The Naked Truth: What Do Young People Really Think about Sex? We Asked Them. Their Answers Were Frank-And Also Surprising

Newsweek, May 8, 2000 | Go to article overview

The Naked Truth: What Do Young People Really Think about Sex? We Asked Them. Their Answers Were Frank-And Also Surprising


There's so much pressure on young people to have sex that being a teen in America can be like living in a wind tunnel. Lately, however, there have been encouraging signs. The culture at large may seem increasingly debased--sexualizing singers, actors and models at a younger and younger age--but teens themselves appear to be thinking harder than ever about the potentially grave consequences of sex, namely unwanted pregnancies, disease and death.

Since 1991 the number of teens who've had intercourse has dropped from 54 percent to 48 percent, according to the Centers for Disease Control, and teen pregnancy is down slightly, as well (graphic). Abstinence initiatives are now commonplace around the country. In the last two years, the federal government and various states have cofunded 698 new programs, which are clearly making inroads. "Project Reality," an Illinois-based abstinence group, recently asked 10,000 teenagers the question, "Can sexual urges be controlled?" Fifty-one percent said "always"; just 3.5 percent said "never." NEWSWEEK wanted to hear more of what young Americans had to say about sex. With the help of Seventeen magazine, we moderated a roundtable discussion with teens. They spoke with honesty and sophistication about their feelings, the choices they've made--and their concerns for the future.

Moderator: Do guys feel pressure to have sex?

Ben, 18: The first time I had sex, it was with a girlfriend and she had had sex before and it was her choice... I was sort of iffy about it. It wasn't like she blatantly pressured me. But I guess I did feel [pressure].

Nick, 17: I did feel pressure--from everything around me. Friends, media, everything. It was almost like afterwards it was almost a relief... I did it, it's over, good. I'm not a virgin anymore. I've done it, there's no anxiety about having sex anymore.

Moderator: Was it what you'd hoped?

Ben: Well, it wasn't something to laugh at, but maybe I wasn't at my best. [laughs] You put all this expectation on it and the sex never meets your expectations.

Chu Hui, 19: My first time was pretty bad. That was when I was 17, I think. It was just bad in, like, every way possible. The person was bad, the timing was bad. But I didn't realize that at the time. I was kind of like under the spell, or something... I really regret having been that intimate with him.

What do teens do when they realize they're not ready for intercourse? Some may choose to abstain from sex altogether. Others? Recently, there have been some media reports suggesting an increase in oral sex among teens. The reports, however, have been almost entirely anecdotal. "The supposed recent oral sex trend is coming from no data at all," says Debra Haffner, president of Siecus, the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States. "The government study only asks about coitus. There is an inability to do research on other sex behavior, because you're not allowed to ask."

Still, everyone agrees that the Monica Lewinsky scandal has affected the mind-set of many young people--and not for the better. Many teens believe, as President Clinton apparently does, that oral sex is not sex. …

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