Monday, June 14, 2010

Teens: Casual Sex Culture Vs Brain Science. Book Review "Hooked"

Recently I finished reading a book titled, "Hooked" by Joe S. MCILHANDY Jr., MD and Freed Mckissic BUSH, MD. Available on here

I picked up the book after hearing an interview of the two doctors that wrote it on Family Life Today.  I was interested in a scientific approach to looking at the issue of teen sexuality as opposed to a strictly moral standing on the issue.  In the educational processes within the schools centers upon the physical risks of sexual involvment such as pregnancy or STD's however these authors point out that,

the emotional and psychological impact of sex cannot be guarded against with condoms or other forms of contraception - page 15

Having worked with many young people I am well aware of sexual trends within the youth culture and know first hand that this aspect of sexual involvement is rarely addressed until after much of the damage has been done within a teen's life. However the stance of abstinence is often balked at as being the idea of the religiously intolerant and unaccepted at a social norm.  That is why this book is excellent because it examines the brain chemistry involved in sexual active people and the implications that can have on a person's entire lifetime.  For instance consider this:

When two people touch each other in a warm, meaningful, and intimate way, oxytocin is released into the woman's brain.  The oxytocin then does two things: increases a woman's desire for more touch and causes bonding of the woman to the man she has been spending time in physical contact with. - Page 37
A better picture is to think of the brain chemical as masking tape that sticks the man's picture to her brain as being significant.  Each time this couple touch the bond becomes stronger, however if there is a break up and the tape is ripped off it is harder to use that same tape to stick a new picture up.  Repeated multiple times with multiple partners and the brain loses the ability to stick any longer.  This is an amazing finding but also explains why break ups, especially when involving a couple that has has sexual contact becomes so detrimental and emotionally damaging.  The authors go on to explain, and that is widely proven, that the adolescent brain is in development continually until well out of high school.  This has huge implications for making judgements involving someones sexuality.

The finding that cognitive maturity does not reach completion until the mid twenties does not mean that young people are somehow physically slow or that they do not possess the capacity for complex thought.  It does mean that their brains are not fully physically equipped to make sound judgments and reason through long-term consequences of behavior they might become involved in until a little later in life.  When people first hear this information they often take it to mean that young people are inherently less intelligent than adults.  This is a misinterpretation - Young people can be extremely intelligent.... [or are not]...otherwise physically mature.  The ability to make sound judgments then, does not depend on one's intelligence.  - Page 52
I know from my own life that this was true.  My judgment was not sound the day as a 17-year-old I went car surfing and faced death (quite literally as I landed on the street with my face).  I'd like to think intelligence was not the problem as I was already finished with high school courses and was on my way to an engineering drafting degree.  Sexual decisions should involve sound judgments the same as any other risky adventure.

However what is the problem with the tape losing it's stick?  What if the people growing up don't want to be bonded to another person?  The authors address that as well in saying that part of being human is the connectedness that we have with other people.  Healthy humans connect with others. A healthy addiction of sorts.  The more connected a person is to others the more love and peace the will experience as well as better odds on long-term physical health. These statements bring to mind to question:

Will a woman or man who is involved in sex with someone they feel is just using them as a sex object, or having repeated broken sexual relationships, continue to bond with and trust their sexual partners?  Probably not.  And this crushing of these inborn healthy responses to sex may be one of the saddest outcomes of such sexual experiences - for damaging an individual's future enjoyment of sex and bonding with a partner that loves and cherishes them. - Page 85

I'd say that the evidence of a "post-traumatic stress disordered" over unhealthy sexual experiences is very common and very heart breaking to observe in people so young.  However,

Research has shown that adolescents are uniquely vulnerable to the impact of stress and this is exactly the time when rape, date rape, and sexual coercion are most likely to happen. - Page 86
Of course the argument can be made that not all sexual experiences for young people can be classified onto this list of terrible things, but the Doctors that did the research and penned this book make the bold statement that,
The problems young people have experienced with voluntary sex may not be as immediate, obvious, or violent as the problem of rape or coerced sex, but they are nonetheless very real and quite prevalent.  Page 90
The authors of the book finish well is saying that at the end of the day the choice really is up to the individual.  As doctors, however, they feel an inclination of addressing unhealthy behavior before it becomes a problem.  A doctor may tell you to stop smoking or to stay away from fatty foods, there are risks involved in those behavior patterns.  Despite the risks and any manor of education young people will continue their involvement of sexual behaviors, however it does show the need for people to be involved into young lives.  I felt very affirmed as a youth worker in trying to assist young people through the labyrinth of life.This aspect is pointed to throughout the book through the use of quotes from young people regarding their life choices and the pain associated through well meaning but devastating decisions.

If you are a youth worker, parent, teacher, or pastor it would be a good idea to pick up a copy of this book and learn more about the science of the issue. 
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