Love U2®, Philosophy and Goals

Love U2®: PHILOSOPHY AND GOALS

The Love U2® series is a new kind of curriculum for teens. It looks beyond the “do’s and don’ts” of sex—too often the focus of our conversation with teens—to the context of sexuality: namely, relationships. Its goal is to help young people acquire practical skills and useful knowledge for forming emotionally healthy, mutually respectful, and ethically sound relationships. But Love U2 ® is about more than skills or facts. It focuses on helping teens craft a “North Star”—a vision of healthy relationships—that will guide their behavior now and into the future. Teens today live and breathe in a culture emphasizing casual sex and casual connections where no relationship can be trusted to last and where even the most important family bonds sometimes can not be counted on. Indeed, for some teens, sex is seen simply as a transaction. Unfortunately, teens are short on positive models. They have few road maps that will lead them into healthy relationships and away from unhealthy ones. Love U2 ® aims at giving teens a positive model for committed and healthy love relationships. This curriculum is about what teens can hope to achieve, not just what they must try to avoid.

Why This Curriculum Is Needed
This nation has been locked in an ideological battle over sex education: Should we teach abstinence until marriage, or should we teach about safer sex, condoms, and many points in between? This discussion has divided us and shortchanged our teens. Love U2® breaks through this gridlock. It is unapologetically pro-abstinence for teens, but not for reasons that have to do with religion, ideology, or politics. It strongly encourages teens to wait on sex because it is concerned about the emotional and social well-being of teens.

Consider a thought experiment posed by Isabel Sawhill, president of The National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy* and Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution: If we could somehow eliminate all of the health consequences of teen sex, including STDs and pregnancy, would you want a 15- or 16-year-old to be sexually active? Many people would answer no, and the reason is that there are other compelling emotional and social reasons for teens to abstain from sex.

It is significant that the overwhelming majority of sexually active teens wish they had waited. There are powerful emotional reasons to wait to have sex, including the fact that early sexual involvement is not likely to deliver what teens, especially girls, want—namely, affection, connection, respect, or love. Social reasons revolve around healthy relationship development. For teens, sex typically blurs or hinders genuine relationship development, or worse, glues teens (especially girls) to bad relationships. Since sex always involves the possibility of creating a child—a simple fact that is often ignored – it is also important to consider the needs of a child for parental commitment to one another and to the child.

Teens are on a journey to learn about love, relationships, themselves, and their emerging sexuality. They are moving out of their families and building friendships and romantic connections. As they enter new relationships, teens find themselves in the throes of powerful feelings of attraction, rejection, and a myriad of other emotions. Most teens want affection, respect, love, and connection. Yet our young people receive little guidance on navigating the world of teen relationships and the sexual culture. While we tell them what to say “no” to, we do too little to help teens build the healthy relationships to which they can say “yes.”

Sadly, the messages teens do receive about sex, and the messages they don’t receive about developing positive relationships and why marriage matters, especially if they plan to have children, set the stage for many teens to fail at developing successful relationships. Contemporary culture encourages sex without meaning, living together without commitment, and having babies without mutual commitment and healthy marriage. This perspective carries consequences that seriously disadvantage our young people, especially females. Troubled or unstable relationships and unintended pregnancies can derail teens and young adults in serious ways or cancel out their gains in education, employment, and parenting. Further, such relationship choices can put the well-being of children at risk.

Building Assets
This curriculum is meant to contribute to a larger project of building assets for youth. Insights and skills for building successful relationships are important assets for young people. It is part and parcel of the trajectory of teen and life success and is firmly rooted in a positive youth development approach.

Love U2® is meant to help young people craft a “North Star” for their relationship lives, to build critical communication and other relationship skills, and to acquire insights into healthy relationship development. It engages teens in a deep exploration of the emotional and social dimensions of sexuality and strongly encourages teens to postpone sexual involvement, using with positive reasons and skill-building exercises.

Love U2® is also meant to inform young people of the findings of social science research regarding the link between child well-being and family structure. This curriculum teaches why a particular “sequence” of some of life’s most important events, such as establishing a healthy marriage before having a baby, really matters. Although teens and young adults say they highly value lifelong marriage as a personal goal, many are likely to fail and some are afraid to try. Teens and young adults are often woefully ignorant or misinformed about the basic research evidence on the importance of quality relationships and healthy marriage. They know little about the economic, social, and personal benefits of a healthy marriage and what research has discovered about the patterns that erode versus protect relationships and marriage. Young people have many misconceptions about cohabitation, the responsibilities of parenthood, and what it takes to raise children successfully.

Beyond the Health Paradigm
The curricula we develop and, more importantly, the conversations we have with teens should not be limited to a discourse on avoiding STDs or pregnancy. True, we need to include health concerns, but we also must move beyond the confines of a health paradigm. Sex has meaning—or, rather, sex should have meaning—even if there is no health risk. Our conversations need to include more attention to building healthy relationships, affirming the power and potential of sexual love in the right context and the consequences for having babies when they are unplanned and when parents are young and unwed. We can and should reach for higher ground in our discussions with teens.

And teens want us to do just that. Teen surveys conducted by The National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy are particularly revealing: two-thirds of teens say their own morals, values, and or religious beliefs—as well as concerns about their future—influence their decisions about sex far more than concerns about pregnancy or STDs.

Perhaps one reason teens are bored with our conventional approaches is that they sense we have nothing of lasting substance to say beyond a description of body parts and clinical risk reduction. We have little to say that truly inspires and helps teens see a “North Star” for their relationships; we have less that makes them think about themselves and their responsibilities in relationship to others—whether it be in a romantic relationship, in their family, with a child that results from a sexual encounter, or in a future marriage. The National Campaign’s survey provides important reminders for us:

  • Ninety-one percent of teens believe that it is important for teens to be given a strong message from society that they should not have sex until they are at least out of high school.
  • Eighty-four percent of teens believe that teen pregnancy prevention should teach young people to be married before they have a child.

Unfortunately, teen pregnancy prevention programs, while emphasizing the importance of waiting until an older age to have a child, do not generally build an awareness of why and how healthy relationships and healthy marriage matters to child well-being. Yet, research shows that merely waiting until one is twenty years or older to have an out-of-wedlock or unintended child does not appear to significantly increase the well-being of mother or child. Age itself is not the key.

Accurate health information is included in Love U2®, (specifically included in the Becoming Sex Smart and Baby Smarts: Through the Eyes of a Child units) but all Love U2® units focus more attention on motivational themes exploring healthy relationship development, the meaning of sexual love, and the consequences of a disconnect between childbearing and marriage. This curriculum sketches out a larger context for helping teens make wise relationship and sexual choices and can be summarized as, “It’s not just about me.” There’s a bigger picture here. It’s about relationships, values, and deeper meanings, as well as the needs of children, family, and community. It is also about building knowledge and real skills.