FORT WORTH, Texas – A few months ago I heard an eye-opening presentation by Dr. Joe McIlhaney, a board-certified obstetrician and gynecologist, who came to speak to our college students at Southwestern about what he has observed over his lengthy career caring for girls and women. His conclusion?
Western culture has stopped protecting its girls.
He argues that we have abandoned our protective role for young women, especially in regards to guiding them in male-female relations, romance, love, sex, marriage, etc. Young women are made to grow up much too quickly – clothing stores are advertising push-up bra bathing suits to seven- to nine-year-olds, 12-year-olds can buy shorts with “sexy” written across the back of them and Hollywood programs geared to teens and young adults often glamorize the idea of young women who are sexually aggressive and loose. Have we lost our minds?
It was heartbreaking to hear from Dr. McIlhaney about the impact, both physically and emotionally, that America’s sexual culture is having on young women. The back cover of Dr. McIlhaney’s book “Girls Uncovered” states, “Our daughters live in a culture that sees sex as both a sacred right to be exercised with anyone, at any time, and also as ‘no big deal.’ This culture of ‘hooking up’ among teens and young adults is no longer a secret.” And, it is having disastrous and long-term effects on our young women.
So the question for those of us involved in ministry to young women and parents of girls and young women: How can we help our young women live holy lives in a “hook-up” culture?
The end of James 1:27 exhorts us to keep ourselves “unstained by the world” and 1 Peter 1:16 says we should “be holy” as God is holy. How can we encourage this in our young women, knowing full well that they are bombarded daily with messages that do anything but encourage holiness?
Parents: Talk to your students
Studies show that parents still have the number one influence over their children’s thoughts about sexual activity. One young women quoted in McIlhaney’s book said that her ideas come “probably mostly from my parents and seeing the way my dad treats my mom.” This may come as a shock to you parents who get eye-rolls and long sighs when you try to offer instruction, but your children and teens are listening to you. They are watching what you do.
Sex and relationships are uncomfortable and difficult topics, but parents, you cannot relegate your role as your children’s primary teacher to culture. I remember being on a trip with more than 300 students several years ago, and we had one beautiful young woman who struggled to dress according to the dress code for the trip. Her mom was also on the trip and also dressed inappropriately, and the mom actually argued with the staff about the guidelines we had set. We weren’t trying to be legalistic by setting a dress code – we were just trying to help encourage modesty. The mom was modeling immodesty before her daughter instead of encouraging modesty that is appropriate for those who profess God (1 Timothy 2:9-10).
Be careful little eyes what you see
I was in the airport in early July waiting to catch a flight, and I was scrolling through the newsfeed on my Facebook page. The movie “Magic Mike” must have been coming out that day because several girls were posting about how excited they were to see the movie. It made me really sad because the movie is about male strippers, and I can’t imagine that it will encourage pure thoughts. The psalmist said “I will not set before my eyes anything that is worthless” (Psalm 101:3), and Job said “I have made a covenant with my eyes” that he would not look upon a girl with lust (Job 31:1a).
What we see impacts what we think about and how we think about things. I believe one of the reasons we have become such a sex-saturated culture is that we have become numb over time to the images we see in movies, media and TV. A high school young woman that I worked with a few years ago told me that it was hard not to have sex with her boyfriend because he kept telling her “everyone was doing it” and that all the shows that she watched showed teenagers having sex. She just felt so much pressure and felt alone in her stand. We can’t and shouldn’t shut our students away from the world, but we must help them set standards in what they put before their eyes.
Set appropriate standards for relationships
I get the question several times a year about “how far is too far” to go in a relationship. I understand it, but it is really the wrong question because it essentially asks how close we can get to the line without crossing it. Instead, we need to ask things like: How can I encourage holiness in my dating relationship or how can I protect my boyfriend’s purity so that, if he is not my future husband, I would not be ashamed to meet his wife one day in the future? Song of Solomon 8:4 pleads with the daughters of Jerusalem that they not “stir up or awaken love until it pleases.” That is my plea for our young women as well.
Dr. Joe McIlhaney has a chapter in “Girls Uncovered” that discusses the significant influence physical (holding hands, kissing, hugging) and sexual activities can have in bonding a couple emotionally. This should not be a surprise because God designed us this way! Oxytocin, a hormone that is released in a new mother when she breastfeeds to help her bond to her new baby, is also released when a girl or women “has close physical contact with a man,” even hugging and holding hands. This hormone helps in bonding and can cause a young woman to trust another person. You can see, then, how a teenage girl’s judgment can be clouded when it comes to upholding physical boundaries with her boyfriend. When a relationship gets physical, many girls make compromises they never thought they would make.
Living holy lives in a hook-up culture is difficult, but it’s not impossible!
Help your daughters and the young women you work with see that God has a beautiful plan for sexuality and a setting for it to be expressed – within the boundaries of marriage.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Candi Finch serves as assistant professor of theology in women’s studies at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. This column first appeared at BiblicalWoman.org, a blog of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.)