Monday, November 14, 2011

Teenage Sexuality

It was a decade of unbridled teenage sexual activity, distinguished by the highest rate of adolescent childbearing of the twentieth century. More than half of all girls and boys lost their virginity while still in their teens, and the number of illegitimate babies placed for adoption rose sharply. The decade? The 1950s.

Yes, it was the teens of the 1950s who went wild back in the days of pleated skirts worn below the knee, saddle shoes and blue jeans with cuffs deep enough for storing school supplies—in a time so remote that they didn’t even have the birth control pill. Which helps to explain why, in 1957, ninety-six out of every one thousand American girls aged fifteen to nineteen were having babies—nearly double the teen birth rate in 1997.
It’s helpful to keep such facts in mind if it seems to you that today’s adolescents can’t think about anything but sex. You were probably the same way when you were a teenager—consumed by your interest in the opposite sex (or same sex). That’s because the desire for companionship, love and, yes, physical intimacy is normal and healthy at this age.
None of which means that you shouldn’t be concerned—you should. As adults, we know that a single act of sexually irresponsible behavior can have life-altering consequences: an unintended pregnancy, a sexually transmitted and possibly fatal disease, and let’s not forget the pain of a broken heart. How could a child’s budding sexuality not be a source of concern for parents?
Some mothers and fathers might disagree, but the aim of educating youngsters about sex is not to suppress their sexuality; adolescence is a time of sexual experimentation. A more realistic expectation is to impress upon boys and girls the many compelling reasons for abstaining from sexual intercourse at least until they’re responsible enough to protect themselves against pregnancy and disease and emotionally mature enough to handle the new, intense feelings stirred by their first romantic experiences.
In addition, most parents would probably wish that when their sons and daughters do decide to have sex, it’s in the context of a loving relationship. Judging by the declining rates of teenage intercourse and teen pregnancies, this is what increasing numbers of young people appear to want for themselves. From 1991 to 1998, the number of births per one thousand girls aged fifteen to nineteen tumbled from sixty-two to fifty-one. Rates of abortions, second births and babies born out of wedlock are also down.
The dramatic increase in the use of contraceptives by teenagers accounts for much of that drop; according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, condom use rose from 11 percent in 1983 to 58 percent in 1999. But also, more adolescents are choosing to wait until adulthood before “going all the way.” From 1991 to 1999, the percentage of high-school students who engaged in intercourse fell from 59 to 50 percent. These are all encouraging trends, and they reflect the value of sex education at home and at school. But parents and teachers have to keep driving home the message. The United States still has the highest teenage pregnancy rate among Western nations—twice as high as Canada and England, and nine times as high as Japan and the Netherlands.

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