Double Take: So, Which Teens Aren’t Having Sex?
Dr. Wes: One of the hottest topics in my media interviews on parenting this year has been “is my teen having sex?” Apparently teen sex creates an a lot more mystery for parents, which always baffles me. Here’s what we know: 47% of high school students have had sexual intercourse, and 35% report being sexually active at any given moment survey. The average age for first intercourse in the US is seventeen.
So here’s what the statistics don’t tell you. The 53% of teens who report having not had intercourse by age 18 are distributed over grades 9 to 12. So, as your teen gets older, his or her chances of having sex increase substantially and by age nineteen, 70% have done so. There’s also a misperception that the non-active teens have made an affirmative decision to remain abstinent. While I’ve worked with kids that actually chose this path, the majority of non-active teens tell me they’re not having sex because they’ve not yet had the opportunity to do so. So if you added a question to the survey asking whether non-active teens would like to have sex, I suspect the majority would say “yes.”
This means that teens in the dating pool are far more likely to be sexually active than those who are not. I realize this may seem obvious, but until you really understand that formula, it’s easy to imagine that your teenager is one of the 53% and put off dealing with his or her emerging sexuality until it’s too late.
So what’s the bottom line for parents? Don’t spend time trying to figure out if your teen is having sex or not. Assume with absolute certainty that at some point they will make that choice, and do your best through healthy dialog to assure that they do so in as ethical, safe and wise a manner as possible.
Katie: Last week, one of my friends made a joke that I thought summed up the whole of teenage sexuality quite nicely. It began, as most of our conversations do, with a stress fest about college.
“I have this ideal college in my head,” Friend One said, “but I don’t know if the real thing will live up to that picture.”
Smirking, Friend Two replied, “That’s how I feel about love.”
It was a tongue-in-cheek remark, but it brings up a good point about the anxieties that confront today’s youth. Adolescence is a time of experimentation: from academics to socialization to love and relationships, we want to explore the bounds of our curiosity to define ourselves as adults.
Our parents are usually ecstatic to see us enjoying new classes and making new friends, but they tend to pull out the stop signs when their kids start leaning toward the most secretive and forbidden of all adult rituals—and with good reason. Rushing into sex as an adolescent can have permanent physical and mental consequences.
Luckily, not every hormonally charged teenager gets a chance to satisfy that curiosity in high school. Many of us have our hands full just getting dates to Winter Formal. However, it’s a minority of non-sexually-active teens that don’t feel drawn to the daydream of sex from time to time.
Abstaining from sex is not synonymous with simply not having sex. Abstinence requires a conscious choice; saying “no” to Prince (or Princess) Charming. Instead, most of the teenagers I know are simply waiting until they’re out of the house, or as Wes points out, until the opportunity presents itself.
It’s ineffective to lecture teens to remain abstinent until marriage. We don’t know when or whom we’ll marry, or if we’ll even marry at all. Instead, the best advice I can give my peers is exactly what I’ve been told about college: Don’t settle.
Don’t settle for a partner who’s simply willing. You deserve to treat yourself with more respect than that. Have sex because you’ve found your ideal romance, and until then, trust that it’s not far away.
On the Air: Want to hear more about teen sexuality and dating? Check out Dr. Wes and a panel of young adults from a recent broadcast of Up to Date with Steve Kraske, on KCUR 89.3 FM. Click here to listen.
Wes Crenshaw, PhD owns Family Psychological Services, LLC. He is board certified in family and couples psychology (ABPP) and author of the books Dear Dr. Wes: Real Life Advice for Teens and Dear Dr. Wes: Real Life Advice for Parents of Teens. Learn about his writing and practice at www.dr-wes.com. Katie Guyot is a senior at Free State High School and is the ninth in a series of teen co-authors featured in Double Take, an advice column for parents and teens published weekly since 2004 in The Lawrence Journal World. Send your confidential 200-word question on adolescence and parenting to firstname.lastname@example.org. Opinions and advice presented herein are not a substitute for psychological services.
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