I’m not an anthropologist, but something peaked my curiosity today.  There are a three factors that influence Christian adolescent developments.

  1. puberty is starting earlier (sometimes as young as 8 years old)
  2. adolescence as a life stage is being extended (sometimes as old as 30)
  3. generally speaking, evangelical churches teach no sex before marriage

However, some studies show that sexual behaviour amongst Christian teens may not be that much different from their secular counterparts.  There’s an adage that some youth feel it’s ok for them to sleep with their girlfriend the night before leading worship in church the next morning.  Sexual behaviour, in the eyes of many teens, is acceptable “as long as you love the other person” (and sometimes that’s not even a qualifier).

At first glance, a part of me says, “Can’t you control yourself?  You just need more self-control.”  A thought dawned on me.  In Jesus’ time, there basically was no “adolesence”.  You were a child.  At 13 you went through your rite of passage and then you were basically considered an adult.  Guys learned the family trait and usually took over after a while.  Girls like Mary were married around age 12.  From that perspective, given that puberty would have started around 12-14 years old.  Guys were slightly older when they married.  So between when puberty began till one would have sex in the confines of marriage may have only been a few years.

Today, if puberty starts before a person hits jr. high and if one gets married on average 25 years or after, that’s 15+ years of being able to have sex, having those urges and being able to fulfill them (at least in traditional evangelical teachings) compared to maybe 5-7 years (or less) in the 1st century Jewish context.  No wonder some of them just ” have to have sex”.  I wonder if God intentionally designed us with the 1st century “biological clock”.  However, due to the invention of adolescence, the biochemical evolution of early puberty and the social constructs of later-aged marriages, I wonder if we have somehow skewed God’s original intention and created our own constructs that go against our biological “urges”.

In no way am I condoning the gift and joy of sex outside of marriage (beyond “religious” reasons).  However, maybe I can appreciate more the self-control needed to live with integrity as a young Christian teenager, and find ways to help them navigate through this prolonged life stage.