Written Directly to Girls
You are precious. There is no one else just like you. Your gifts, talents, and potential are worth celebrating. You are important not only to yourself and your family, but to the society we share and build together. Our society needs strong, healthy, and informed young women like you to succeed. However, it is not just society that has a stake in your health and well-being. You do, too! To achieve all of your goals and do great things, you know that you must take responsibility for your decisions and your future.
Your parents likely have been there to help you grow up. They want you to be happy and to reach your potential. If they have handed you this book, you know they care. They love you more than you can imagine and really do want what’s best for you, even if you don’t always understand or agree with where they’re coming from.
Throughout life, though, you will encounter a lot of other people, some who will be committed to your well-being, others not so much. Some would like to make your decisions for you, tell you how you should look, whom you should imitate, and what you should do.
But, as you have probably already have found out, many of these other people do not always have your best interests in mind. They certainly don’t bear the responsibility for how you turn out. If you fail, they may shrug their shoulders and move on, but you will be left with the consequences. This is especially true when it comes to sex.
So please keep several things in mind as you make decisions in this area:
Remember that sex is sexist.
When it comes to the negative consequences of sexual activity, girls easily get the worst of it. Most of the cancer from HPV occurs in women,1 and all of the long-term effects of pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), such as infertility and pelvic pain, occur in women. When a boy gets a girl pregnant, he doesn’t carry the baby for nine months—she does. And she is usually the one who takes care of the baby once it is born. Girls also seem to suffer more depression than boys do after sexual relationships are broken.2
These are just some of the ways that girls suffer more than boys from the bad outcomes of sex. There are many more risks than benefits to sexual activity until you are in a lifelong, faithful relationship (like marriage). Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and pregnancy, which are both quite common, can waylay your plans and lead to much unhappiness.
Don’t have sex with a guy just to make him happy. Your own goals, plans, and health should be your No. 1 priority.
Nor is abortion the walk in the park you may have heard. While some people think of it as an easy way out of a difficult situation, abortion brings many problems you may not have thought about, and it always kills a baby in the uterus. And again, it is only the woman who undergoes an abortion—not the man. He may pay for the abortion and even go to the clinic with you. But you will be the one who risks pain, bleeding, infection and possible injury to your internal organs, making it impossible to have children when you desire them.
Because you will have to deal with so many of the problems that can result from sex, you should have the most say in the matter. Don’t have sex with a guy just to make him happy. Your own goals, plans, and health should be your No. 1 priority.
Get accurate information.
You cannot make informed decisions about your health and happiness unless you know the real risks. Besides this book, your health care provider is another good source of information about the risks of sexual activity. But be sure to go to one who agrees with your decision to remain a virgin. A number of women in their mid-twenties (one a bank vice president) transferred their medical care to Joe because their previous doctors had actually made fun of them for still being virgins.
When one part of your brain is telling you to have sex, use a different part of your brain to make intelligent decisions about your future.
Understand that your brain can cause you to want to do things that are not necessarily good for you. That is just the way your brain hormones work. Being physical with a guy can give you a great feeling of excitement and can even cause you to want to have sex with him. It is normal to feel like this. But just because something is “normal” does not mean it is the best thing for you. So when one part of your brain is telling you to have sex, remember to use a different part of your brain to make intelligent decisions about your future.
Don’t worry—you are not agreeing to miss out on all the fun of sex for the rest of your life. Once you are married, you can experience all of the excitement of sex without jeopardizing your future. Remember that a lot of misinformation is being directed at teens and young adults. It can come from your friends, TV, magazines, and even, sometimes, your teachers. Many people fear that if they tell you how often condoms and contraceptives fail, you will be discouraged from using them (thus leaving you open to a higher risk of pregnancy). So, sometimes with the best of intentions, they don’t give you all the facts, leaving many teens and young adults with the mistaken impression that contraceptives provide foolproof protection from disease and pregnancy.
Put yourself in the driver’s seat and make decisions to ensure your health and happiness.
Research shows that girls often agree (against their own desires) to have sex just to make their partners happy.3, 4 Although thinking about others when making decisions is usually a good thing, this is one case when it is up to you to look out for your own health and interests first—to be a little selfish, in the best sense of the word.
Having sex before you are married exposes you to many risks—STIs, pregnancy, and psychological trauma. There is no good reason to ever take these risks! Let’s face it: Many girls agree to have sex with a guy because they do not want to lose him or because they think he needs the sexual release.5
Make decisions that put your own health and life goals first.
These are simply not good enough reasons to have sex! Someone who is worth your time and attention will not leave you just because you want to wait to have sex. He will not ask you to make him happy even if it makes you unhappy. He will not pressure you to take care of his sexual “needs,” which are not really needs at all, but just selfish desires. You need to make decisions that put your own health and life goals first.
Many girls have felt uncomfortable with how fast a guy is moving, but they are afraid (or embarrassed) to say so. If you are ever in this situation, tell him to stop right away. Your brain is giving you warning signals, and you need to listen to those signals and act on them quickly. Sometimes, a guy won’t stop even after a girl asks him to. This is rape, and a girl treated this way by a guy should report it to the police. As a matter of fact, between 15 percent and 20 percent of teens and college-age girls report that they have been raped at some point in their lives.6
Unfortunately, very few of these girls actually report the guys who force them into sexual activity, even though it is against the law for a guy to force a girl to have sex. That’s because the girls often blame themselves for letting the situation go too far.7 So let’s get this straight—no guy has the right to keep going once you have told him to stop. Ever. If you feel like a situation is heading in that direction, leave immediately. Or scream if you are unable to leave. And listen to what your brain is telling you—it is often right. But if you are raped—even so-called “date rape”—report it immediately.
Of course, it makes sense to avoid situations in which you will not be in control of the decision to have sex. Stay in public places. Don’t go to someone’s dorm room. Don’t use drugs and alcohol, which can slow your responses. Forced sex often happens to girls who have been drinking and who accompany a guy to a private place.8
Demand high standards (such as honesty and respect) in a mate.
Finding a good marriage partner is not easy. As a matter of fact, it can be a bumpy ride, with lots of ups and downs. But take time to figure out what you are really looking for in a partner—what is really important—and then stick to it. It’s true that building a life together can be difficult, and many marriages fail. But just because something is hard doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try. Sometimes the best things in life are hard, but they are worth the effort. Many studies indicate that marriage makes us healthier and happier,9 and the fact is, most girls in our society want to get married at some point.10 So spend some time thinking about what the “right guy” will look like for you.
Spend some time thinking about what the “right guy” will look like for you.
And please note that most girls not only want marriage but also kids,11 and marriage provides the safest place to raise kids.12, 13 (And keep in mind that cohabiting adults have more birth control failures than single or married people14 and thus are more likely to get pregnant, bringing kids into a less-than-ideal situation.) So figure out what qualities you would like in the father of your children and then choose someone with those qualities in mind.
Many girls today, however, don’t think they should even have a serious relationship or get married until they have graduated from college and become established in their chosen careers.15, 16 However, there are several reasons why this may not be the best decision. One is that this can be a very long path—for example, many doctors do not become established in their careers until they are well past thirty. Because such career-minded women want to interact with men but without the time commitment of a serious relationship, some of them agree to have hookups with friends and acquaintances.17 We are not exaggerating. Sex without commitment is even the premise of the popular 2011 film No Strings Attached.
However, sex with casual partners is very risky, emotionally and physically, and can result in broken dreams and lost opportunities—just the opposite of what you were hoping to achieve! If you think having short, casual sexual relationships will protect your dreams of getting a great education and a successful career, please think again. You are actually putting yourself at greater risk of losing them.
By waiting to have sex until you find a supportive marriage partner, you will avoid many of the risks of sex and make its benefits more likely. And research says that married women enjoy better sex than single women,18 so it can definitely be worth the wait.
Contrary to what you may have heard, husbands need not block your plans, either. A good one, in fact, can help you meet all of your life goals. A good husband—someone who treats you as a partner, supports you, and wants you to succeed—can actually help you reach your goals better than you could have done alone.
Don’t live with a partner unless you are married.
Many people will recommend that you live with someone before you decide to get married. They suggest that cohabitation will enable you to really get to know a potential mate’s personality (including all of his nasty habits) before making a commitment. But current research says that this is a really bad idea. People who live together before they are married (or at least before they are engaged) end up having higher rates of divorce and worse relationships.19
Kids who are born to cohabiting parents, meanwhile, do not fare as well, either. They are both more likely to see their parents split up20 and to be poor.21 Marriage is the goal that most girls have set for their lives, not cohabitation.22 So don’t compromise on your future. Don’t live with a man until he puts the marriage band on your finger.
Take control of your life.
Finally, we want to encourage you to make decisions that are in your own best interests, especially when it comes to sex. Many girls around you, even those you may trust and look up to, will make decisions about sex that ultimately may harm their futures. It is hard to go against the flow when seemingly every-body—guys and girls—says that sex at this time of life is “normal.”
Set your own standards. You decide what you will do and what you won’t do.
Whatever people may say, sex can be very risky—even “normal” sex. Here’s just one statistic to think about: Three out of every ten girls will get pregnant by the time they are twenty.23 You don’t want to become one of them, do you? Even with birth control, sex cannot be disconnected from pregnancy. Remember, one of the purposes of sex is procreation, not just recreation. When you engage in sex, it is not a mistake or accident when pregnancy occurs.
There’s a time for children, who are always blessings, but your single years are not that time. So don’t do what other people tell you to do with your body. Set your own standards. You decide what you will do and what you won’t do. Stand up for yourself and do what is best for you!
Eventually, we all must become responsible for our bodies and our decisions. You (and no one else) will have to live in your body, and with all of your memories, for however many years you have. So be true to your best ideals and make your life count—for yourself and for others. We only get one crack at this thing called life.
Joe S. McIlhaney Jr., MD, and Freda McKissic Bush, MD, Girls Uncovered: New Research on What America’s Sexual Culture Does to Young Women (Chicago: Northfield Publishing, 2011), 111-117.
1 A. R. Giuliano and D. Salmon, “The Case for Gender-Neutral (Universal) Human Papillomavirus Vaccination Policy in the United States: Point,” Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention 17 (2008), 805–8
2 D. D. Hallfors, M. W. Waller, D. Bauer, C. A. Ford, and C. T. Halpern, “Which Comes First in Adolescence—Sex and Drugs or Depression?” American Journal of Preventive Medicine 29 (2005), 163–70.
3 E. A. Impett and L. A. Peplau, “Sexual Compliance: Gender, Motivational, and Relationship Perspectives,” The Journal of Sex Research 40 (2003), 87–100.
4 C. E. Kaestle, “Sexual Insistence and Disliked Sexual Activities in Young Adulthood: Differences by Gender and Relationship Characteristics,” Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health 41 (2009), 33–39.
5 Impett and Peplau.
6 A. Abbey, T. Zawacki, P. O. Buck, A. M. Clinton, and P. McAuslan, “Alcohol and Sexual Assault,” Alcohol Research and Health 25 (2001), 43–51.
7 Laura Sessions Stepp, Unhooked: How Young Women Pursue Sex, Delay Love, and Lose at Both (New York: Penguin Group, 2007), 231–37.
8 W. F. Flack Jr., K. A. Daubman, M. L. Caron, et al., “Risk Factors and Consequences of Unwanted Sex Among University Students: Hooking Up, Alcohol, and Stress Response,” Journal of Interpersonal Violence 22 (2007), 139–57.
9 P. Y. Goodwin, W. D. Mosher, and A. Chandra, “Marriage and Cohabitation in the United States: A Statistical Portrait Based on Cycle 6 (2002) of the National Survey of Family Growth,” National Center for Health Statistics, Vital and Health Statics 23 (2010), 8.
10 J. Bachman, L. Johnston, and P. O’Malley, Monitoring the Future: Questionnaire Responses from the Nation’s High School Seniors 2008 (Ann Arbor, MI: The Institute for Social Research, The University of Michigan, 2009). https://monitoringthefuture.org.
12 C. Osborne, W. D. Manning, and P. J. Stock, “Married and Cohabiting Parents’ Relationship Stability: A Focus on Race and Ethnicity,” Journal of Marriage and Family 69 (2007), 1345–66.
13 W. D. Manning and S. Brown, “Children’s Economic Well-being in Married and Cohabiting Parent Families,” Journal of Marriage and Family 68 (2006), 345–62.
14 K. Kost, S. Singh, B. Vaughan, J. Trussell, and A. Bankole, “Estimates of Contraceptive Failure from the 2002 National Survey of Family Growth,” Contraception 77 (2008), 10–21.
15 Stepp, 168–75.
16 K. A. Bogle, Hooking Up: Sex, Dating, and Relationships on Campus (New York: New York University Press, 2008), 52–53.
17 A. Lavinthal and J. Rozler, The Hookup Handbook: A Single Girl’s Guide to Living It Up (New York: Simon Spotlight Entertainment, 2005), 9.
18 L. J. Waite and M. Gallagher, The Case for Marriage: Why Married People Are Happier, Healthier, and Better Off Financially (New York: Doubleday, 2000), 82–83.
19 G. K. Rhoades, S. M. Stanley, and H. J. Markman, “The Pre-Engagement Cohabitation Effect: A Replication and Extension of Previous Findings,” Journal of Family Psychology 23 (2009), 107–11.
20 Osborne, et al.
21 Manning and Brown.
22 Bachman, et al.
23 The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, “Fact Sheet: How Is the 3 in 10 Statistic Calculated?” (Washington, DC: The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, 2008). www.thenationalcampaign.org.