Teen sexuality is the last fronter - not in its occurrence (it's all over the place) but in its recognition and acceptance by parents.
The Stanton Peele Addiction Website, January 26, 2010. This blog post also appeared on Stanton's Addiction in Society blog at PsychologyToday.com.
The Horror Whose Name Can't Be Spoken - Teen Sex!
Dr. Oz - who has three teenage daughters - interviewed a group of teenage girls (why not boys?) about sex, assisted by a female physician. Dr. Oz is the best of the TV social-medical commentators - which we would expect from a Columbia Medical School faculty member.
Let me say what Dr. Oz did - almost remarkably - was to nonchalantly accept teen sex as a normal occurrence. At one point, he asked how many of the girls were using contraception - not how many were sexually active. Most raised their hands. What an advancement over virtually every other show on teen sex!
Nonetheless, Dr. Oz, the other physician, and the parents couldn't accept the level and type of sexual activity the teens revealed. Anal sex blew their minds, and the female physician ruled it out as being too dangerous. When one kid clued Dr. Oz into "hook-ups" - that often teens have sex first, relationships later - Dr. Oz asked, "That doesn't just mean getting together with someone?"
According to Angelfire, this is the percentage of teens who have had sex by level of high school.
40% of ninth graders
47% of tenth graders
57% of eleventh graders
72% of twelfth graders
Not one parent on the show frankly acknowledged their daughter's sexual activity. Most were asking for ways to prevent them from having sex - seeking magic words that would pull them back from the brink, restore their virginity, if you will. (There is a chance for Sarah Palin to become president, if she can just get all these votes. If the reality-based vote is instead determinative, then Levi Johnston - who recommends kids be taught birth control - would win.)
But Dr. Oz had insisted the girls speak honestly. So, when he asked what was the biggest misconception among parents, one girl spoke up: "That by imposing more and more restrictions, they can get their kids to do what they want. The more you tell kids not to do, the more they hide, and the less you will know about what they're up to."
Parents don't want to hear that! They tune in to daytime TV to hear kids get lectures about the dangers of sex, how teens are too young for sexual activity, how sex only results in no-good. True to form, Sarah's take-away on the Oprah show (they didn't let Bristol speak for herself) was that she should have placed more restrictions on her daughter.
Parents telling kids how lousy sex is for them has one major drawback - the kids are already having sex and can draw their own conclusions. Respecting their children's decisions, unfortunately, is leading them down different paths from the ones the parents would choose for them. And, so, sex competes with drugs and alcohol for the biggest secret all kids know, but won't tell their parents.
To get out of this no-nothing, no-woman's land, we'd have to accept teens are sexual, and devote time as parents and schools to this reality. One girl said it was parents who were uncomfortable with the sexual discussion, and Dr. Oz (who is famous for discussing on TV the most disgusting parasites and human minutiae) repeatedly said this was true in his conversations with his daughters.
What are the chances of that changing?