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Revolutionary Studies?

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It is always enjoyable to me when I see secular experts stumble across something they think is revolutionary, yet it is merely something that Christians have known and believed for years.

Associated Press writer Samantha Critchell recently reported on a pair of recent studies which conclude that children, and girls in particular, are greatly influenced by their parents, and especially their fathers, in their attitudes towards sexuality. The first study seems to indicate that sexuality is a topic children should slowly grow accustomed to, rather than being a topic that is off-bounds until they are teenagers.

“If adolescent girls perceive their parents’ disapproval of teenage sex, she is less likely to have a sexually transmitted disease six years later, according to the study published in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine. Dr. Carol Ford, an associate professor at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine, lead researcher of the 2005 study, says the findings indicate that parents should make their view on sex clear to their children.” This study concluded that parents should discuss sexuality with their children, not making the topic secret or forbidden, but simply discussing it naturally as it appears in conversation. “[I]t seems the earlier that parents start talking about sex, the older that children are when they lose their virginity…’Even if parents aren’t talking about sex, kids are hearing about it, so it’s best for parents to find a way to discuss it, too. Talk about what’s on TV — and indicate whether you think it’s acceptable or unacceptable behavior. What you say will vary depending on the kid, the family’s values.’” Ford goes on to say that waiting until a child is an adolescent and then suddenly broaching the topic of sexuality is less effective than simply incorporating the topic into every day conversation. A parent need not be explicit about the subject, but he also does not need to hide the topic. “Ford recommends simply keeping sex as part of parents’ vocabulary, not harping on it but not shying away from opportunities to let their thoughts be known. Also, consider your own children’s ability to comprehend what you’re about to say, she says.” She goes on to say that “The ‘don’t-have-sex-until-you’re-married’ edict might carry a clearer message, but it might not have as much weight as a series of conversations about why parents believe that and why they want it for their children.”

This is the attitude I have witnessed time and again within Christian homes. It is the attitude that my parents adopted. They discussed sexuality, though not explicitly. As we grew older we were introduced to the topic slowly and incrementally until we were mature enough to learn the full story. Of course in Christian homes children will naturally be introduced to certain topics of sexuality simply by being taught from the Bible. They will learn about being fruitful and multiplying. They will learn, at least to some extent, what a virgin is. A trip through the Old Testament will discuss laws of hygiene and any number of stories dealing either subtly or frankly with sexuality.

So it seems to me that this first study says nothing more than the obvious: parents should carefully, but lovingly and consistently, introduce topics of sexuality from their children.

A second study published by the Journal of Family Issues and spearheaded by Mark Regnerus, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Texas at Austin, found that girls with close relationships with their fathers tended to put off having sex. This study was an attempt to gauge the effect of religion in sexual decision making. It turned out religion didn’t have much of an impact, but when examining adolescents who live in intact, two-parent families, Regnerus did find that a strong father-daughter bond played a significant role. “For girls, my best assessment of why fathers are so important is that teenagers of all sorts are ‘connectional beings.’ As adolescent girls age, they move from a relationship with their fathers to relationships with boys or young men. In the absence of a good quality relationship with their father, the shift happens earlier…It’s not that girls are hellbent on having sex; it’s more about the transfer of relationships with men. Girls with a healthy relationship with dad don’t need to look for male love elsewhere.”

That is a sobering thought for fathers, is it not? This study has concluded that fathers hold a great deal of influence over the circumstances through which their daughters become sexually active. Even more sobering, it shows that many girls may not become sexually active so much out of sexual desire but out of a desire for a “connectional” relationship with a man. Unfortunately, such a relationship outside of the God-ordained father-daugther relationship will usually become sexual, even if it is not a marriage relationship. And so it stands to reason that fathers must maintain close relationships with their daughters.

“It’s possible dad also put the kibosh on dating, and because the girl values his opinion, she delays a romantic relationship, which usually means delaying sex,” Regenerus concluded. As I read this study I was reminded of a chapter Douglas Wilson contributed to the book 5 Paths to the Love of Your Life, edited by Alex Chediak. Wilson, reflecting on a father’s role in the life of a daughter who is becoming interested in a relationship with another man, writes:

[M]any parents make the mistake of neglecting their children over the course of many years and then, just as their daughter comes to the age when young men begin coming around, her father suddenly develops very strong and rigid views on how the young man has to “get through him first.” In terms of authority on paper, this is quite true and is right at the center of the courtship model [which Wilson espouses]. A young suitor should approach a young woman’s father. But if the father in this situation has been abdicating for years, he cannot suddenly conjure up moral authority. When counselling fathers in this kind of situation, I have explained to them that whether they have the right to sign a check in their checkbook and whether they have any money in the account are two entirely seperate questions. A father might say that he should be able to tell this suitor no. This is right–he should be able to. But he should have thought of that fifteen years earlier when he was busy building fundamental distrust in his daughter.

There is little difference between Wilson’s exhortation, built upon biblical principles, and Regenerus’ conclusions, based simply upon a sociology and statistics. So what we see is that fathers must invest themselves in their daughters while the girls are still young. A father who has a close, meaningful relationship with his daughter will protect her from seeking alternative male companionship before she is adequately mature. And at the same time, parents can speak discreetly about sexuality in the presence of their children and so prepare them to face the issues they will encounter later in life.

Did we really need sociological studies to tell us these things?

You can read the AP report here.

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