The story of girls today is a good news/bad news story. Never before have girls in most of the developed world faced a better shot at a good, successful life in terms of education and fulfilling employment. Starting in 2010, women in the United States are outpacing men in terms of employment. Women are also ruling the board on education, with more ladies earning a bachelor's degree than their male peers. And The Atlantic reports that of the 15 top professions to watch in the coming decades, 13 of them are dominated by women. It's not a bad time to be a woman in terms of career development and education. That's the good news.

The bad news is that women are not doing as well in another important area of life: sexuality and relationships. The only winners of the sexual revolution have been the pornographers and other low-life misogynists. It ended up hurting all the rest far more profoundly than anyone ever imagined. Some men might claim it brought plenty of fun, but it aided only the basest part of the male sexual nature which seeks as many women as possible for the least amount of commitment and consideration. The sexual revolution made men neither better nor, as the research consistently shows, happier. However, setting sexuality free from the protective confines of marriage has hurt women more profoundly. And it starts hurting them at very young ages.

This very bad part of the bad news about women is the subject of a new book by two well-respected board-certified ob/gyns who both have long and distinguished careers helping women have sexually healthy lives. Joe McIlhaney and Freda Bush's Girls Uncovered: New Research on What America's Sexual Culture Does to Young Women (Moody) is a sharp and well-informed case for why parents, teachers, coaches, and youth leaders need to be mindful of the sexual experimentation among and manipulation of our teen girls. Consider that we give our teenagers more instruction for getting a driver's license or entering college than on how to form healthy, lasting, male-female romantic relationships that lead them into what the overwhelming majority of young people call their number one life goal: a happy, enduring marriage.

A Gateway Drug

As the father of three teen daughters and one "tween," this book struck a deep chord with me. As a researcher on such matters, it greatly impressed me. I am deeply concerned about the world my girls are increasingly moving into, and I want to make sure that that world treats them with the respect and dignity they very much deserve. Especially the boys. If my wife and I succeed in helping our daughters remain chaste, we will be well in the minority. While only 20 percent of young women answered that oral sex is sex (such a question reminds me of the Saturday Night Live "Celebrity Jeopardy" skit where Darrell Hammond's Sean Connery is stumped by the category "Colors That End in Urple"), more than 40 percent of 15- to 17-year-olds have had oral sex, while 70 percent of 18-year-olds have done so. And it doesn't get better the older they get. For 20- and 21-year-old women, more than 80 percent report having had both vaginal and oral sex. More than 25 percent report having had anal sex. More disturbing, more than 40 percent of early post-teen women report having engaged in oral sex in the last thirty days.

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Now anyone who believes these girls are empowered, doing exactly what they want to do, when they want to do it, don't know the hearts and minds of most girls. They want meaningful relationships where their boyfriends commit, taking them seriously and treating them respectfully. It was not young girls who invented the hook-up culture. But they do acquiesce to it. While more than 70 percent of girls have sex for the first time with someone they are in a committed relationship with—either "going steady," cohabiting, engaged, or married—it typically doesn't stay that way. A longitudinal survey explains that later sexual activity increasingly morphs into casual hook-ups. This study's authors explained that "the pervasiveness of casual sex was surprising." Among middle-adolescents, 77 percent had moved on to casual sex while 85 percent of late-adolescents had done so.

In a very real sense, early sex in a "committed" relationship is a gateway drug. It usually leads to more dangerous stuff. This is not what girls want. They hook up because they think it's expected of them and because they wrongly believe it's how they can get the guy to pay more attention to them. Unfortunately, only the guy ends up getting what he's after. And quite often, these are remarkably sharp, beautiful young girls who could be calling the shots in the sexual marketplace, if they only realized it. And more often than not, their call would be for dinner, a movie, and a tender goodnight kiss.

Keep Saying 'No'

The primary message of Girls Uncovered is that sex is sexist: "When it comes to the negative consequences of sexual activity, girls easily get the worst of it." Of course, they are the ones who have to struggle with any resultant pregnancy. But they are also more likely to get a sexually transmitted infection, and the consequences of such infections are typically more severe and longer-lasting in both girls and women. Female physiology doesn't thrive under a diverse sexual resume. Nor does female psychology. Girls also suffer more seriously from depression and self-loathing at the break-up of a sexually active relationship as well as casual hook-ups.

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Chastity is very good for both young men and women. But it empowers women. University of Texas sociologist Mark Regnerus, lead author of Premarital Sex in America: How Young Americans Meet, Mate, and Think about Marrying (Oxford University Press, 2011), told me a story of one of his young female students who came to him frustrated that saying "yes" to her suitors' sexual advances didn't seem to help them stick around or increase their genuine interest in her. He recommended she try saying "no" for a few months and see what happens. He followed up with her some months later to see if she took the advice. She told him she had, so Regnerus asked the obvious question: "So?" A sly smile crossed her face, and she said, "I think I'm gonna keep saying no." The feminine mystique is keeping what you have at remarkably high value. Doing otherwise is not empowerment.

While Girls Uncovered is written for all adults who have important relationships with teen and early twenty-something girls, McIlhaney and Bush wisely aim their call mostly at parents. This is for one simple reason: "Scientific surveys clearly reveal that more girls say their parents influence their behavior than girls say peers, media or other source are influencing their lives." They cite data showing how parents can get this wrong in two ways. First, while 43 percent of parents believe others have more influence on their children on matters of sex, only 18 percent of teens believe this. Study after study shows that parents are a child's most important and best influence. Even if you think they don't, your children desperately want your advice and direction. Second, while 73 percent of mothers tell researchers they've talked with their teen about sex, only 46 percent of teens strongly agreed that they had. While it might be true that most parents have talked to their kids about sex, it doesn't really count if the kids don't recall it.

An ever-increasing body of research explains why it is important that parents show up to the job of guiding their young adults through the beauty and tragedy of sexuality. Credit McIlhaney and Bush for offering ample reasons why this obligation is especially important for our daughters.

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Glenn T. Stanton is the Director of Family Formation Studies at Focus on the Family and the author of two recent books, Secure Daughters, Confident Sons: How Parents Guide Their Children into Authentic Masculinity and Femininity (Multnomah) and The Ring Makes All the Difference: The Hidden Consequences of Cohabitation and the Strong Benefits of Marriage (Moody).

Related Elsewhere:

Girls Uncovered: New Research on What America's Sexual Culture Does to Young Women is available from and other book retailers.

Previous articles on sexuality & gender include:

The Trouble with Ed Young's Rooftop Sexperiment | Yes, the church needs to talk more about sex. But pastors may need to talk about it less. (January 12, 2012)
Q & A: Mark and Grace Driscoll on Sex for the 21st-Century Christian | The Seattle couple talks to CT about their new book on marriage. (January 5, 2012)
Why 'All the Single Ladies' Shouldn't Give Up on Marriage | Frustrations with men and the institution are real, but shouldn't obscure our hope in what God is doing. (November 21, 2011)

Girls Uncovered: New Research on What America's Sexual Culture Does to Young Women
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Book Title
Girls Uncovered: New Research on What America's Sexual Culture Does to Young Women
Northfield Publishing
Release Date
January 1, 2012
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