Sex at an Earlier and Earlier Age

Article excerpt

Adolescents are beginning to become sexually active at increasingly younger ages, according to researchers. But what are the causes of this social trend in America?

Rarely a week goes by without a new, more shocking, article or television documentary about American adolescents fixated with sex and, more specifically, openly discussing and admitting to participating in oral sex.

Take, for instance, the week of July 16, when both the New York Daily News and the Washington Post Magazine published shocking articles about the practices of young teens. The Daily News article, "Sex Crimes on Upswing," by Alison Gendar, focused on the increase in sexual insults and offenses that adolescents are forced to endure while attending school, and the Post's "Sex & Sensibility" by Liza Mundy reported on the peer pressure associated with participating in intercourse and other sexual activity.

In the latter, an eighth-grade girl recounted a scenario that played out in her home with a boyfriend. "Let's go to your room. You can give me some [engage in fellatio] and then we'll go downstairs," said the boy. To which she replied, "No! You're nasty!"

Stories such as this frequently are being reported. At the same time a recently released study comparing the findings of four national surveys about the trends in adolescent sexual and reproductive behavior published by the Alan Guttmacher Institute's, or AGI's, peer-reviewed journal, Family Planning Perspectives, found that sexual intercourse among adolescents is on the decline. Truly this is a conundrum. Adolescents are talking about sex and reportedly engaging in oral sex, yet intercourse among them is on the decline. Is it possible that school-age children have been led to believe that oral sex is safe or that it is not sex at all? And if either is the case, where did they get the idea?

Most of the professionals who study adolescent sexual behavior with whom Insight spoke say they doubt that the huge publicity about President Clinton's affair with Monica Lewinsky has been a major factor in the changing trends, but given the enormous amount of media coverage devoted to detailing the White House sex scandal none would eliminate it from consideration. According to Tamara Kreinin, president of the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States, or SIECUS, a New York-based nonprofit organization that advocates the right of individuals to make responsible sexual choices, "The Clinton/Lewinsky affair got people talking about oral sex just temporarily. Long before the Clinton affair we had MTV, which is very explicit. In the long run, I don't think it changed whether parents are talking to their kids. I think it was a slice of American life -- for a brief time people were either talking about it or trying not to talk about it."

Kreinin says that now children are proving to "have been sexually active longer than we ever thought, but we don't have any good studies to really know about oral sex. What we do know is that we have large numbers of young people with sexually transmitted diseases, or STDs, and that is cause for alarm. Some kids are remaining abstinent and some are sexually active. It's just very hard to be definitive about the causes. When I go around to schools and speak to even sixth-graders, they tell me that they've engaged in oral sex and intercourse, but they also tell me that they want parents and adults to talk to them about it."

According to Kreinin, one solution is communication. "Parents," she explains, "need to talk with their children -- and not just about sex. They need to talk about values and give them accurate information. Where is our society when parents are focused on making the mortgage and don't have enough time to ensure that our young people are meaningfully engaged in becoming productive citizens? And, in many ways, we're hypocritical about sex because many adults are not participating in committed relationships and are not as good role models as they should be. …