For one of the top youth ministry leaders in the nation, “Friends With Benefits” isn’t just a movie about adult sexual fantasy, it’s a cultural phenomenon he’s been warning young people and parents about for the last three years.
Ron Luce, founder and president of Teen Mania Ministries, has been so entrenched in the battle for sexual purity before marriage that he wrote a book countering the growing acceptance of casual sex titled Friends Without Benefits.
The book, released last year, chronicles the stories of young people who became caught up in sexual trysts and suffered the consequences of unwanted pregnancies, damaged lives, and diseases.
Luce told The Christian Post that unfortunately, the concept of having sex with friends and intentionally choosing not to be emotionally engaged has now permeated the youth culture in the U.S.
“At first it was just 20-somethings to 30-somethings, but now we have kids in junior high and high school participating. We have stories about kids as young as 12 years old,” Luce said.
"This has been a rage for the last two or three years,” he said. He also pointed to the fact that another movie out recently, "No Strings Attached," has the same theme.
The widely played General Audiences approved trailer for the R-rated "Friends With Benefits," which releases Friday, includes clips of the main characters, played by Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis, agreeing to have sex without any emotional commitment. The movie’s website includes a Facebook campaign with a video of the two actors promoting the addition of a “Friends With Benefits” relationship status on the social media site.
“This movie is just another picture of what the media industry does,” Luce said. “Honestly, they don’t give a rip about any morals or values that they are projecting and who is watching. It’s about whatever pushes the envelope in movies like this one. The people who pay the price are kids and parents, and our culture overall.”
Luce has observed that a growing number of kids in school now believe it is a taboo to have a boyfriend or girlfriend. The norm seems to be that “you just have lots of friends and have lots of sex with them,” he said.
Teens use names like “cuddle buddies” and “booty call” to classify friends willing to have casual sex. “It’s not uncommon that even if you do have a boyfriend or girlfriend you have five or six friends that you have sex with and if they don’t know about each other then it’s okay,” Luce said.
Perhaps an even more disturbing trend is that no one is immune to acting on the practice.
“It seems like it’s everywhere. It’s happening in church and in youth groups,” he said. A common excuse used in order to have someone agree to sex is to say that they are “friends and they have needs.”
“It’s hard to find somebody that’s not doing ‘friends with benefits’ and if a student stands up against this in school they are mocked and ridiculed,” Luce lamented.
Teen Mania Ministries attempts to combat social pressures and reports on its website that it has impacted millions of teens globally. The Christian ministry reaches young people through TV broadcasts, media resources, mission trips, camps, and live youth events such as Acquire the Fire. Teen Mania events have taken place in stadiums and arenas in North America for the past 21 years.
“Last year, we talked all about ‘friends with benefits’ at Acquire the Fire events,” Luce said. “We tell teens to save your heart and save your mind. Purity isn’t just about not having sex.”
“We want kids to stand up boldly for their body, and their heart, and their mind. We ask teens to date God for a year instead of a person. Take all your emotions, and all your passion and all the time you would spend with a person just because the culture tells you that ‘you gotta have one,’ and have a real relationship with Christ.”
Parents are the first line of defense against a culture that is taking up more time in their children’s lives than the word of God, Luce said.
“It’s not, oh, the kids are having sex because we know kids have been having sex for a long time. It’s so much more common now and the culture seems to own our kids more than Christ does,” he pointed out.
“Parents,” he added, “need to decide that they are going to be a relationship-centric family rather than a media-centric family so that kids care about their relationships with their parents. What they are closest to relationally is going to influence them the most.
“In the middle of this cultural sewage, parents have to be very intent and proactive about parenting so they can help them see through the stories, the ‘friends with benefits’ lie and to make a pledge for purity until the day they are married. It’s not impossible. It just takes a massive amount of effort.”