DARE TO ASK: Birds do it, bees do it, teens do, too
By PHILLIP MILANO, The Times-Union
Why don't teens cherish their virginity anymore?
Anna, 17, Memphis, Tenn.
It bothers me when friends say they went to a party and "did it" with this or
that person. I'm waiting until marriage -- and maybe then some. If you think
about it, it has to do with a person's family background as well.
Surf, 15, female, Jacksonville
A lot of teenagers tend to be pressured into doing things, and from there on
it's no big deal. I plan on saving it until my wedding day.
Jen, 17, Jacksonville
While my husband and I were each other's first, we did not wait until
marriage. Our wedding night was hectic enough without added expectations.
Meg, 21, Gainesville
At 18, I decided I was ready to lose my virginity. No one told me the babies
that would one day pass through my womb deserved it to be a place of honor.
Tami G., 34, Dallas
We could serve up some numbers that discuss what teens tell survey-takers
when asked for their innermost feelings about having sex. Or we could just go
ahead and tell you how many of them are doing it and get on with reality.
The Kaiser Family Foundation reported in January 2005 that the percentage of
high school students who had had sexual intercourse declined between 1993 and
2003, from 53 percent to 47 percent.
Another study released around the same time by the U.S. Department of Health
and Human Services found that the proportion of never-married girls ages 15 to
17 who had had sexual intercourse dropped from 38 percent in 1995 to 30 percent
in 2002. At age 18 to 19, 68 percent had had sex in 1995, about the same as in
2002. During the same period, the percent of sexually active male teens dropped
from 43 percent to 31 percent at ages 15 to 17, and from 75 percent to 64
percent at ages 18 to 19.
However, Jonathan Klein, chairman of an American Academy of Pediatrics
committee on teen pregnancy, said he hasn't noticed a big change in how teens
value virginity. A more relevant question, he said, is whether they can discuss
decisions they make about their sexual behavior openly with their parents and
health care providers.
"The right place to talk about values is with parents who aren't judgmental
about what [health care] services might be offered," he said. "If you frame it
as being about virginity, you miss the point that all our teens need to make
decisions about how to be responsible. ... We recommend giving them
comprehensive health reproductive information including abstinence, HIV
prevention and birth control."
And before parents get too complacent because of the lower numbers:
"technical virginity" -- not having sex but engaging in other sexual behaviors
-- is rising among teens, according to data from the Centers for Disease
"So it's important for parents to talk with their teens about their
expectations and values," Klein said. "Those kinds of discussions can have a big
impact on how teens choose to act."
Phillip Milano, author of I Can't Believe You Asked That! (Perigee),
moderates cross-cultural dialogue at Y? The National Forum on People's
Differences. Visit www.yforum.com to submit questions and answers, or mail to
Phillip Milano, c/o The Florida Times-Union, P.O. Box 1949, Jacksonville, FL
32231. Include contact information.