Things can get pretty tense when parents and teen-agers talk about premarital sex.
No matter how bad it gets, some questions must be asked. But these days it isn't enough for adults to grill children. Something a bit more risky and unnerving needs to happen first, according to philosopher J. Budziszewski. Children may need to ask their parents some questions.
Here's one: "Mom, did you shack up with dad or anybody else before you got married?" Or how about this one: "Dad, how many girls did you 'hook up' with before you met mom?"
Parents who joined the sexual revolution often have some explaining to do. Absolute candor may not be the answer, but neither is silence. This is especially true for parents, educators and clergy who say that they want to defend centuries of Judeo-Christian teachings that sex outside of marriage is sin and a threat to spiritual and emotional wholeness. These adults may, literally, need to confess their sins and seek forgiveness.
"It's always tough to repent. I think a lot of adults are silent because they know they made their own mistakes in the past," said Budziszewski, who teaches at the University of Texas. He also writes about moral dilemmas in modern college life for www.Boundless.org under the byline of Prof. M.E. Theophilus."
"So parents are out there saying, 'How can I tell my child to abstain from sex before marriage when I know that I didn't? How do I answer their questions?' "
Some adults lie. Others choose silence. Budziszewski believes it would be more compassionate for them to say: "Look, I made mistakes and I have suffered the consequences. I know what I am talking about. Please, don't follow me there."
When adults are silent, children draw their own conclusions. It's hard for young people to figure out the rules when their parents and mentors have lots of motivation not to get too specific in discussions of sexual ethics. It's easy for the big picture to get blurred.
For example, a recent survey of college women commission by the Independent Women's Forum found that 83 percent said, "Being married is very important to me" and 63 percent expected to meet their mate during their years on campus. Yet 90 percent of those interviewed said that a sexual trend called "hooking up" was common at their schools and 40 percent said they had experienced it. Most defined "hooking up" as when a "girl and guy get together for a sexual encounter and don't necessarily expect anything further."
The ends and the means simply don't add up, said Budziszewski. Millions of young people say they want to find partners for traditional, faithful, committed marriages. Yet they appear to be making sexual choices shaped by hormones and confused emotions. This didn't work for the Baby Boomers and now it isn't working for their children.
The study, "Hooking Up, Hanging Out and Hoping for Mr. Right, found that many young women feel abused and pressured, living on campuses where there may be twice as many females as males or odds that are even worse. They have been told to seek romance, but not to pressure guys for commitments, to take responsibility for their own decisions, but not to judge the predatory acts of others.
Meanwhile, the statistics roll in about date rape, eating disorders, depression and divorce.
"Their culture has told them -- in so many ways -- that they need to compete for guys," said Budziszewski. "That's a losing strategy. ... You don't build trust with a guy by sleeping with him. You don't build a relationship that will last for a lifetime, by sleeping with a guy. You don't escape the sins of your parents, by sleeping with a guy."
Many parents, clergy and religious educators simply do not want to talk about it. But if they will not address these issues, who will?
"People in my generation," he said, "are going to have to make a decision about what they did in the past, if they want to talk honestly to their children in the present. At some point, they need to ask this question: 'Do I love my children enough to tell them the truth?' "