Forbidden Fruit: Sex & Religion in the Lives of American Teenagers

For the new year, I planned on reading at least one book per month that deals with either parenting, family, or youth issues.  For January I have been reading a book by Mark Regnerus titled “Forbidden Fruit: Sex & Religion in the Lives of American Teenagers.” 

The author is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Texas at Austin.  Considering that he is a sociologist, the findings of his work is based upon extensive research that he has done, as well as others.  Some of the leading questions that he sought to answer are: How exactly does religion contribute to the formation of teenagers sexual values and actions?  What difference, if any, does religion make in adolescents sexual attitudes and behaviors?  Are abstinence pledges effective?  What does it mean to be “emotionally ready” for sex?  Who expresses regret about their sexual activity? 

By reading the front flap of the book, one can come away with the general findings of the author.  The answers to these questions are not only startling, but beneficial for us as parents to know how we can best influence the sexual values and actions of our children.  For instance, “religious involvement alone does not equal religious influence on sexual attitudes and behavior” (pg. 41).  Mark shows through research that many youth do in fact attend church activities; however, “such activities do not lead automatically to the attitudes and actions such religious organizations hope to propagate in their youth.  Something more is required for religion to make a more apparent different in the sexual lives of adolescents, and that something is elusive and defies easy description” (pg. 42).

Somethings are less shocking, such as the influence of peers who may encourage and positively affirm anothers sexual expression, even if he or she does not desire to do so. 

What I just shared is the tip of the iceberg. 

For those that are truly interested in knowing more of the specifics, then you will need to pick-up a copy of the book.  I warn you, if you are looking for a read that is light and entertaining, this is not the one for you.  Not that the author does a poor job writing and relating his findings, it’s that the book is contained with factual information and interviews and does not read like a novel, which is fine for it’s purpose. 

Before I share more on another time and day, I encourage parents and caregivers to communicate more than just, “Wait for marriage.”  I encourage you to open the lines of communication between you and your children, so that they feel safe and comfortable in coming to you and discussing these issues.  Also, purposefully instill sexual morals into the lives of your children, to the point of discussing uncomfortable topics, which of course are age appropriate.  By doing so, you will give them the ability to make right decisions when others and feelings tell them otherwise.  Moreover, be aware of who they are spending their time with, what websites they are going to, and their on-line accounts such as MySpace and Facebook.  Not only does others influence our children, but also what they watch and listen to does as well.  Do the television programs and music contain sexually explicit lyrics, images, and messages?  Does the programs and movies they watch encourage teenage sexuality and expression? 

With this last point, take into consideration High School Musical 2.  I did not see the entire movie, but from what I did see, the movie revolved around the romantic relationship of high school youth.  What type of message does this send to our children?  Am I being to conservative?  Maybe, but we have to be aware of what messages are children, as well as ourselves, are being inundated with.   

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