"Sweet sixteen and never been kissed." These words used to be a phrase of endearment for teenage girls. Today, we don't really even hear the phrase. Part of the reason is that many girls have already been kissed by their sixteenth birthday. The other reason is that, for some girls who haven't, it is more of an embarrassment than an endearment. Sex is everywhere. Girls are overexposed, overstimulated, and tragically underestimated in this area.
The media portrays sex as the ultimate fulfillment of life for a teenager. Unfortunately, girls and boys are both exposed to this kind of media. Boys are led to believe that all girls would choose to be sexually active as teenagers if given the choice. These boys can be very persuasive, and are particularly so in the arena of sex. And girls can be very confused.
Without a doubt, girls' hormones add to this confusion. But while boys see sex as the end, girls see sex as the means. Like most elements of a girl's world, sex is relational. It is about intimacy. And there are biological reasons for this difference.
The primary hormones that exert control over a girl's brain are estrogen, progesterone, and prolactin. Michael Gurian gives a detailed, insightful account of the science behind brain development in his book, The Wonder of Girls. This is our summary:
J Estrogen is the nesting hormone. It helps a girl/woman feel content with herself, her relationships, and her life.
J Progesterone is the reassurance hormone. It creates more of a need for connection and a need for that connection to be reinforced — often.
J Prolactin is the inviting hormone. Girls have 60 percent more of this hormone than boys. Basically, this hormone creates tear glands. It causes girls to cry, engendering empathy and inviting deeper connection.
Boys' brains, on the other hand, are exerting much higher levels of testosterone. Testosterone leads to independence and aggression and has much to do with the sexual drive of boys. Girls have some degree of testosterone, and boys have some degree of the predominant female hormones. But biologically, girls are wired to crave intimacy.
This combination can create large-scale, destructive confusion for all parties involved. A young woman I (Melissa) counsel recently told me she had sex for the first time. Angie was seventeen and was devastated. She had been told her entire life that sex was a sacred act that took place only in the context of marriage, but it had never made sense to her—until now.
"I wish someone had really told me why not to have sex. I know that God says not to, but I didn't really know why. It wasn't just to keep me from something fun—which is really what I thought. It was to protect me. It hurts so much now that Chad is gone. I knew he wasn't someone I needed to be with. But it is still so painful. I can't get over him. And now I know why."
Sex was relational for Angie, and it engaged her heart in a way that God reserved for marriage—for her protection. So how do we help girls like Angie? How do we give boundaries without them being a simplified list of dos and don'ts?
First, we can expose girls to something different. As a parent, you can teach your daughter the emotional realities of sex, but she needs to hear it from other voices, as well. She needs adults in her life, besides you, whom she respects and will speak these kinds of truths. She also needs friends who will encourage her and hold her accountable.
Girls need as many strong, honest voices as they can have. They need us to acknowledge the pressures and the allure of sex. They need to be able to speak to us openly about these things — knowing we will not "freak out." And they need us to speak truth to them—after we have heard and understood their perspective. They need our trust, our understanding, and our boundaries.
We talked to a young woman recently who said how helpful her youth group was in this area. She had a young woman who was discipling her who spoke with her group directly about sex. She said she always wanted to know "How far is too far?" (a question we hear a lot, by the way). The youth leaders were not afraid to answer that question.
"They told us anything beyond kissing was too far. My parents actually had a rule that I wasn't allowed to lay down on the couch with a boy. But I needed someone else telling me that too. I didn't always keep to that rule, but it helped to have one. I wanted to know when I was supposed to stop, and I wanted to know at what point I needed to ask forgiveness."
This honest young woman was glad for the boundaries in place both from her parents and her youth leaders. Because of the brain development of these autonomous girls, they are finally able to move out of narcissism enough to accept our guidance and attempt to handle these confusing situations.
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