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12/8/13blog post

teens, sex and relationships

According to recent research published by Child Trends, there are some promising as well as problematic trends in our teens’ sexual relationships.

Dating is common during adolescence, with 47% of 8th graders, 62% of 10th graders, and 66% of 12th graders reporting have been on a date.

Here’s some good news about these relationships.

  • Since the 1990s, the percentage of teens having sexual intercourse has decreased from about 54% to 47%. In spite of all of the concerns about the impact of media on our kids’ sexual development, more adolescents are choosing to delay sexual relations. This is good news for kids, and not just based on moral grounds. Kids who delay having sex are more likely to use effective birth control, less likely to get pregnant, and more likely to report that the sexual experience was wanted rather than coerced. The dating patterns established in adolescence tend to resonate throughout our lifetimes, so parents need to try to gently influence these interactions.
  • Sexual intercourse during adolescence typically occurs within the context of a romantic relationship. For 84% of teen girls and 72% of teen boys, their first sexual experience was with someone with whom they were in an ongoing and serious relationship.

The news is not all encouraging. Here are the two most disturbing trends in this report.

  • 10% of our teens report dating physical violence. This affects both boys and girls. Teen victims may continue in these pathological relationships for a variety of reasons. These kids are at higher risk for suicide, have lower self-esteem, exhibit eating disorders, and generally have a lower overall emotional well-being.
  • Too many kids are still engaging in unsafe sexual practices. Forty percent of high school kids reported not using a condom the last time they had sex and only 23% reported using effective birth control such as pills, an implant or an IUD. The consequences are that 40% of females between 14 and 19 years of age have a sexually transmitted disease.

Isn’t it ironic that the parents who were so hyper vigilant about the health status of their younger children can be so insensitive to the reality of sexually transmitted diseases among our teenage girls?

Almost 50% of our teens have had oral sex and about 11-13% have had anal sex. I realize this stuff is not easy to talk about with your kids, but their ignorance leaves them very vulnerable. When I’ve spoken to teens in my office about these issues, I’ve found them to be incredibly ill-informed of even the most basic facts about sexual health.

So here’s the question you need to ask yourself. Is your own embarrassment (and that of your teen) a higher priority than their sexual health and avoiding unwanted pregnancy? Stop making such a big deal about sex and help educate your kids to keep them healthy and safe.