The Reputed Power of “Raging Hormones”

I’ve heard it said of expressions of teenage sexual practice (as recently as this morning), that “When rational thought goes up against raging hormones, raging hormones win every time.” This claim is patently false.

Doubtless raging hormones are powerful. We see plenty of evidence of that. Most of us have felt them at one time or another. Also doubtless, there has been much pain resulting from hormones raging amok. But they do not always get their way with us.

If we were mere fleshly automata, “meat machines” as some have said, raging hormones and other internal electro-chemical stimuli would control us, overcoming the thin veneer of rationality. But we’re not mere fleshly automata. Even many of us with weak and deficient reason manage to overcome those hormonal commands on a daily basis.

In the first place, I can observe that in spite of raging hormones I have not been around teenagers who rip their clothes off and give expression to hormonal commands at the drop of a hat, even in public. The hormonal commands may at times take command of the reason in order to arrange occasions for their accommodation, but taking life as a whole, these occasions are still a small part of life.

In the second place, we do teenagers (and those of other ages) a disservice when we teach them to acquiesce to raging hormones without a fight, which is exactly what we are telling to them to do when we tell them “raging hormones always win.” What can we teach them instead?

Well, there is no harm in admitting up front that hormones are powerful. God designed them to perpetuate the human race, after all, so it shouldn’t be surprising that they work. Put in this context, we can also teach that these hormones are good. We must teach more, however.

If Darwin and Dawkins taught the highest goals of human life, we wouldn’t aim for more than procreation: that would be enough. But most of us, whatever our religious convictions (positive or negative) think there is more to life than this. In at least some circumstances, then, saying NO to the commands of our hormones is good for us and the people around us. This is a point where our modern conception of freedom might come in handy. We don’t want to be slaves to any man – why be slave to lowly hormones?

We can teach people to use their reason before it is subjugated by hormones. If they recognize that they have an inclination to obey hormones, they can use their reason to take themselves to places where giving in to them is less likely to happen. For teenagers, not being alone with the one that one bodily yearns for is one strategy for not giving in to hormones. Another reasoned strategy might be to spend more time with others, whether parents, friends, or the general public. A final reasoned strategy is to avoid feeding the raging hormones.

I realize most of these ideas are strongly counter-cultural: but don’t we value being counter-cultural? The culture titillates and tempts, egging us on, urging us to give in. While this is usually in the service of the market (give in and give us money for this product or service that will make you really happy!), it is happy to have our surrender lap over into other areas. We’ll just be that much weaker the next time their ad comes on.

A single frustration of “raging hormones” is all it takes to refute the notion that they always win. We see that frustration almost every day, whether we’re aware of it or not. And we’re doing just fine for it.

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