Can the old virtue make a comeback?
To the immense dismay of sex gurus and Planned Parenthood operators, a growing number of young Canadians are hearing why “yes” is the answer to these questions.
Are you guys actors or are you for real?” one student in the assembly asks the teens on the school stage Dan Gillespie and Monique Bergeron, both 18, Juliet Labossiere 17 and Mitch Champagne 16, are not actors. They are peer educators with the TAC Force, Teens and Chastity, a group based in Cornwall, Ontario. They are comfortable with chastity and travel around eastern Ontario helping other teens feel comfortable with it too.
“Are you telling us that if we only romanced a girl she would be satisfied.”
“If you did it right.” replies Monique.
The high school seniors have just finished some skits and are answering questions from the audience in a Toronto high school, one of three they are visiting in a whirl-wind, six presentation, two-day tour.
“I just want to say you guys up there have a lot guts,” another student declares.
The skits punctuate a presentation by Marilyn Bergeron, 50. Marilyn is coordinator of the Canadian Alliance for Chastity and the driving force behind TAC.
Marilyn stresses that sex has a unitive purpose; it binds people together. To demonstrate she takes a roll of duct tape and asks some of the young men to bare their hairy arms. She shows how if she were to apply the tape to their arms (she doesn’t), it would be very painful to remove from the first few men. But with reuse the tape would lose its adhesiveness. Eventually it wouldn’t hurt to remove it, but it wouldn’t stick well either. “Sex is like a duct tape,” says Marilyn. “It has a bonding power that diminishes with each new partner.”
Mitch Champagne thinks Marilyn’s a “great speaker.” “I’ve never heard her give the same talk twice. We back up what she says and often the kids are more comfortable
asking us the questions
“How do your friends, other guys, react?” someone asks Mitch.
“Some tease a bit but underneath you’re respected. It doesn’t bother me.”
“How far can I go and still be a virgin?”
“How chaste can you be and still have a good relationship?” Marilyn responds. “When it goes beyond affection to arousal. When you are being turned on.”
“What are your personal limits?” someone asks Mitch.
“Everybody has to set their own. The lips for me. Hugs are fine.”
To Marilyn’s surprise and delight a dozen girls jump to their feet in the middle of one presentation and proudly declare they are virgins. She never asks for such public
self-identification from the audience. These young women are just confident enough to proclaim it.
Many young people are offended by the adult assumption that most teens are sexually active. “Why do teachers assume I sleep with my boyfriend? It’s like the adult world invading our world,” students have said. Even some parents believe the worst when in fact their kids are not sleeping around.
According to the Canada Youth and Aids Study (1988) 52% of grade 11 students have never been sexually involved. What of the 48% who have had intercourse—some only once?
For those that have been sexually involved, TAC stresses “secondary virginity.”
According to the teen magazine Young and Modern, Feb. ’96 nearly two-thirds of high school girls who have had sex say they wish they had waited until they were older. TAC encourages these kids to rethink their sexual behavior. “It’s never too late to start over.”
Marilyn and the TAC Force make themselves available for as long as students want after a presentation. They have been known to stay all afternoon while students quietly confide in them. One young girl asks a technical question about birth control. Marilyn inquires gently. “Why are you having sex at14?”
“Cause he said he’d leave me and I’m not very pretty,” she responds.
Young teens who are sexually active often suffer from low self-esteem. These teens need to learn how to end manipulative and abusive relationships.
When Mitch was 12 he attended the Dating and Relating Conferences that were given by the TAC Force to students in grades eight and nine. In grade 10 he became one of the youth leaders and this year is travelling with the TAC Force, which has spoken in Ottawa, Pembroke and Martintown schools, as well as in Toronto.
Monique Bergeron, Marilyn’s daughter, is also part of the TAC Force, as have been four of her six children. The oldest two had left home before TAC formed. “We have never been pressured to join. It was totally our own decision” explains Monique.
The TAC Force do a reality check on Marilyn’s presentations. “We tell her which scenarios would never happen. We make sure she gets the lingo right,” Monique explains. They also help her evaluate the videos, pamphlets, posters and curricula for the extensive Canadian Alliance for Chastity Resource List.
Marilyn believes she is addressing four kinds of students: virgin by choice, virgin by chance, sexually active with regret and sexually active and enjoying it. “No matter where they are I want to have something to say to them. Chastity is a way of life. I want to help them develop and maintain a lasting relationship with someone who will be there for them fifty years from now.
“But sex can easily take over a dating relationship. Once you become sexually active you often don’t take long walks together anymore; you don’t talk so frequently about your hopes and dreams. The dating relationship is only about making out. The relationship doesn’t grow in any other area.
“If you practice self-control before marriage it will be easier after marriage. For even after marriage there will be times when a spouse will be ill or a colleague will be attractive and you will need to practice self-restraint.”
“Kids want to know how to disengage, how to get out of bad relationships, and they need to know that this is easier to do if there has not been sex. Kids are more able to keep a friendship as a friendship if there has been no sexual involvement.”
Marilyn has been a mentor to Rebecca Morcos 24, the national coordinator of the Challenge Team, a group of college students who in the last three years has spoken to 160,000 students coast-to-coast across Canada about chastity and secondary virginity.
Rebecca has only praise for Marilyn. “She’s very motivated I’ve never seen anyone work as hard as she does. She never loses her cool yet she doesn’t compromise.”
Marilyn, a McGill graduate, has been involved in pro-life work for 24 years. She was national President of Alliance for Life, from 1989-1992.
Twenty years ago she founded a Birthright chapter in Cornwall. Not infrequently she would get calls from mothers and clergy about young 14 and 15-year-old girls who were pregnant. “Girls this young should not have to make such monumental decision.” At first she thought perhaps birth control was the answer but her research showed the contraceptive mentality was the underlying problem.
She shared her concerns with the headmaster of Grenville Christian College, when she was there giving a talk on abortion. He challenged her to return in six months with a presentation on chastity. She did.
Since then she has done hundreds of presentations to thousands of students, teachers, parents and even public health nurses.
Marilyn tailors her talks to her audience. In grades seven and eight very few students are sexually active; most are open to her message. In grades 11, 12, and OAC many are sexually involved. Their defences are up. Many do care about the person they’re sleeping with. It’s hard for the younger grades to imagine the long term relationship, while older students are thinking in terms of a permanent partner.
Marilyn encourages families to discuss, before their children start dating, some guidelines. She believes that if kids have some input into their curfews, they are most likely to adhere to them. Families should consider:
Age to start dating (TAC suggests group activities and outings at 14 and 15; no couple dating until 16).
During the teen years, date no one more than two years older or two years younger than yourself.
No go areas—parties with alcohol and no supervision.
Curfews: not too early else they’re unfair—not to late because then they’re pointless.
Creative dating—boredom is dangerous.
Teens should set even stricter limits than their parents because teens are more aware of the danger stops. Teens know what is happening where the rough parties and dangerous hang-outs are and where the alcohol flows freely.
Marilyn claims there is a high incidence of oral sex among extremely young teens. “She can keep all her clothes on and feel like a virgin. She won’t get pregnant. But these girls are just servicing their boyfriends.”
“What level of sexual pleasure can there be for a 13-year-old girl who is with a 15-year-old boy who can’t wait. Girls are acting out expected behaviour, expected by their by their boyfriends and the media. They are sexually aggressive but not necessarily enjoying it sensually.”
Marilyn has the most extensive list of chastity resources in Eastern Canada She admits that a bad program taught by a good teacher and a good program taught by a bad teacher evens out, so she also offers teacher workshops.
She has prepared three guides based on her highly successful workshops: “Creative Dating,” “Setting Limits,” and “How to Say No.” These papers will enable less experienced teachers and youth leaders to run similar workshops comfortably.
She also edits a newletter brimming with teachable ideas, The Chastity Connection with a circulation of 2,000. Many of CAC’s resources are also available in French, including posters, which are suitable for schools, community centres and buses.
Marilyn has just written a book, A Community Affair: Solving the Problem of Teen Pregnancy and Disease. She believes everyone must be involved: parents, peers, schools, churches, even the business community.
In Maryland, The Campaign for Our Children made business leaders aware of how teen pregnancy translates into higher taxes because of school drop-outs. The business leaders ran a positive advertising campaign which included billboards declaring, “Virgin-Teach your kids it’s not a dirty word.” Maryland saw a 5% drop in teen pregnancies and a 16% decrease in the number of abortions.
Planned Parenthood and Public Health have spent two decades futilely trying to make kids feel comfortable with condoms. It hasn’t worked. Adolescent contraceptive neglect persists. The Ontario Ministry of Health a 1993 report entitled, Opportunities for Health noted that “Over 50% of sexually active 16-24 year never use condoms.”
Marilyn Bergeron and the TAC Force are making young people feel comfortable with chastity.