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Survey says teen sex common

October 12, 2005|by TARA REILLY

WASHINGTON COUNTY

tarar@herald-mail.com

A survey of local teens and parents found what Washington County's high teenage birth rate already reflected - teenagers are having sex.

And, according to the survey, they don't feel comfortable discussing the issue with their parents.

"It's hard because parents shove their own beliefs down your throat and you want to make your own decisions," one teen respondent said.

"Teens are uncomfortable, because if you say you're thinking about doing it, they may be stricter with their rules," another teen said.

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According to the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Needs Assessment, which included a survey of 489 teens and parents, 54 percent of teens said they have had "at least one type of sex."

The County Commissioners authorized Shattuck & Associates Inc. of Mount Airy, Md., to complete the assessment, which they reviewed at Tuesday's meeting.

The assessment showed that 65 percent of sexually active teens reported having two or more partners, while 25 percent said they've had sex with five or more partners.

Thirty-two percent said they always use birth control.

The bulk of the surveys were completed in May at Valley Mall, and 90 percent of the respondents were Washington County residents. The average age of the teens surveyed was 16, and the average age of parents polled was 43.

"Again, these are our kids," Melissa Nearchos, senior project manager for Washington County Community Partnership for Children and Families said.

"Whether they're at the mall or at church, they're still our kids."

In 2003, 185 Washington County females ages 15 to 19 gave birth, the Health Department said.

The birth rate that year was 45 births per every 1,000 in that age group, the fourth-highest among 24 jurisdictions in the state. It was higher than the state's rate of 33 births per 1,000 and the national rate of 41.7 births per 1,000 for teens in the 15-to-19 age group.

The survey found problems in communication between parents and teens about sex, mentioned perceived deficiencies in sex education in schools and indicated a cultural acceptance of teen pregnancy in the community.

"A 30-year-old woman with a 15-year-old daughter with a 2-week-old baby. This is acceptable, it's generational, and it's cultural," a respondent wrote.

Parents said they had conversations with teens about issues such as abstaining from sex, avoiding teen pregnancy and HIV and AIDS or other sexually transmitted infections more than teens reported the conversations took place, according to the survey.

For example, 93.3 percent of parents said they talked with teens about abstaining from or delaying sex, while 66.5 percent of teens said they had that conversation with their parents.

In addition to teens feeling uncomfortable talking about sex with their parents, the assessment states semantics might be one of the problems.

"Teens and parents think differently about what a conversation about sex is," according to the assessment. "Parents think if they mention the word sex then they've had a conversation, but teens don't see that as having sat down and had a conversation."

While the survey produced a number of statistics, it also provided recommendations for dealing with the teen pregnancy.

Ninety-six percent of parents polled said they thought it was important or very important to teach students about protection and birth control in Washington County Public Schools' Family Life classes, while 88.5 percent of teens thought so. Teens and parents also thought that fifth and sixth grades were appropriate to begin learning about sex in family life classes.

"Family Life Education needs to be more direct and more candid with young people," according to one survey suggestion. "We talk around the issues too much instead of addressing them head-on."

Some teens also suggested that schools provide contraceptives to students. Increasing communication between parents and teens about sex was another assessment recommendation.

"It's tough," Commissioner Doris J. Nipps said of the teen pregnancy problem.

"It's a huge issue," Commissioners President Gregory I. Snook responded.

"And it's a community issue, and some people just don't even want to talk about it," Nipps said.

The Washington County Teen Pregnancy Prevention Task Force hopes to create "communitywide strategies" to reduce teen pregnancy. The task force contains various business, nonprofit, religious and school representatives.

"This is a process," said Dale Bannon, United Way of Washington County executive director. "It's not something where the study's now here and we all go home."

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