November 08, 2006

Teen Sex: Out Of Control?

Parents of teens have heard the whispered stories: rampant oral sex orgies beyond the pale of even the most liberal parent's mind, often involving kids barely in their teens.

But how many of these sordid stories stand up to the light of scrutiny? Are the rumors of teens engaged in heated sexual activity out of control?

According to Nancy Lynott, director of the Southampton Town Youth Bureau, results of the recently released Teen Assessment Project Report 2006, based on a survey of 2275 students in grades eight through 10, indicate 39% of all students surveyed reported that they have engaged in oral sex. Nine percent said that they were 12 or younger when they first had oral sex, while nearly 25% of students engaged in oral sex for the first time between ages 13 and 15, and 7% were 16 or older. "Rainbow parties" — oral sex orgies — are popular among many age groups, according to multiple sources.

The numbers in regard to sexual intercourse are even more alarming: 37% of students reported engaging in sexual intercourse, with eight percent having had sexual intercourse for the first time by age 12 or younger, and one in five responding that they've had sex for the first time between the ages of 13 and 15. Only 9% were 16 or older when they experienced their first sexual encounter.

The data demonstrates a spike in sexual activity: In a 2002 TAP survey, 66% of students claimed to never have engaged in sexual intercourse; 63% reported never engaging in sexual intercourse in 2006.

As for birth control, 53% of sexually active students claim to use it, while 19% reported they utilize it "sometimes," and 16% saying they never use birth control.

Though there are no concrete numbers, young adults also report abortions are commonplace among students at the upper high school grade level.

Lynott said it is difficult to document actual instances of rainbow parties or other such sex-fueled forms of social interaction. Statistics are simply not available. But, she said, "I think that there's no reason to believe that they aren't happening because, pretty much what we found from our data is our kids aren't any different from kids anywhere else. I assume that they are, but I haven't talked to many kids who would admit to being at a rainbow party."

As far as teen pregnancies and births to teen mothers in Southampton, said Lynott, according to most recent data, gathered in 2003, the numbers are "pretty much right in the middle" of the Suffolk County average and "have been pretty steady for the last several years." Countywide, teen pregnancies and births to teen mothers have held steady for the past 10 years, with numbers of live births rising.

Even more deadly, said Lynott, are the dangerous repercussions of unprotected sexual play: "In the United States today, one of the fastest growing groups of new diagnoses of HIV and AIDS are people in their 20s, and these people are probably contracting this disease younger than that. Teenagers are at much greater risk than they realize, and even that a lot of the adults that work with them realize."

According to Suzanne Witzenburg, director of education and training for Planned Parenthood Hudson Peconic, Inc., kids who receive sex education do protect themselves from becoming pregnant and "they understand what risky behavior is."

Still a taboo in today's society, said Witzenburg, is oral sex. A topic that's very sensitive for teachers and adults, it's rarely discussed, and seems, to teens, to be the least risky form of sexual behavior. "A lot of psychologists, however, are concerned that girls see it as a detached, unemotional act. And that is a concern." There's no real data, said Witzenburg, to know how many kids are engaging in this behavior or how they feel about it. "There have always been kids having oral sex," she said. But, according to anecdotal reports from teachers and parents, there is evidence of a marked upswing

. . . and in related transmittable diseases associated with oral sex.

According to Kym Laube, director of Human Understanding and Growth Seminars in Westhampton, young women are also engaging in a new behaviors such as identifying themselves as bisexual, or "bi-curious." Or, she said, females do so, "to entice the boys. It's almost become a form of flirtation."

Laube also faults websites such as myspace.com, where sex and alcohol are "glorified."

Witzenburg agrees kids are dressing more provocatively and get bombarded with online images and a media blitz with sexual messages. Parents need to get involved — with both daughters and sons — and begin to talk to their kids about sex at a very early age.

"Most important, we have to give them the opportunity to talk to us, and we don't." Kids, said Witzenburg, need a safe haven where they can discuss their fears and concerns. "Parents need to say if you can't come to me, go to Aunt Tessie. A designated adult with whom these kids feel comfortable — often, it's a teacher — who's reliable and trustworthy."

Kids get lured into Internet evils, said Witzenburg, because no one has talked to them about dangerous issues online. "We expect our kids to know stuff, but we're not telling them, so how are they going to know?"

Parents need to spark a dialogue with their kids. "It's not one conversation, it's multiple conversations throughout their lifetime," said Witzenburg, beginning when children are very young.

Another issue is that some schools do not have proper sexual education programs and accept abstinence-only funding. There is a need, she said, to educate professionals, as well as kids. "Just saying no is not going to get kids to postpone sexual activity," she said. Young people need to develop refusal skills and work on communication. "Value clarification is key."

Limits need to be set and parameters defined. "This should be a call to parents," said Witzenburg, adding that leaving kids home alone is not only a concern for babies and toddlers. "Somebody should darn well be home when the kids are preadolescents or teens. The potential for trouble is huge."

In general, actions speak louder than words with parents ensuring young people that they can turn to adults even in times of trouble.

She added that scientific evidence proves that kids need parental guidance. "Actual studies have shown that the frontal lobe hasn't quite closed yet and they need help making decisions."

Laube agrees that kids are engaging in sexual behaviors because they feel disenfranchised and alone.

Education, said Lynott, is key. To that end, Planned Parenthood offers a plethora of parent programs and seminars across the East End geared toward education. One upcoming workshop, "How to get an A in Abstinence," is scheduled to be held in Riverhead in conjunction with Cornell Cooperative extension on December 6. Planned Parenthood also sponsors a teen health conference annually; next year's event will be held on April 26, 2007.

Parents and adults need to take heed, said Laube: "Kids are just looking to feel connected."

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