged the move to dismiss the star player – he’s a college student, it was just sex, who cares?

The episode was a rare example of a moral standard being upheld in the often immoral world of college campuses, where sexuality is unfettered and abstinence until marriage is scorned.

The university’s honor code sets a high bar for what it believes is best for its students mentally, physically and emotionally. It also sends a clear message that delaying sex for marriage is achievable.

Premarital SexFor decades, our culture has witnessed the increased amount of sexual activity among teens and 20-somethings. But new findings from a government survey provide some hopeful results that show us that things can change.

According to new numbers from the National Survey of Family Growth, the percentage of 15-to-24-years-olds who have had sex has actually dropped. The data found that 29 percent of females and 27 percent of males in this age group reported no sexual activity, compared with 22 percent for both sexes in 2002. What does this mean? It means we don’t have to assume that negative social trends are inevitable. More specifically, it means more young people are making the decision to delay having sex, despite pressures to the contrary.

This is why setting high expectations is so important. If the message is “you’re going to have sex anyway,” then their behavior is likely to match that standard. But if the message is, “you have the power to control your behavior and make a wise, healthy decision,” the results can be different. Young people need to know that they are not the sum total of their physical impulses. One defining characteristic that distinguishes humans from animals is our ability to reason and control our desires. We can choose what we do and don’t do.

It’s good to know that, despite our sex-saturated culture, more people in their teens and early 20’s are choosing to go against the flow. And it is to their benefit. Delaying sex, and especially saving it for the committed bonds of marriage, pays off in so many ways. It helps avoid the negative consequences of unplanned pregnancy, abortion, sexually transmitted disease and the emotional damage from repeatedly severing intimate relationships.

The key is for them to hear that it’s possible to save sex for marriage and receive the encouragement to follow through. This is especially important for us parents to understand. It has been proven that caring, involved moms and dads can have a measurable influence on a teenager’s decision to delay sex.The more clearly we express a higher standard of sexual behavior to young people, the more likely they will be to wait.

BYU made a bold statement by upholding their honor code, despite losing a star player on their top-ranked team. Is it a standard every student will fulfill? No. But setting the bar high, instead of eliminating it altogether, is certain to encourage more young people to make the wiser choice for themselves and their future families.

Stephen Daniels works with the Georgia Family Council.

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