FIRST-PERSON: Troubling stats about teen sex

Editors’ note: This column addresses a sexual topic of sensitive nature.

McMINNVILLE, Ore. (BP)--“At 50 percent, we’re talking about a major social norm,” Claire Brindis said. “It’s part of kids’ lives.”

The professor of pediatrics at the University of California at San Francisco was not talking about braces or cell phones; she was speaking about oral sex.

According to a report released Sept. 15 by the National Center for Health Statistics, slightly more than half of American teenagers ages 15 to 19 have engaged in oral sex. That number jumps to 70 percent for 18 and 19 year olds.

A report issued earlier this year, based on the same research gathered in 2002 and 2003, surprisingly showed that slightly more girls than boys have had intercourse before they turn 20. Also, the number of high school girls who have engaged in casual sexual encounters now equals boys.

“The data are now coming out and roiling the idea that boys are the hunters and young girls are the prey,” said James Wagoner, president of Advocates for Youth. “It absolutely defies the stereotypes."

The study also found that nearly 11 percent of young women ages 15 to 19 indicated they had some kind of sexual experience with a female partner.

According to the findings, the number of teens engaging in oral sex has increased in recent years and the percentage of teenage girls involved in all forms of sexual activity has shown a significant escalation.

While the NCHS survey revealed the sexual behavior patterns of teens, it did not attempt to offer possible reasons for the rise in oral sex among young people or why the promiscuity of young girls is on the rise.

Of the possible factors contributing to the sexual state of America’s teens, one finger must be pointed at former President Bill Clinton.

It was Clinton’s escapades with Monica Lewinsky that made oral sex a household topic in 1998. The teens targeted in the NCHS survey were between 8 and 12 years old when the story was being discussed daily on television and radio.

There is no doubt that the popularity of the topic at the time, coupled with Clinton’s insistence that he did not have sex with Lewinsky, helped to contribute to the attitudes of many of today’s teenagers.

However, the former president is not alone in shaping the sexual mores of America’s youth. Popular media has also contributed significantly.

Movies, music and television each do their part in downplaying the significance of physical intimacy. Today’s teens are bombarded with sexual innuendo and messages that portray promiscuity as anything but negative.

In much of popular media, intercourse is portrayed as sport. Casual sex is the norm and many programs, like the once wildly popular “Sex and the City,” depict successful, empowered women as sexually aggressive.

Thanks, in part, to the images of popular media, the promiscuity of girls has risen alarmingly over the past decade.

Couple the image of the sexually aggressive female with the suggestion of bi-sexual experimentation -- remember Madonna’s lip-lock with Britney Spears on national television? -- and the increase of female to female sexual activity can, in part, be explained.

Another factor contributing to the skewed sexual values of today’s teens is pornography, especially via the Internet.

Teenagers are using the Internet in unprecedented numbers and most are much more computer literate than their parents. It would be naive to believe that easy access to pornography via the “net” has not contributed, at least in part, to the sexual views of many teens.

The NCHS survey should serve as a wake-up call to parents. If you want your teenager to avoid the negative consequences of unmarried sex, not only do you have to be aware of the sexual content of popular media, you have to talk to them. Otherwise, your teen is likely to become a sad statistic.

A one-time pep talk will not suffice. You must have an ongoing conversation with your teen about what it means to be sexually pure. Be specific and comprehensive. Highlight that the benefits of waiting until marriage far outweigh the physical and psychological consequences of promiscuity.

While 50 percent of teens might be experimenting with sex in some shape, form or fashion, it does not mean that your son or daughter has to be one of them.


Kelly Boggs is pastor of the Portland-area Valley Baptist Church in McMinnville, Ore. His column appears each Friday in Baptist Press.

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