Without Boundaries

Teenagers are trying things that not only degrade them as human beings, but also set them up for possible adulthood addictions that could take a lifetime to overcome. (Persons pictured are models; image is for illustrative purposes only.)

In Part 1 of this special series we surveyed disturbing trends among urban teens when it comes to their attitudes about sex, relationships, and teen pregnancy. A 2008 study conducted by The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy (NCPTP) spoke to a variety of urban youth workers about the things they’re witnessing among the teens they serve. A lack of positive role models, a glorification of teen pregnancy, and a failure on the part of faith institutions to more directly address the issue of sex were among the top problems they observed.

“These are issues that young adults are dealing with but the church isn’t talking about,” said one youth worker. And that’s the point of this series.

In addition to relationships that teach and perpetuate destructive behaviors, today’s Black urban youth are also pushing the envelope in their sexual practices. Anything goes, and sometimes the riskier the better. In fact, they have a name for those at the far end of the risk spectrum–“trysexual.” According to the 2004 study conducted by Motivational Educational Entertainment (MEE) Productions, Inc., This is My Reality: An Inside Look at Black Urban Youth Sexuality and the Role of Media (referred to throughout as “the MEE study”), trysexual is someone who experiments with either gender, and will try anything once. (See “Understanding Their ‘Love’ Language” below for other examples of sexual slang used by urban young people today.)

In his counseling curriculum Steps to Sexual Health, Dr. Douglas Weiss, a Christian therapist who specializes in treatment of sexual addiction, identifies “sex with no boundaries” as a type of sexual expression that is often present among sex addicts. Teenagers are trying things with their bodies that not only degrade them as human beings because they violate God’s law, but set them up for possible adulthood addictions that could take a lifetime to overcome.

Homosexuality and bisexuality among inner-city youth is also increasing and becoming more accepted, even if not always condoned. The recent trend of homosexual and bisexual behavior occurs primarily among females. MEE study participants of both genders admit they are confused and conflicted about this phenomenon. Some believe it is a defense mechanism by girls to protect them from the continued mistreatment and disrespect they receive from boys; others guess that some young ladies use this behavior simply as a way to get noticed. Both male and female study participants acknowledge the blatant devaluing of girls in their social circles, so both theories make sense.

Deadly Consequences

In addition to risky sexual partnering, inner-city Black teenagers are also creating dangerous liaisons by opening the door to deadly infections and disease. Concern is rising about the high number of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and diseases (STDs) in the African American community, and justifiably so.

Based on data from the 2004 National Health and Nutritional Examination Survey (NHANES), the Center for Disease Control (CDC) estimates the prevalence of STIs among Black teenage girls to be 48 percent. The “wifey” / “shorty” duality discussed in Part 1 is directly adding fuel to this STI fire. A defining characteristic of the “wifey” relationship is that condoms are not used during sex, and the young women generally are not using birth control. This high-risk behavior is seen as a sign of trust between the partners. In fact, attempts to discuss using protection of any kind are met with suspicion, and indicate either likely or actual unfaithfulness in the relationship. There’s some evidence that this mindset persists into young adulthood.

In his controversial essay, “Sex Without Condoms Is the New Engagement Ring,” Pendarvis Hershaw sheds light on this contemporary relational rite of passage from the perspective of Black college students. “For a lot of my friends, the transition from having sex with — to sex without — a condom is seen as a symbolic engagement…. It shows trust, commitment, and the prospect of a shared future.” This could explain why efforts by mainstream media and organizations to help teens develop “negotiation” skills around contraception use fall on deaf ears among many Black city teens. These kids do not need to negotiate because their established social conventions don’t require it.

The Education Gap

Revelations from the MEE study prompts the question, Where are our teenagers getting information about sex, sexual health, and relationships? An easy and common scapegoat is the media. It’s true enough that television shows, music videos, and song lyrics play their part in stimulating wrong desires and reinforcing bad choices. And the teenagers’ experiences in the MEE study are no exception, as demonstrated by these questionnaire responses:

  • Fifty-seven percent of the group indicated they watch at least three hours of television, 80 percent have cable television, and 78 percent named BET as their favorite music video cable channel
  • Sixty-five percent of the males prefer hip hop / rap music, and 50 percent of the females prefer rhythm and blues
  • Almost half (45 percent) listen to the radio for three or more hours each day

The next most common culprit is usually thought to be sex education in schools. Surely, teachers must be pumping these young minds full of liberal rhetoric about safe sex and contraception, right? In some instances, yes. But the effect of that type of information is not what you might think. For the most part, Black urban youth characterize sex education as “too little too late” because by the time they are exposed to the material in high school (if at all), whether it be what’s called comprehensive sex education, or an abstinence message, they’re already sexually active.

So yes, media and schools are definitely sources of information. But the saddest commentary in all this is not where the information is coming from, but where it’s not coming from.

Churches and parents are noticeably absent from discussions about sex in the lives of these young people. The two groups with the greatest potential to provide positive, life-affirming information and support are missing in action. The teenagers themselves bear this out. They were asked to indicate how much they respect various categories of people by rating them A through F — A being the highest level of respect, F being the lowest level of respect.

For the parent category, 75 percent of those answering the question assigned an A rating; and for the religious leader category, 56 percent assigned an A rating. Clearly, there is a great opportunity for parents and the church to fill the sex education gap among Black urban teens with meaningful information and God-honoring instruction that will both protect young people’s bodies and address the deeper spiritual issues at work in their lives. But how?

I’ll explore the answer to that question in Part 3 of this series on urban teen sexuality.

Understanding Their “Love” Language

Have you ever heard teenagers talking and felt like the brother or sister from another planet? Here’s a brief “slanguage” primer that might help.
Baggin’ (v) To pick up on someone of the opposite sex. “Oh, Sherri’s baggin’ Mark.” 2. (v) To make fun of or to ridicule “Rasheed was baggin’ on Dre’ yesterday so hard that they almost got into a fight.”
Bait (n) A description of a person who is too young to date or have sex with. a.k.a.: jail bait “Man, you tryin to get with that girl and you know she ain’t nothin but bait!”
Chassy (n) (derived from the “chassis” of a car) A very pretty female. A beautiful girl. “Check out that chassy over there!”
Check up on it (v) To gyrate or press up on a female usually while dancing. “Last night at the prom, Kiesha finally let me check up on it.”
Getting’ buck (adv) Getting wild and loud. Generally associated with krump dancing. “Last night Jannie was gettin’ buck on the dance floor all night.”
Givin’ up the gold (v) When a female gives up her virginity before the right time, usually before marriage. “Girl, why you given up the gold . . . you gonna be bankrupt later!”
Jockin’ (v) Old-school term for trying to become the girlfriend of a guy. Flirting. “Michael! Watch out for that gold diggin’ ho Sabrina; she’s jockin you!” 2. To copy someone. For example, if someone is wearing the same shirt as you, they are “jockin'” you.
Jump off (n) A sex partner.
Making cookies (v) Having sex. Usually used as a code term to warn friends not to come by and interrupt.
Adapted from Slang Dictionary, The Source for Youth Ministry

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