Dare to Ask: Are teens really having more sex?
By Phillip Milano
The Florida Times-Union
Why do most adults assume I'm sexually active because I'm a teen?
J.B., 15, male, Bloomfield Hills, Mich.
For the most part, teens are. Another factor might be your looks. If you're
attractive, most people will assume you're sexually active.
Craig, 21, Canada
Because for many of today's teens, that's the stereotype. Hang in there. It's
tough, but you'll get through.
Sophisticated lady, 22, Jacksonville
The media so hypes the idea that all teens are borderline whores by the age
of 14 that stupid people believe it.
Ann, 39, Kansas City, Mo.
Teens really are doing it less, and being safer about it. According to a
Kaiser Family Foundation study, a little less than half of all high school
students in 2007 said they'd gone all the way, down from 54 percent in 1991. And
62 percent used a condom, compared to only 57 percent in 1997.
So what makes people think it's a Teens Gone Wild world? The media are one
culprit, says University of Florida journalism professor Kim B. Walsh-Childers.
She studies media effects on adolescent sexual attitudes and behavior, and
co-edited the book "Sexual Teens, Sexual Media."
"It breeds an image ... that not only are they out there attacking all things
that walk, but that they are totally emotionless about it. I think that's not
Research is clear that TV influences teen attitudes about sex. Studies show
that three-quarters of teens say sex on TV influences the sexual behavior of
kids their age. Meanwhile, a Rand Corp. survey found that teens who viewed lots
of sexual content were twice as likely to initiate sexual intercourse.
And sexual content there is: Another Kaiser study in 2005 found that 70
percent of all shows contained sexual talk or behavior. With so much of it out
there, teens and adults alike may have a skewed notion of just how much sex is
going on in real life, Walsh-Childers said.
"People who watch a lot of TV will tend to overestimate, for example, the
percentage of people who have extramarital affairs," she said. "The joke is not
that married people don't have sex, but that they just don't have it with each
Of course, it doesn't help adults' views when today's teens appear to be more
narcissistic, baring their souls and more online and via texting (and sexting).
But some of that may get more media attention than it deserves, further skewing
things, Walsh-Childers added.
Besides, "if kids have started acting sexy, all we have to do is look at
advertising," she said. "We start telling them when they are prepubescent that
it's a good thing to look sexy ... like selling thong underwear for 10-year-old
But don't expect things to get toned down in the TV ratings game.
"Let's be honest, the grand struggles over downloading songs to an iPod or
which phone you might get, there's not as much interest in."
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Phillip Milano, author of I Can't Believe You Asked That! (Perigee),
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