Teens & Sex

What you thought you knew about your kids

What you thought you knew about your kids

November 28, 2005|by TIFFANY ARNOLD

Editor's note: The names of the teenagers below have been changed to protect their privacy.

This is what high school girls really think about sex: It's overrated at school and underrated at home.

Oh, and oral sex doesn't count.

The Herald-Mail interviewed 16 young women between the ages of 14 and 18 to find out what they think about sex.

Their responses reaffirmed much of what parents already know - that teenagers are having sex and not telling them about it.


But there are some twists:

Teens want their parents to talk to them about sex and say "The Talk" should go beyond the short, "sex is bad, so don't do it" lecture.

When it comes to abstinence, waiting until marriage isn't nearly as important as waiting for "Mr. Right."

Despite heightened awareness and public health campaigns, teenagers are voluntarily having unprotected sex.

The newspaper's informal and unscientific survey came in response to a report the Washington County Community Partnership for Children and Families released in October. That report, which surveyed 280 teenagers and 151 parents, was conducted in an attempt to explain the county's high teenage birth rate.

Washington County had the fourth highest teen birth rate in the state in 2003, according to the most recent figures from the Washington County Health Department.

There were 185 births among females ages 15-19, for a rate of 45 births per 1,000 females ages 15-19. Official numbers have not been released for 2004, but Washington County health officials estimate that 206 females in that age group gave birth in 2004.

The results

Ten of the 16 teenagers the Herald-Mail interviewed said they were sexually active. More than half of them said their parents didn't know about it.

None of the sexually active teenagers used condoms during oral sex, even though they said they knew they could get sexually transmitted diseases by having unprotected sex - oral or otherwise. The six teens who said they were abstaining had never had oral sex.

"(Oral sex) is safer yeah, definitely, because you can't get pregnant by it," said Tracy, a 17-year-old from Boonsboro. "I know you can get STDs (sexually-transmitted diseases) by it, but for some reason I have it in my head that it's safer."

Religion wasn't the most important reason for abstinence, according to the teens who said they weren't sexually active. Of the six teenagers who said they had never had sex, one said she planned to wait until marriage before having sex. The other five said were waiting until they fall in love, a process they said could take a day or years.

"With all the divorces and all, it's not meaningful," said Ann, 17, of Clear Spring, who said she's waiting until she meets "the one."

Of the 10 girls who said they were sexually active, only one girl said she would never have sex again until she was married.

Virtually all of the girls said their parents had the greatest influence on their behavior, countering the widely held belief that peers had the most pull.

"Some peers might push you to do something you don't want to do. You can trust your mom or dad," said Katie, a 17-year-old from Hagerstown.

'Don't get pregnant. Sex is bad.'

Katie, who said she could talk to her mother about anything, said her parents know that she's sexually active. She said she's on birth control pills and uses condoms, just as her parents taught her.

"My mom said she knows about me having sex, so she might as well let me do it so I don't do it behind her back," Katie said.

All but one of the young women said their parents had talked to them about sex, although the majority complained that it was treated as a "don't ask, don't tell," matter.

Generally, the teens who said they felt the most comfortable talking to their parents about sex were least likely to engage in risky sexual behavior.

Four of the 10 sexually active teens said they voluntarily told their parents they were sexually active.

Jessica said fear of judgment was the main reason she hasn't told her parents.

She said her parents barely brought up the topic.

"They just told me 'don't get pregnant. Sex is bad'," said Jessica, 16, of Sharpsburg.

Jessica said she started having sex when she was 15 in order to "heighten" her relationship with her boyfriend.

"At the time, I really didn't want to do it," she said. "I really wish I had waited."

Lisa, 19, of Sharpsburg, said she has sex with her boyfriend at least twice a week and has been using birth control pills.

Her parents tried to have the talk, but "flubbed it," Lisa said.

"One time, when I was like 12, my dad felt the need to pull the car over and talk about it. It was really embarrassing," she said.

She said the topic was never brought up again. Her friends were the ones teaching her about sex.

"My best friend lost her virginity in seventh grade so I learned all about it from her," she said.

'Everybody's doing it'

Lisa wasn't alone in saying other high schoolers were the main source of information when it came to sex.

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