Teenagers are having sex. It almost feels inappropriate to write this. Why? They have been having sex for decades, centuries, so why would that feel inappropriate? According to the CDC in 2011, almost 50% of teens have had sex. That is a lot. It is half of a high school. Half of the Honors kids. Half of the “good girls” and “good boys” who would “never have sex as a teen”. Half of the families who tell me their child is not having sex with her boyfriend because they said they are not.
Is sex still a big deal? I would argue that for most teens, the first time it is. But by the time they reach that “I’m ready for sex” stage, they have already been inundated with information (accurate and inaccurate) about sex, oral sex, peer and media stories about sex, and the casual side of sex (NBD= no big deal) that they often rationalize why it is OK to go ahead with the decision.
In 1987, George Michael came out with the song “I Want Your Sex”. The lyrics include ways to talk someone into having sex even when the other person has hesitations. Has much changed since 1987? Or since the 1960s for that matter? Are boys still trying to talk girls into having sex? And are girls trying to talk boys into it now too?
In a world of 50 Shades of Grey, Sexting, “Blow My Whistle” lyrics, and constant media attention to sex, the intimacy often loses out. Most adolescents know that sex is “supposed to” mean something. But many of the adolescents are also having meaningless sex. Sometimes it is because they don’t know how to say no, sometimes it is because they gave in to repeated requests, and other times (appallingly) it is because they were too drunk to realize what was happening.
One thing is for certain. Teens do not feel better after having had casual sex. I’ve yet to meet the teen who would make the same decision again. In fact, most have such awful anxiety and guilt over what they have done that they are quite negatively impacted.
So what can we do about this? While educating girls that it is OK to say no, are we educating boys to respect that answer? And are both being educated to never, ever have sex with someone who is too drunk to communicate? What about sexting? Even those really great kids who know better are feeling pressured to send revealing pictures of themselves and just don’t know how to say no to some requests.
A survey conducted by Planned Parenthood this year found that while parents truly believe they are doing a great job communicating with their teens about sex, the teens are not hearing it. For example, 42% of parents say they’ve talked to their teens “many times” about how to say no to sex. But just 27% of teens say parents have talked that often. Oftentimes parents will tell me they skipped the conversation entirely because they know school is taking care of it.
As parents, we need to remember that our children expect, want and need our guidance. We need to have these conversations again and again, and we need to make sure our teens are listening.