Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Be cautious of contact with evangelical teenagers

I seem to be on something of a non-fiction jag at the moment, courtesy of the wonderful Toronto Public Library. Currently, I am working through "The Village Effect" by Susan Pinker, subtitled (and all non-fiction books have a sub-title these days) "How Face-to-Face Contact can Make us Healthier, Happier and Smarter". Sounds horribly self-help-ish, I know, but it purports to be a serious piece of social science.
Worthy as it undoubtedly is, I'm not sure that I would go out of my way to recommend the book. I think I may have read just too many of these kinds of books, and reached saturation level. By "these kinds of books" I mean well-researched but slightly over-earnest tomes, ploughing a lonely and narrow furrow of scientific research, which the authors are convinced is THE solution to some major problems with society and the world, or, it sometimes seems, ALL problems of society.
In Ms. Pinker's case, her current obsession is with the social, psychological and physiological benefits of face-to-face (as opposed to online) contact, particularly, it seems, contact with women. According to her research, it can allow us to live significantly longer, and can improve and often completely cure cancers and other life-threatening conditions. In support of her claim, she throws at us any number of statistics and studies and miraculous stories and case histories.
The one thing I did want to share, though, is only peripherally connected to her case, but it jumped out at me when I read it.
Apparently, although 75% of evangelical teenagers in America say they believe in no sex before marriage (a much higher percentage than other religious denominations), a huge US government survey has revealed that teens from evangelical and conservative Christian families have an earlier sexual debut, are more sexually active, are less likely to use contraception, and have higher rates of sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy than other American teens. (For those who may be interested, the study is called "Premarital Sex in America: How Young Americans Meet, Mate and Think About Marrying", 2011, by Mark Regnerus and Jeremy Uecker.)
I suppose in a way it makes sense: such kids are unlikely to talk or learn about sex, or to actively seek contraception. But "sex happens" to them anyway, as it does to most teenagers growing up, despite their moralistic talk and holier-than-thou attitudes. They are just less prepared for it than most. And, it seems, they are probably even weaker in the will-power stakes.
Anyway, there: I've shared it now. I don't intend to review the book as a whole (any more than I already have done above). And I'm not going to suggest that you go out and join a book club, or volunteer at your local community centre, or even (heaven forbid) go live in a Sardinian village.
Just watch out for those holy rollers, kids.

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