FamilyLife Today® Podcast

How Casual Sex is Affecting our Teens

with Dr. Freda Bush, Dr. Joe McIlhaney | March 4, 2010
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Teen sex isn’t just a bad idea; it’s a risky move physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Drs. Freda Bush and Joe McIlhaney, experts on brain development and sexuality, talk to parents about some of the consequences of premarital sex, including STDs, compulsive behavior, attachment disorders and more.

  • Show Notes

  • About the Host

  • About the Guest

  • Teen sex isn’t just a bad idea; it’s a risky move physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Drs. Freda Bush and Joe McIlhaney, experts on brain development and sexuality, talk to parents about some of the consequences of premarital sex, including STDs, compulsive behavior, attachment disorders and more.

  • Dave and Ann Wilson

    Dave and Ann Wilson are hosts of FamilyLife Today®, FamilyLife’s nationally-syndicated radio program. Dave and Ann have been married for more than 38 years and have spent the last 33 teaching and mentoring couples and parents across the country. They have been featured speakers at FamilyLife’s Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway since 1993 and have also hosted their own marriage conferences across the country. Cofounders of Kensington Church—a national, multicampus church that hosts more than 14,000 visitors every weekend—the Wilsons are the creative force behind DVD teaching series Rock Your Marriage and The Survival Guide To Parenting, as well as authors of the recently released book Vertical Marriage (Zondervan, 2019). Dave is a graduate of the International School of Theology, where he received a Master of Divinity degree. A Ball State University Hall of Fame quarterback, Dave served the Detroit Lions as chaplain for 33 years. Ann attended the University of Kentucky. She has been active alongside Dave in ministry as a speaker, writer, small-group leader, and mentor to countless wives of professional athletes. The Wilsons live in the Detroit area. They have three grown sons, CJ, Austin, and Cody, three daughters-in-law, and a growing number of grandchildren.

Teen sex isn’t just a bad idea; it’s a risky move physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

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How Casual Sex is Affecting our Teens

With Dr. Freda Bush, Dr. Joe McIl...more
March 04, 2010
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Dr. McIlhaney:  Hooking up and then tearing apart—then hooking up and tearing apart—it is like putting a piece of tape on yourself and pulling it off; and putting it on again and pulling it off.  Pretty soon it loses its stickiness.  So we lose that innate ability to connect to another person.  As a matter of fact, we think that the data is pretty clear that the divorces that result, which are more for people who have multiple partners in the past, the divorces that result are because these people have lost that ability to connect to another person at the very deepest level, which is a part of what we are as human beings. 

Bob:  This is FamilyLife Today for Thursday, March 4th.  Our host is the President of FamilyLife Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine.  We’ll look today at what science is saying about how casual sex is affecting our children. 

Welcome to FamilyLife Today; thanks for joining us.  You know, I have had times when I have looked at my teenagers; and I have thought, “What are you thinking?”  Now, thanks to this new book that I have, I know exactly what they are thinking.

Dennis:  You know what is going on in their brain.  We have the coauthors of a brand-new book called Hooked.  It is subtitled New Science on How Casual Sex Is Affecting Our Children.

Bob:  That is right; and because of what we are going to be talking about today, some moms and dads might want to make the decision to listen to this one alone or busy the children elsewhere as you listen to today’s program.

Dennis:  No doubt about it.  Dr. Joe McIlhaney and Dr. Freda McKissic Bush join us on today’s broadcast.  Joe, Freda, welcome back.

Dr. McIlhaney:  Glad to be here.  Thank you.

Dr. Bush:  Thank you.

Dennis:  Glad you are here.  Both of you have served on the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV and AIDS.  Freda, you are currently serving.  Joe, you have in the past.  Among the other accomplishments in your life--you have many--I’m just curious, especially in light of this book, as you have served on that advisory council, has there been a “Wow!” about what is going on with HIV and AIDS in our country?

Dr. Bush:  The “Wow!” for me has been most recent statistics for HIV infections in the United States and particularly in urban areas.  Washington, D.C., was highlighted that 1 in 20 African American adults is infected with HIV.

Bob:  Wow.

Dr. Bush:  My question is, “Is that not an epidemic?” and “Why has more news not been put out about it?”  The United States does not have a national AIDS strategy to combat it.  We have pieces that are being done all across the United States—we have the Ryan White Act that has been pouring millions into HIV for years, but their mainstay seems to be promoting condom use, not limiting or reducing partners in such a way that would make a difference.

Dennis:  And not promoting monogamous relationships for a lifetime.

Dr. Bush:  For me, I just think we need to do more about the research, more about promoting that part that is most effective. 

Dennis:  Joe, what about you?

Dr. McIlhaney:  I think that it is almost weird how committed people get to having their sex anytime, anywhere, any way they want to have it with as many people as they want to have it and absolutely refuse to accept the fact that their behavior might have to change.  I just think that is an issue for people who are resistant to God, for example, about how they need to change the way they are living in order to achieve health benefits, hope, and happiness. 

They keep fighting against themselves.  That is not just in this country because PACHA, the Presidential Advisory Council, deals with people all over the world.  We see this in every country in the world—that people are so similar—they don’t want to give up their behavior. 

We objectively looked at the science about dopamine—about becoming addicted to sex.  We objectively looked at the science about bonding—the oxytocin and vasopressin—and it led us to this issue about the fact that the best environment for people to live in is one in which they are sexually abstinent until they are married. 

When they are married, then they are addicted to each other sexually.  They have sex; they have kids because they are bonded with oxytocin and vasopressin.  They are there for the kids as the kids grow up.  It is the best environment for young people to live in and for humans to live in.

Dennis:  Okay, you guys speak about three very hot, relevant issues taking place today and being, in some cases, promoted by the culture:  cohabitation, hooking up, and date rape.  I want to just start with the first one—cohabitation.  As you look at what is happening in the culture, more than 6 million people cohabiting, you are saying there is a reason for it in terms of why the brain is addicted to this compulsive activity of wanting to be living with the opposite sex outside of marriage; but there is an impact and consequence here that is really detrimental to these adults as they move through their lifetimes. 

Dr. McIlhaney:  By the age of 20, there are as many girls and guys who are cohabiting as are married.  So you are absolutely right, this is a very, very common relationship for young people to get into. 

There are a couple of basic problems.  One is, in general, that relationship is based on them not being committed and not being exclusive as far as sexual behavior is concerned.  Usually the people who cohabit don’t know each other as long as a couple who gets married.  So that is the foundation on which cohabitation happens. 

As a result, cohabiting relationships don’t last as long.  They are more violent.  There is much more violence going on between the couple; and they are more likely to break up in the future; and then these couples enter into other relationships later on, which adds up as far as the number of sexual partners is concerned.  People who have cohabited in the past and get married are more likely to divorce than people who never cohabited.  So that relationship has a lot of destructive potential for people who might consider it. 

Dr. Bush:  I just thought of two patients in my practice.  Onewas ayoung lady recently, 25 years old, who came to me and her chief complaint was wanting a female Viagra.  Of course, we laughed.  I said, “There is no such thing as of this date.”  She did not enjoy her relationship.  I said, “Tell me about your relationship.”  She is living with the young man who is not the father of her three children, and she no longer enjoys it.  I asked her, “Well, why are you living with him?”  Her response was, “For the rent.” 

It was a practical relationship—utilitarian—however you want to put it.  She even had changed her patterns of behavior in sexual relations.  She no longer was enjoying it because of the attachment and multiple relationships that she had had.  We spent a significant amount of time—matter of fact, I encouraged her to buy the book, and to read it, and then to make an appointment to come back so we could talk about how she could unpack the bags that she had and make a decision that she wanted to work through that relationship, whether she is going to have a long-term relationship with this young man or not. 

We definitely gave her a lot to think about.  Hopefully she will have a healthier relationship; and hopefully—good news—the brain can be remolded with different decisions and establishing different patterns that she will be able to enjoy sexual relationships again in the future. 

Bob:  Talk about that because we have folks who are listening right now—married or single—they have a sexual past, a sexual history—multiple sexual partners.  They are thinking, “Based on what I am hearing you say, that altered my brain chemistry; and that means for the rest of my life, my brain is not going to function right when it comes to sexuality even though now I am a follower of Christ, committed to my spouse.  We are trying to have this good, godly relationship; but my brain is messed up and it is just not going to be for me what it ought to be for me.”

Dr. McIlhaney:  First, human beings don’t come out of a cookie cutter.  So everyone doesn’t respond exactly the same way.  What we are saying is, “This book is a warning to people that they may have some real problems.”  We think the research shows that there are a lot of problems and that they are real common. 

Also, the other thing, this book doesn’t come across in an accusatory way.  We are not shaking our finger in people’s faces. 

Dennis:  Right.  That’s right.

Dr. McIlhaney:  But we are saying that if you have had multiple partners in the past, and you are married now, for example, and you start seeing some fissures in your relationship with your husband or with you wife, go do something about it because there are some reasons why your brain may have been programmed not to connect at a deeper level with this person that you are now married to.  So go do something about it. 

Bob:  Like what?   What can I go do about it?

Dr. McIlhaney:  Well, there can be a number of things.  We talk about these in the book.  A person can have a spiritual renewal that can literally change them.  They may require counseling. 

The counselor, the clinical psychologist, that did this with us, is Dr. Lynn Lutz from Dallas, Texas.  She talks about how, for example, one woman who has had multiple partners in the past and knows it is hurting her; and yet she will go to a bar and end up the next day having sex with this guy—and how she doesn’t want to do it.  Yet this woman is continuing to work on that with Dr. Lutz.  So we are saying, “Go to a counselor.  Go talk to your pastor.”

Dennis:  Go find out what is behind the compulsive behavior and why you are thinking the way you are thinking about it.

Dr. McIlhaney:  Exactly.  Exactly. 

Bob:  You know, I think we need to say here, “We are talking about all of this in clinical, biological, medical-kinds of terms.  We are not talking about the fact that there are consequences to what the Bible refers to as sinful behavior.”  So when we lay out multiple sexual partners as a part of your past, not only does that do something to your brain but it does something to your soul as well. 

You talked about spiritual renewal.  We would have the presupposition here that if someone really wants a fresh start, the fresh start comes when you get right in your relationship with God, and He now goes to work on, not just re-patterning your brain, but restoring your soul. 

Dr. Bush:  But you do have to make a definite decision and couch it with different values so that you can then lay out plans that can help you.  Joe mentioned counseling, but you can even have an accountability person who can work with you.  There are a number of things, but you have to recognize what you are doing is getting you a result that you don’t desire.  If you continue to do the same thing, you will continue to get the same result.  So, “There is hope for me!”

Dennis:  People are looking to bond with another person.  You are saying the brain is made…

Freda:  That is normal!

Dennis:  That is how God made us.

Dr. Bush:  Exactly!

Dennis:  We want intimacy, and that is not wrong!

Dr. McIlhaney:   Can I talk about that just for a minute because that is a major theme that we looked at, as shown by science.  First, I think a lot of people have heard about the Romanian experiment on babies—that they were left in cribs, fed, kept clean, but they weren’t touched.  These babies didn’t thrive, and some of them died because they didn’t have any human connection.  That is an integral part of what we are from before we are born. 

One of the biggest threats we see from multiple sexual partners, as Freda said earlier, is that hooking up and then tearing apart—then hooking up and tearing apart—it is like putting a piece of tape on yourself and pulling it off; and putting it on again and pulling it off.  Pretty soon it loses its stickiness.  So we lose that innate ability to connect to another person by this type of behavior. 

As a matter of fact, we think that the data is pretty clear that the divorces that result, which are more for people who have multiple partners in the past, the divorces that result are because these people have lost that ability to connect to another person at the very deepest level, which is a part of what we are as human beings.

Dennis:  The culture is promoting with our young people, and all the parents have heard this term, but they perhaps have not understood the science of the brain that is behind it, the term “hooking up.”  What we are explaining here about a person’s brain really explains why teenagers, and college students, and singles are all in these hooking-up relationships.

Bob:  You almost can’t call it a hooking-up relationship because it is the antithesis of hooking up for there to be a relationship.  What is happening?  There is still bonding going on even if two young people on a college campus say, “Well, we’ll just have sex tonight and pretend like we never met each other tomorrow.”

Dr. Bush:  Even with one act of intercourse, there is attachment; but the young people are deluding themselves to think that they can have sex without intimacy, without a relationship, or without dating.  Yet, they feel bad the next morning when they wake up; and they don’t know the person who is lying beside them or the person is not even there anymore.  It is what I say to young people, “Why do you feel so bad the next day when you even see them walking across campus, and they are talking to somebody else?”  It is because you have attached.  You have bonded.

Dennis:  You have given a part of your heart to another person.

Dr. Bush:  You have also had neurochemical changes that have occurred as a result, and it shows up in the brain.

Dr. McIlhaney:  As a matter of fact, one of the statistics we talk about in the book points out that young people who are no longer virgins are three times as likely to be depressed as their friends who are still virgins.  The girls are three times as likely to attempt suicide; the boys seven times as likely to attempt suicide as their virginal friends. 

In college, the statistics on depression are just staggering.  About half of girls in college have felt so depressed in the last year; they have felt like attempting suicide--about half of the boys, too.  Those suicide-attempt rates are about 10 percent.  We do have data that shows that a lot of that depression is related to sexual behavior they are involved in. 

Dr. Bush:  One of the reasons we wrote the book was to, as he said, give the warning but also to let you know what happens naturally in science; and to say to parents, “Ultimately it is easier and better for you to help the young person to mold and hardwire their brain to avoid habitually-destructive behavior that will limit their futures rather than to try to course-correct.”

Dennis:   In other words, build a fence around your brain and your body to protect it so that when you do make a commitment to another person for a lifetime you can give yourselves to one another without bringing that baggage into the relationship.  Here is some more good news for our listeners.  For the married folks who are listening, these same principles we are talking about that have a negative impact also have a positive impact.

Dr. McIlhaney:  Absolutely.

Dennis:  In other words, when two people in marriage, within the bounds of commitment of marriage and covenant-keeping love, experience a satisfying sex-life together, they can experience that bonding and intimacy that they were hardwired by God for.  I was thinking when I was reading your book of 1 Corinthians 7 where it commands—it commands in Scripture—for the husband and the wife to not deny one another these fundamental needs of being close to one another sexually and to meet one another’s sexual needs.  It is like the Bible is anticipating your new science. 

Dr. McIlhaney:  It really is. 

Dennis:  Like God maybe knew what He was doing when He created us male and female and put all these different genetics in our brain and hormones that all work together for good in a marriage relationship.

Bob:  You talked about putting a fence around both your body and your mind, and I thought, “You need to make sure there is no gate; or if there is a gate, you need to keep the gate closed.”  Then I thought about the Song of Solomon, chapter 8, where the brothers are talking about their little sister.  They say, “If she is a wall, we will build on her a battlement of silver.” 

In other words, “If she protects her virginity, we are going to stand guard with her; but if she is a door, we will enclose her with boards of cedar.”  In other words, “We are going to build a fence around her…”

Dennis:  (laughter)  That has no gate!

Bob:  That’s right!  (laughter)

Dr. McIlhaney:  That brings up another topic that just weighs on me heavily—that is about our young women.  We have taken away every wall; we have broken down every door to protect our young women from sexual advances by guys.  We have taken away every excuse for them not to have sex with a guy. 

We have told them, “It’s normal.  They can be just like a guy and have sex whenever they want to.”  We have said, “They can do it by taking birth control pills and not get pregnant, by using condoms and not getting disease.”  We are saying, now we are not, but society is telling, “There is no problem with it.  You can just have sex—it is separate from what you are as a human being otherwise.  So, go ahead, and do it.” 

What we have shown with this book is, “No, a guy can be lusting after you, and you won’t know whether he is really interested in you romantically or lustfully.”  There is a hormone called pheromone that women can smell from a man, without even knowing it.  Men don’t smell it from women, but women can smell it from men.  That draws them to a guy and even makes them want to have physical contact in sex with him, without even knowing that.  So these girls are drawn because of the way their bodies are made.  Our society is taking away all reason for them not to have sex and, particularly in college, we just see the devastating results of this with our young women. 

Dennis:  I appreciate it how you both as physicians practically challenge parents in your book to step in and protect our sons and daughters.  I doubt if either one of you know, but I wrote a book called Interviewing Your Daughter’s Date.

Dr. McIlhaney:  I didn’t know about it.

Dennis:  So for the very purpose of what Bob just read from Song of Solomon 8 where the father is taking, what I believe is his God-given responsibility for as long as he can protect his daughter, as long as she will let him.

Bob:  If she is a door, I am going to put some planks of cedar out in front of the door.  (laughter)

Dennis:  And I am going to stand outside the gate and the door and warn any guy who comes near that he has got to…

Bob:  Keep his pair of hormones away!

Dennis:  That is exactly right!

Dr. Bush:  Pheromones.

Bob:  Pheromones—whatever they are!  (laughter)

Dennis:  I just appreciate what you have done here because I think this is going to give a lot of parents courage.  I hope, what will happen is, I hope they will get these broadcasts; and I hope they will play them for their 11-, 12-, 13-year-old, and maybe even all the way into the teenage years.  Let your teen listen to it with you.  

Here is what is going to happen.  I tell you because I played a broadcast we did on modesty one time, Bob.  Laura was so funny—she was about 18 at the time.  She put her head back on the couch; she rolled her eyes back in her head.  It was this tortuous, tortuous thing to listen to Dad’s broadcast…

Bob:  Dad’s making me listen to this message.”

Dennis:  of a message we featured on FamilyLife Today; but in the next 60 days, there were no less than half a dozen quotes that came from her lips from what she really did hear from those broadcasts.  So parents, you can make a difference.  Don’t let the culture rob you of one of the greatest responsibilities and greatest privileges you have. 

Bob:  Your point here is that moms and dads have got to be fighting the fight.  We have to be engaged in this issue.  This is not something that when our kids hit 14, or 15, or 16, and start to turn a deaf ear to what we are saying to them or roll their eyes back in their head, like Laura was doing, you don’t just say, “Oh, well, this isn’t making any difference.  I guess we just shut up.”  No, you stay after it, and you keep talking.  You keep the conversation going even when your son or daughter is acting like they don’t want to hear it. 

You have information.  Maybe you get the CD of what we are talking about here with Dr. McIlhaney and Dr. Bush, and you listen to that together; or you get a copy of their book, which we have in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center.  It is called Hooked:  New Science on How Casual Sex Is Affecting Our Children. You get materials and resources that you can use with your children; and then you get things like you mentioned--the book, Interviewing Your Daughter’s Date.  You get resources that you need as a parent to help you stay engaged and stay with it. 

Go to, and on our website you will see a list of different resources we are recommending that deal with this issue of promiscuity and casual sex.  Again, it is  You can order any of these resources from us directly online if you would like; or if it is easier, just call 1-800-FL-TODAY—1-800-358-6329.  That is 1-800-F as in “family,” L as in “life,” then the word TODAY.  If you have any questions, just call.  We’ll try to answer those and we can take your order over the phone and ship these resources out to you as well if you would like. 

I want to take just a minute and say a word of thanks to those folks who not only listen to FamilyLife Today, but who help support the ministry by making an occasional donation to help keep us on this station and on other stations all across the country.  You really need to know those donations are vital for the ongoing work of this ministry as we continue to be heard on our network of radio stations all across the country.  Hearing from you is an important part of that whole equation. 

This month, if you are able to support the ministry of FamilyLife Today with a donation of any amount, we have a resource we would like to send you that we think you and your family will enjoy, especially here during the weeks that lead up to the celebration of Easter.  Our friends who helped produce the Jesus film years ago have in recent years updated the story to tell the life of Jesus through the eyes of Mary Magdalene.   

It is a powerful motion picture called Magdalena.  We have it on DVD, and one of the nice things about the DVD is that the film version is also dubbed in Spanish, French, Mandarin, Korean, Arabic, Russian, and Portuguese.  So if you know people, for whom one of those languages is a first language, get a copy of this DVD and pass it on to them as a gift.  See how God might use it in their lives. 

Again, we will send you the DVD when you make a donation of any amount this month to help support the ministry of FamilyLife Today.  If you are donating online at, as you fill out the donation form, there is a key code box.  Just type the word, “MAGDVD” in the key code box—all one word, “MAGDVD”; and we will know to send you a copy of the Magdalena DVD.

Or call 1-800-FLTODAY.  Make a donation by phone, and just ask for the Magdalena DVD.  Again, we are happy to send it out to you.  We do want to say, “Thanks,” again for standing with us here at FamilyLife and helping support this ministry. 

Tomorrow we are going to continue our conversation with Dr. Joe McIlhaney and Dr. Freda Bush about teens, and their brains, and sex.  I hope you can be back with us for that. 

I want to thank our engineer today Keith Lynch and our entire broadcast production team on behalf of our host Dennis Rainey; I’m Bob Lepine.  We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.

FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas.

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