The hottest new pop culture topic is “young teen” sex. People magazine has a special report, NBC News aired a special on Wednesday night, and CNN’s Paula Zahn is featuring special interviews on the topic-all in this week.
It’s about time people got concerned. Roughly 20 percent (depending on the poll) of young teens (13-16 years) are sexually active and that doesn’t include the large number of young teens who don’t think that oral sex is really sex. Polls indicate that 12 percent of young teens have had oral sex. However, only 15 percent of parents say that their young teen is engaged in sexual activity beyond kissing while nearly 30 percent of teens admit going there.
And, all that talk about “safe” sex and condom training?
According to the People/NBC poll, only 67 percent of young teens having sex say that they use a condom every time. In fact the People article begins with the story of a 14-year-old who has had two recent “pregnancy scares”: the first because “the condom broke” and the second because of a “heat-of-the-moment” encounter. Even scarier: The Centers for Disease Control report that chlamydia, herpes and HPV have increased among 10 to 19 year olds.
The current lingo is “friends with benefits,” where the “guys get the pleasure” without commitment and the girls “are willing to give them that.”
What the girls (and guys) don’t realize is that they are getting more than they bargained for. Dr. Meg Meeker, a pediatrician in Traverse City, Michigan, spoke at the Educational Policy conference in St. Louis last weekend. She said that doctors have to update their assumptions these days. When a pre-teen or teen comes in with a sore throat, Dr. Meeker says, “You can’t just think mono and strep; with the dramatic increase in oral sex, you have to also think herpes and gonorrhea.”
What is a parent to do?
First, they have to update their assumptions. Far too many parents think in terms of having “THE TALK” about sex — as though a single conversation about the birds and bees is enough. Parents need to be vigilant and take advantage of every opportunity to use everyday experiences of their children (television programs, observations at the grocery store, overheard conversations, etc.) to teach moral lessons and instill values in their children. The most stark discrepancy in the People/NBC poll was the difference between parental and child perceptions about “talking about sex and relationships.” About 85 percent of parents think that they talk to their kids about sex and relationships, while only 41 percent of kids report such talks.
Parents need to connect the dots. Early sexual activity means more sexual partners; if a girl begins sexual activity in her early teens she is, on average, likely to have more than a dozen partners over her lifetime, and the “turnover” rate of partners is more than four times as high as among those who begin sexual activity in their early 20s. Such girls are also more than twice as likely to become infected with sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Every day over 8,000 teenagers become infected with an STD. About 40 percent of teens who are sexually active eventually become pregnant out-of-wedlock.
Less well-known are the psychological and emotional problems associated with early sexual activity. Only one-third of girls who had early sexual activity describe themselves as “happy” as compared with over half of those who waited. Sexually active teens are more likely to be depressed (more than a quarter of the girls report depression and boys are twice as likely to be depressed as those who are abstinent). Sexually active teens are more likely to attempt suicide (girls are three times more likely and boys are eight times more likely). The bottom line is that more than two-thirds of teens who are sexually active admit that they wish they could go back to innocence again and desperately wish they had waited.
The girl whose story opened the People article wistfully lamented her experience because the guy who was going to take her to the prom dumped her when his mom found out she wasn’t a virgin. She says, simply, “My heart broke.”
Today, sadly, there are far too many teens with broken hearts and incurable diseases because adults are unwilling to state categorically that sex is meant exclusively for marriage.