Please note that the book I’m recommending, I’m NOT recommending for kids. The book is written for parents and other adults who are involved with teens. It’s an important book, eye-opening and radical. I think it could be life-changing.

“I am fearfully and wonderfully made,” says the psalmist in Psalm 139:14 (NIV). Discoveries in neuroscience in the last decade affirm this truth. It’s breath-taking. In Hooked, subtitled, New Science on How Casual Sex is Affecting Our Children, doctors Joe S. McIlhaney, Jr., M.D. and Freda McKissic Bush, M.D., explain that sexual activity changes the brain and when teens and young adults engage in sex, they put their emotional health at risk. When it comes to premarital sexual activity, there is more to be concerned about than a pregnancy or STDs.

Hooked is a must-read for parents, youth leaders and other caring adults who want the lives of teens and young adults to be healthy and fulfilling. But don’t worry, this is not a textbook. You don’t have to become a scientist to understand it. The doctors have written a book that is readable as well as informative.

Because of the tremendous advances in technology, scientists are able to study the brain in ways that were not possible before. McIlhaney and Bush point out that while we don’t yet know everything about how the brain works, we do know some very significant things. We now know that neurochemicals– dopamine, oxytocin and vasopressin–are released in the brain during sexual activity. Dopamine rewards the person with good feelings for having taken the risk of intimacy and oxytocin in women and vasopressin in men, actually bond the couple to each other. These neurochemicals change the brain, encouraging and supporting further sexual activity. This works well within  marriage, but becomes problematic and damaging outside of marriage.

Science is discovering that engaging in sexual activity affects the person beyond the moment. When the relationship, no matter how brief, dissolves, the bonds created by the neurochemicals are broken and there is pain. It is real and it is often long-lasting. Further, the appetite for sex created by dopamine may increase the person’s chances of rushing into another relationship and pushing that relationship to become sexual prematurely. Human beings, according to science and despite what the culture is promoting, are not made for “hooking up” or “friends with benefits.” Even cohabiting, because of its lack of commitment, can be a serious risk to future pleasure and fulfillment.

Complicating matters for teens and young adults is that their decision-making abilities are still developing. Science has discovered that part of the brain that can plan long-range and assess the consequences is not fully mature until a person is in his/her mid-twenties. Teens and young adults are vulnerable to entering into relationships and sexualizing them (bonding together) before they know enough about themselves and their partner to know if the relationship will be healthy and can last.

Parents, however, need not despair, say McIlhaney and Bush. Other research shows that when teens and parents have a good relationship, parents are influential. Teens and even college students pay attention to what their parents say and do in regards to sex. The authors contend that teens and even college-age young people need guidance and would benefit from it. They believe information in this book will help parents and other caring adults give guidance on sex and relationships.

The book is light on how to specifically talk with teens and young adults about sex, but it occurs to me that the research would make a good conversation starter with high schoolers and young adults. Older teens have more then a passing interest in how the human body works and I think they will find this fascinating and important stuff. I also think that parents are not the only voices that teens and young adults need to hear from about this. Church leaders and other caring adults could also effectively share this info.

Hooked was written for the general market; it does not mention God. Yet His wisdom and heart of love were present on every page.

Hooked was published by Northfield Publishing (2008)

Nancy Ellen Hird