By Pamela Stenzel,
Every year I travel throughout the United States and speak with millions of teenagers. Meeting them has taught me a great deal. Before I began organizing speaking tours with young people, I worked for nine years in a family crisis center for pregnant women in Chicago and Minneapolis.
Every day for nine years I had girls coming to me, saying, “I didn’t know. No one told me. If I had had a choice, I would have chosen differently. Why didn’t someone tell me this would be the outcome of my decision.” Seeing these young women at the crisis center gave me cause to think. What would I have told them to help them make a better decision?
Sex is part of God’s plan
God created sex. He wanted sexual intercourse to be a wonderful thing. But He also set limits on it. Within these limits sex is a wonderful thing, but outside of them, it wreaks great harm. What are these limits? In a word: marriage. God created sex for a permanent relationship between a man and a woman. If you practice sex in any way outside a sacramental marital union, you will have to pay the price. No one has ever broken a commandment of God or raised his fist at Him without paying for it, be it emotionally or physically.
If everyone kept God’s commandments, we would not have so many problems. Think of being in a relationship in which you could trust everything that came out of a person’s mouth, without fear of being lied to. Think of a world in which women were not raped, marriages did not fall apart, and children were not abandoned or abused. There’s no such world – you say. Yet such a world does exist. It is called the Kingdom of God. Why do I love God’s commandments? Because they are so clear and uncomplicated. Even the dumbest person can understand them. Maybe one day you will be able to say many things to God, but you will never be able to say, “Lord, I didn’t know. If your commandments had been clearer, I would have understood, but as it is…”
Pregnancy is not a disease
What are teenage girls most afraid of when they decide to have sex? Getting pregnant. But I have news for you. Pregnancy is not a disease. You can survive a pregnancy. I have been pregnant three times. True, I have put on a few pounds since, but I am still alive.
For nine years I worked in a situation where I had to inform girls that their pregnancy test results were positive. These girls would want a quick and painless way out of their predicament. I would tell them what options they had. Bad, worse, and worst. They had already ruined the good option – the one that existed before they decided to sleep with their boyfriend. Every decision they made now had unpleasant consequences. The worst of these – abortion – would kill a defenseless child and leave a lasting trail of pain. When I was a professional counselor, hundreds of women came to see me five, ten, or fifteen years after their abortion, because they all carried a great pain in their heart. I helped girls who had fallen into bulimia, depression, and anorexia as a result of that decision which they could not undo. Do not believe people who say that abortion is a safe, legal and straightforward solution to the problem.
If someone you know or care about finds herself dealing with an unwanted pregnancy, please go to her assistance. Any local church would put you in touch with a counseling center. All calls would be kept strictly confidential. People do survive pregnancies. There are many people willing to walk you through the entire time. One of the best solutions is to put up the child for adoption. For a mother to give a new home and family to the child she has carried under her heart for nine months requires great love and a deep sense of responsibility.
Sexually Transmitted Diseases
Terrified-looking girls constantly came to my crisis center for a pregnancy test. On hearing that the results were negative, they would breathe a big sigh of relief. Normally, they wanted to get up and leave right away, but I would keep them longer and ask them if they had been tested for AIDS, syphilis, granuloma, trichomonas, gonorrhea, soft chancre, hepatitis A,B,C,D or E, urethral inflammation, pubic pediculosis, scabies, etc. “Me?” was their typical response. “Why should I be infected with one of these diseases.” The fact is that teenagers are four times as likely to contract a sexually transmitted disease as to become pregnant! These young women were afraid that they might be pregnant, but they did not consider that they might be infected by one or more of these diseases (on the average, they are infected by at least two or three). But women today are not worried about catching a disease; they are afraid of getting pregnant. At every school I visit I find at least one teenage girl who will admit that her mom has advised her to use the Pill. What does the Pill protect her from? From getting pregnant. Yes, but she is four times more likely to contract a sexually transmitted disease, which can lead to infertility, and even death. AIDS is not the only disease. It isn’t the only deadly disease either. Yet you constantly meet girls who think that if they do not get pregnant, or contract AIDS, they have nothing to worry about. Right now, there are over thirty different sexually transmitted diseases. About ten of these are incurable.
So, my boy, it must really be nice when, after all the girls you’ve slept with, you want to propose to a girl. You get down on your knee and, after handing your beloved the diamond ring, you say, “Marry me.” And then you add, “You know I have granuloma. You’ll also catch it, and then the two of us will be treated for it for the rest of our lives. The disease may lead to all kinds of complications, even death, but marry me anyway….”
Safe sex is sex with a person who either has never had a previous sexual partner or has abstained from sexual relations for a period of three years and then undergone tests that indicate that he is free of any venereal disease. Sexual abstinence is one’s only guarantee of not becoming infected.
I have traveled throughout the States and been to countless schools around the world. In every school I have noticed young men with character: men who care about women, who will tell you that they love you, that you are important to them, and that they are capable of living chaste lives and not willing to subject you to their momentary sexual needs. Such men say, “I would never ask you, or try to persuade you, or force you to sleep with me. I care too much about you for that.” Girls, there are such men! But unfortunately there are also those who do not care. There are those who say, “If you don’t do it with me, then some other girl will.”
After one of my speaking engagements, a fair-haired, fourteen-year-old came up to me. Her boyfriend had infected her with the HIV virus. “How could he have done this to me? – she cried. “He told me he loved me.” Is that what they call love now? Sex is love? Love is sex? Did he really love her? She needed someone to accept her, to tell her that she was beautiful and meant so much to him. And, in order to hear this, she put her life on the line – with lethal consequences. She overstepped the limits. She thought that if she gave herself to him, he would love her. Instead he used and abused her. Real love is respect. Many teenagers ask me how you can recognize love. There is only one way. Set limits. You can go this far and not a step farther! People tell me this is impossible. But it is possible! Girls, if you want to be respected, you must insist on this.
Before getting married, I didn’t think married people had to struggle with temptation any more. I thought that marriage was one long and happy romance and that there would be no woman more attractive than I, even after I was fifty. Yet many of us have experienced betrayal and infidelity. Marriage means dedication, sacrifice and working hard on oneself. Teenagers often ask me what they have to do in order not to yield to temptation. We can do this only when we are united with Christ. It is the sacraments that give us the strength and power we need to live an upright and honest life.
At one school, a boy approached me after my talk and told me that I had given him a terrible fright. “I want you to know” he told me, “that I’m graduating this year and that I have been going out for several years with this beautiful and clever girl that I intend to marry.” He went on to say that one of the reasons they were together was that she had told him she wanted to stay pure for marriage. The boy confessed to me that early last fall, just before the start of the school year, he had met another girl who had thrown herself at him. He regretted the occurrence and would do anything for it not to have happened. Now he was afraid I was telling him to inform his girlfriend about it. He was right! I asked him to picture the following situation. He had been married for seven years and had just completed an exhausting business trip. He entered a restaurant, sat down and, after ordering his meal, took out a book and began reading it. Suddenly, without warning, a woman walked into the restaurant and threw herself at him. Well? Would he call up his wife the next day and tell her about it? Would he tell her the woman had thrown herself at him? Boys! The honesty, integrity, and respect that you show every girl you go out with are of enormous significance. The same applies to you, girls. Do not think that some kind of magic takes over after you get married.
You have a choice
I am not asking if you have been sexually active. What is important is what you decide as of this moment and how you will behave in the future. God loves you and wants the best for you. He has given you the commandments and set limits for your benefit, since He doesn’t want you to suffer. He sent His Son to redeem you of your sins. Yet He knows there are people who will have their own way. Today, then, you have a choice. You can say sorry to God for the evil you have done, ask for His forgiveness, and promise to make amends. The Sacrament of Penance is not about saying, “I feel bad that I did myself and someone else harm.” It is about making a deep admission of fault, executing a 180-degree turn, and striking out in the opposite direction. Confession is not about saying, “Forgive me today, and tomorrow it’ll be business as usual’.”
So, you have a clear choice. You can reconcile yourself with God and change your life, or you can shake your fist at the Creator and tell Him that you have no need of His commandments, and then continue down the road that ends in death.
Not long ago I was talking with a fifteen-year-old girl who told me she was a “recycled virgin.” After losing her virginity, she asked for God’s forgiveness and made a promise that from now on she would remain pure for marriage. She also knew she would have to confess this to her future husband. But then, she would also be able to tell him that she had been waiting for him for three, five, or seven years, and that she had kept her promise and persevered. Now he could trust her.
I turn now to those of you who have decided to remain chaste for marriage. This decision can only be good for you. You have in you something special and precious. It will lead you to marriage without fear and pain. But it will not be easy. Others will laugh at you and tell you “everyone’s doing it.” Remember that God loves you and wants the best for you. Neither I nor anyone else can make this decision for you. All I want you to do is think and realize that you deserve what is best – that is, respect. With all my heart I want you, when faced with a choice between life and death, to chose life – life for yourselves, for your children, and for future generations. God Bless!
Pamela Stenzel; adapted by Maria Szczepaniak from the video entitled “Sex has a Price Tag."
The above article was published with permission from Miłujcie się! in November 2010