Monday, May 4, 2009

Sue Scheff: Middle School Sex

“I wanted to be in the 'in' crowd and my friends. And I wanted to be able to say 'yes, I've had sex before,'”

– Katelyn, Age 13

Katelyn is now 16, but when she was only 13, “I started skipping school,” she says. “Having sex.”

“I wanted to be in the ‘in’ crowd and my friends,” Katelyn explains, “and I wanted to be able to say ‘yes, I’ve had sex before’.”

According to a new study by the University of Texas, 12 percent of 7th graders have had sex. Nearly 8 percent have had oral sex. What’s more, nearly a third aren’t using protection.

Experts say one problem is instead of getting information about sex from their parents and other adults, kids are getting it from other kids.

“And a lot of the information that they are getting from each other is poor information, its misinformation, and it’s not good,” says sex educator, Sheena Pope-Holland.

And in a time when sexual messages are everywhere, parents need to have lots of conversations about sex and they need to begin when the kids are young.

“What they can expect to face in terms of pressures from their friends,” explains teen counselor Marie Mitchell, “In terms of what these new feelings will mean in their lives, what the consequences of acting on those feelings might be.”

She says parents also need to be pro-active: Get to know your child's friends. Know what they’re doing and where they're going and when they’re supposed to return.

And make sure your rules are age appropriate.

“You don't allow a 13-year-older to go out on a date by herself, because she's not mature enough to handle those situations,” says Mitchell.

Katelyn has been abstinent for over a year. What convinced her were conversations with teenage mothers.

“That was I think the biggest slap in the face to me…for somebody outside of my family to tell me ‘you’re dumb, you’re stupid, look where I am, I have nothing, I have absolutely nothing…do you want to be like this when you’re my age?’”

Tips for Parents
The American Academy of Pediatrics has suggested that portrayals of sex on entertainment television may contribute to precocious adolescent sex. Approximately two-thirds of television programs contain sexual content, and adolescents who viewed more sexual content were more likely to initiate intercourse and progress to more advanced non-coital sexual activities. Youths in the top 10th percentile of television sex viewing were twice as likely to have sex as those youths who were in the bottom 10th percentile of viewing.

Adolescence is a key period of sexual exploration and development. This is the time when teens begin to consider which sexual behaviors are enjoyable, moral and appropriate for their age group. Many teens become sexually active during this period; currently, 46 percent of high school students in the United States admit to having had sexual intercourse. Consider the following:

By ninth grade, 34 percent of teens have had sexual intercourse. By 12th grade, this figure increases to 60 percent.
On average, teens watch three hours of television every day.
Watching a program that talked about sex was associated with the same risks as exposure to a program that depicted sexual behavior.
Approximately one in seven television programs includes a portrayal of sexual intercourse.
Television programs with sexual content have an average of 4.4 scenes per hour containing sexually related material.
Youths who watched more depictions of sexual risks or safety were less likely to initiate intercourse.
Watching sex on television predicts and may hasten adolescent sexual initiation. Reducing the amount of sexual content in entertainment programming, reducing adolescent exposure to this content, or increasing references to and depictions of the possible negative consequences of sexual activity could delay when teens embark on sexual activities. A quarter of all sexually active teens will contract a sexually transmitted disease each year. According to 57 percent of adults and 72 percent of teens, the media has given "more attention" to teen pregnancy prevention in recent years.

Remember that as a parent you may be able to reduce the effects of sexual content in the media by watching television with your teenagers and discussing your own beliefs about sex and the behaviors being portrayed. Most parents say they have discussed sex with their teenagers, but far fewer teenagers say they had such talks with their parents. Sixty-nine percent of teens report that it would be "much easier" to postpone sexual activity if they could have "more open, honest conversations" about sex with their parents. In addition:

About 60 percent of teens have a television in their bedroom. The only way to keep parental control of television viewing is to not let your teen have a television in the bedroom.
Unplanned pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases are more common among those who begin sexual activity earlier.
Two-thirds of sexually experienced teens wish they had waited longer to have intercourse.
Seventy-nine percent of teenage virgins are not embarrassed to tell others they have not had sex.
Youngsters who receive little parental supervision may have more time and freedom to watch sexually based programming and more opportunities to engage in sexual activity.
The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation
Medical News Today
Rand Corporation
Talk With Your Kids
USA Today