In part two of her series, Gloria travels from pool halls to movie theatres to churches, studying the sexual attitudes of today’s youth and reaches some surprising conclusions.
They say there’s a first time for everything. For me, it was getting kicked out of a grungy pool hall on boxing day.
No – I wasn’t swearing or fighting or cheating. I was doing exactly what I promised January Interim readers I’d do – talking to teens about sex. And talk they did. A total of 56 teens – 28 boys and 28 girls, aged 11 to 15 enthusiastically participated in my mini-survey. They seemed as surprised and fascinated by my interest in their lives, as I was by their answers to my questions.
This is not a scientific evaluation of the attitudes and behaviour of a broad spectrum of today’s teens. Quite the opposite. It is a momentary examination of a small percentage of two very different segments of the teen population – those who can be found hanging out in shopping centres and coffee shops, movie theatres and pool halls (consisting of 20 boys and 20 girls whom we’ll refer to as the random teens) and those who can be found in church o a Sunday morning (consisting of 8 boys and 8 girls whom we’ll refer to as the Christian teens).
My first two random subjects – two 14 year-old boys in a coffee shop burst into spontaneous laughter when I asked them how old they were when they starting “dating.” Eventually realizing that I didn’t have a clue what they were laughing about, one of them broke it to me – “Sorry, but there’s no such thing as dating any more. We go out, hang out and check out certain people, but under not circumstances do we date, “he offered, glancing at his buddy for confirmation. Suddenly, I knew how my mother must have felt when I finally broke it to her that safety-pinning your mittens to your coat sleeve had gone out of style.
But it seems that lingo and fashion are not all that are changing these days. Compared to just 10 years ago, when the average age for commencing dating was 16, the vast majority of the random adolescents I interviewed informed me that they began “going out and hanging out” by or before age 11.
And while I wish I could tell you that these premature encounters are being conducted against mom and dad’s wishes, according to most of the kids, either their parent’s “don’t know and don’t care” or they have sanctioned early dating as a normal part of life in the nineties. In face, one pretty 13 year-old coming out of Jumanji reported that soon after her 12th birthday, her dad began suggesting that “something must be wrong” with her – since she hadn’t been asked out yet.
Even more inconceivable was a story told to me by a scrawny 13-year old boy in a shopping centre. He said that when he informed his mom that he wanted to “git it on” with his (13-year-old) girlfriend, she asked him if this coming Saturday was a good night to plan “it” for. Then, with no more concern than as if making a hair appointment, she wrote his girlfriend’s name on the calendar. And when he and his galpal walked into his bedroom that night, a picnic basket was waiting for them, loaded with pop and chips, candles and condoms. As he put it – “My girlfriend and I have lots of sleep-overs.” Others old me similar stories which are born out by the following hair-raising statistics:
Of the 40 random teens I interviews, 18 (7 girls and 11 boys) said they had engaged in intercourse at least once. Of those – only two said they ad done so against their parent’s wishes, while 4 claimed that their parent’s “didn’t know or didn’t care” and 12 maintained that their parents had actually encouraged them to have sex!
Of equal concern is that 16 of the 22 random teens had not yet engaged in intercourse, attributed their abstinence to lack of opportunity – they hadn’t me the right person yet, they hadn’t been able to find a private setting, etc.
Only one 15 year-old private school girl said she was waiting as a result of parental influence. The rest didn’t seem to know why they were delaying sexual activity.
Is it possible that the promoters of promiscuity have been even more effective at indoctrinating mom and dad than they had been at getting to their children? What other explanation can there be for the fact that many parents actually believe they’re doing their kids a favour by endorsing premature intercourse?
Whenever I mentioned “chastity” or “secondary virginity,” I was more often then not, met with giggles or blank stares. Most of the random teens said they had never heard of either term before. However, they were familiar with the word “abstinence” and while the majority agreed that it was the only sure protection against disease and pregnancy, hey still insisted that condoms were the next best thing. But as has been proven again and ain, what teens believe, they do not necessarily put into practises – with only 57% of the sexually active girls regularly insisted that their partners use a condom. And that the number shrunk to 45% for boys, their reasoning being that condoms “spoilt the mood,” “decrease the sensation” and that “you just have to be careful who you do it with.”
But for all the risks they’re willing to take, what I found most astonishing of all was that the majority of sexually active teens were unable to identify even one positive benefit of early sexual involvement. “It just feels god” or “it brings you close to the person” were their most common reasons for having sex. Sadly, one 13-yearold girl at the pool hall confided in me that she’s intentionally trying to get pregnant. “Lately I’ve really been wanting a baby” she announced, leaning across the table and looking at me directly. “I know it’s totally crazy, but it’s all I can think about,” she concluded, sinking back into her chair.
I stated at her in disbelief for a moment, deciding to break my own policy of not influencing the teens. But as I began to ask her about her life, two muscled bouncers approached and all I could do was hand her my card before they showed me the door.
In response to these frightening findings, most sex educators would probably contend that the solution is even more comprehensive sex education, beginning sooner and lasting longer. But they better think again because 82% of the random teens said they don’t even pay attention in sex-ed class. Pointing to teachers who are too “preachy,” “unrealistic” or unwilling to address issues which are really important to them, most of them felt that their instructors have little or no understanding of “what it’s like to be a teenager” or that “everything they talk about is out of a book.”
The bottom line is that these teens are learning about sex from each other. Others (4 of the random teens) have called Planned Parenthood’s Sex Line at least once because they wanted to talk to “another teen” about sex.
And scarier still is a new craze of sexual perversity called “Jam Parties” or “Shock Parties.” Teen orgies if you will, where virgins are regularly “set up” as initiates.
SO what to do? For the most part, the public school system has closed the door on chastity education and even programs within the Catholic and Christian systems have serious flaws and weaknesses. It’s a dilemma that has plagued the pro-family movement for the past 25 years. Perhaps answer lies not in educating teens, but in educating parents.
Of the 16 Christian teens I interviewed, 14 (6 boys and 8 girls) said they had not been engaged in intercourse. This is great news in itself. But the “way” behind their abstinence is even better news. Without exception, the Christian teens had come to a moral conclusion about premarital sex: 4 said they’re not having pre-marital sex because it is a “sin” while 11 contended that sex is a “gift,” which they hope to only give away on their wedding night. And even the Christian teens who don’t intend to wait until marriage asserted that sex should be saved for a committed relationship. So where did they get these attitudes?
“Parents” was the number one answer, with “church” coming a close second.
And parental attitudes played a key role in dating…er…hanging out as well. On average, Christian teens didn’t start going out until they were at least 13 and were much more likely to go to public places, rather than isolated spots. And again, when asked why, 81% of them simply replied, “because Mom and Dada said so.”
One handsome 15—year-old, who I interviewed in the lobby of his church summed it all up. “If a girl doesn’t want to wait, then she’s not really interested in me – only in sex, right?” “Right” I said. But he didn’t let it go at that. With a mischievous grin, he added, “And I know there’s a babe out there saving herself for me.”
“Why do you say that?” I inquired, thinking I already knew the answer. “Because my mom’s been praying about it and she told me,” he said as he headed for the donuts in the corner. Once more, a teen had left me staring after him in disbelief!
So both groups of teens in this survey have guided us towards one inescapable conclusion: parents have a huge role to play in the sexual attitudes and behaviour of their teenagers. Consequently, maybe what’s needed is not more sex education or abstinence instruction aimed at teens at all! Maybe it’s the parents who should be heading back into class and maybe it’s time that the pro-family movement put a comprehensive package together to accomplish just that!