As with most fundamentalist religions, Jehovah’s Witnesses do not believe in sex before marriage. This includes all forms of sexual behavior including oral sex, touching another person under their clothes, and the like. A person can be strongly counseled and restricted from certain authority and other privileges, or outright disfellowshipped (excommunicated), if they engage in this type of behavior. This includes teenagers, no matter how challenging it may be for them.
To supposedly “help” teenagers maintain their chastity as dictated by the religion, the website of Jehovah’s Witnesses, jw.org, recently released a worksheet aimed toward teens called “Strengthen Your Convictions: Virginity.” Let me repeat that; it’s a worksheet. An actual worksheet where teenagers can write out their answers to incredibly dumbed-down scenarios and questions like, “Most young people who engage in premarital sex regret it afterward. Why do you think that is the case?” and, “Do you act on each impulse the instant that it wells up inside you?”
The questions in this worksheet are bad enough; I suppose they’re meant to get teenagers thinking, but they’re so overly simplistic and leading that they don’t actually challenge the intellect or ask for any type of actual thought. The question about acting on impulses is just Yes or No; it doesn’t talk about examples of what this means, why it’s good to resist certain impulses, the advantages of thinking before acting, and so on.
Note the other question above; it says that most young people who engage in premarital sex regret it afterward, but then offers no studies to back up this point, no statements from experts to lend it any credibility. It just asserts this fact, which is a way of telling someone what to think. The idea is planted in a teen’s head that “most” premarital sex is regretful, and that’s that.
Expecting or assuming teens will write out their thoughts about sexual activity is also downright insulting; what teenager is going to sit down and actually write their answers to questions about their impulses and premarital sex, like an obedient little child? Most teenagers I know hardly have the attention span to do real homework for school; they’re not going to sit alone in their rooms and actually write, word-for-word, their thoughts on sex, relationships, and impulses. What happens to the worksheet after they’re done; do they get a gold star if they put down all the “right” answers? Is it put on the refrigerator along with their history test? Do the parents get to review it?
The actual worksheet itself is also bothersome and offensive. The graphics used are very cartoonish and something I would expect to see geared toward a 10-year-old. Some might point out that children that young can be sexually active or at least curious about sexual behavior, but the worksheet depicts kids much older; they’re in cars, drinking alcohol, and obviously older than ten or eleven. Despite the apparent audience for which the worksheet is intended, it’s set out like an immature comic, with cartoon figures and text boxes that have no more than two sentences each, something that would appeal to the short attention spans of pre-teens.
The ridiculous nature of the worksheet itself can be laughed at endlessly, but there is a reason to seriously consider the approach of a worksheet meant for teenagers about something as important as sex. Teens become sexually active because they have sexual feelings, are curious, and because it’s fun and feels good; I’m sure we can all agree on that. However, let’s be honest; teens might also try sexual behavior because it makes them feel like a grownup. Teenagers have an instinctive need to establish their own maturity and identity, separate from their parents. To prove to themselves and to others that they are no longer children, they might act out, rebel against their parent’s rules, and do things that are usually reserved for adults. Don’t take my word for it; read this site, written by a licensed psychotherapist, that discusses the issue. Also, note this quote, “It is the very nature of adolescents to push boundaries,” from this website, written by educators. (See how easy it is to find actual sources for assertions?)
While teenagers are not yet adults and shouldn’t be afforded the rights and privileges of an adult, and it may be shortsighted to think you should talk to them like adults, talking to teens as if they’re still little children may be just as ineffective. If they feel insulted or that the adult talking to them “just doesn’t get it,” they’ll tune them out or even be offended. This can be especially true of teens today, who live in an era with methods of mass communication at their fingertips. Teens have access to more information with the internet than probably their parents ever had in the best of libraries, meaning that they may be more savvy to all sorts of facts, figures, research studies, data, foreign cultures, and so much more. Talking to them as if they’re children who need the world explained to them might be insulting and grossly unnecessary. A teen may also be so savvy that he or she would immediately pick up on the lack of a credible source just as I did above; they may even start wondering at how that compares to what they hear from kids at school who outright brag about having sex. In turn, they may become very skeptical about the truthfulness of everything that’s asserted, and may even realize that they’re being told what to think, not being asked to actually think.
This worksheet provided by Jehovah’s Witnesses for teens made me think of a similar situation, and it has to do with makeup. (Bear with me.) A few years back, I ordered from an online store a box of concealer from a somewhat upscale makeup brand (for the guys, concealer is a type of thicker makeup that you add to troublesome spots). When it arrived, it was in a box that resembled a little girl’s diary, complete with an engraving that looked like a lock for the book. On the inside “flap” or cover of the box was the statement, “this diary belongs to,” over a mirror.
Let me explain. If a woman is old enough to buy makeup online and needs a box of concealer for the shadows under her eyes, chances are she’s too goddamn old to want a pink diary with her name on it. (That felt good, getting that out.) A woman who is old enough to earn the money needed to buy this brand of makeup is typically going to be old enough to hold down a real job. Grownup, adult women don’t always want to be pretty-pretty princesses, all excited about their diaries, but may regularly delve into intelligent concepts like science, law, education, politics, business, and the like. If you want to do something unique and original for your packaging, that’s great, but this didn’t come in a mini briefcase; it came in a pink diary. With a heart. And a mirror inside so I could get all excited about my own stupid face.
This concept of treating grownup, adult women like little girls is so infuriating to me, a woman who works full-time, manages a home all on her own, and who once beat a man almost to death for putting his hands on her in a way he shouldn’t have, that I actually tossed out the entire box. If it weren’t for the fact that their mascara is the best I’ve ever tried, I would never buy anything from that brand again; that’s how disgusted I was with their presentation.
Think about how this might apply to the virginity worksheet provided by Jehovah’s Witnesses. They want teens to make mature, adult choices about something as mature and adult as sexual behavior, but they present their message as if they’re talking to someone just out of infancy. They want teens to be smart about sex, but present their message in the most stupid, dumbed-down way they possibly could. They don’t acknowledge how intelligent and savvy teens might be today, but start right off the bat as if teens are virtually illiterate and have the comprehension of grade school children.
The message on the worksheet itself may have some merit and value, but it forgets to respect the intended audience. Just like that box of expensive concealer that insulted me before I even opened it, this worksheet insults teens with its presentation alone. This makes me wonder if they too might not toss it out before they even consider the contents.
Please share via social media below.