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intercourse.34

It is also noted in Public Health Reports. "We know that the single best indicator of virginal status in girls is peer experience. 33

What these studies confirm is what Bill Bennett has been saying for some time:

Courses should stress that sex is not simply a physical or
mechanical act. We should explain to children that sex is
tied to the deepest recesses of the personality. We should
tell the truth; we should describe reality. We should explain
that sex involves complicated feelings and emotions. Some
of these are ennobling, and some of them--let us be
truthful--can be cheapening of one's own finer impulses and
cheapening to others. 36

It appears then, based on the literature, that teens are seeking love and we are giving them biology classes. Teens are seeking guidance guidance about whether to

engage in sexual experimentation and we are merely listing options for them. Teens are seeking to belong, to be given a sense of community with shared values, and we are giving them a hall pass to see the school nurse.

RISK TAKING BEHAVIORS ARE INTERRELATED

Adolescence is a developmental stage characterized by rapid physical and psychosocial growth. It is a time when many teens are prone to reckless behavior:

34

Healthy People 2000, p. 193.

35,

Macdonald, Donald I., M.D. "An Approach to the Problem of Teenage Pregnancy," Public Health Reports, July-August 1987, pp. 377-385.

36.

Bennett, William, J., former Secretary of U.S. Department of Education, "Sex and the Education of our Children" Remarks at the National School Boards Association, Washington, D.C., January 1987, p.

10.

-

Adolescence is characterized by rapid physical and
psychosocial development. It is also a time when many
teenagers engage in a wide variety of risk-taking behaviors.
Cigarette smoking, bizarre eating behaviors, and alcohol and
other substance abuse, often coupled with irrational motor
vehicle use, are examples of impulsive risks taken by
teenagers in their attempt to act as adults. The early reckless
sexual activity in which many teenagers engage is another
example of such risk taking. All these behaviors are usually
regarded as problems by parents, educators, and health care
providers, and they become sources of conflict in relating to

teenagers.37

There are considerable data to support the concept that early sexual activity is associated with other health-endangering behavior like smoking and drug use:

Sex is only one of many risks that adolescents take. As with
sexual experience, the proportion of teenagers who smoke,
use alcohol, or use drugs increases with age. Much of this
risk-taking behavior may have its origins in the family
structure or in peer group pressure and the adolescent's
desire to be accepted. For example, teens are more likely to
smoke in the company of other teens than they are to smoke
alone or in the company of others who are not teens. Teens
who engage in one risk-taking behavior are also likely to
engage in other risk-taking behaviors as well: girls who begin
intercourse at an early age are more likely to smoke than
girls who begin intercourse later. 38

Girls who are particularly vulnerable to alcohol or marijuana use are also likely to engage in early sexual activity:

Our data support the concept that sexual activity is a
significant associate of other health-endangering behaviors
and that with increasing age, coitus is increasingly linked with
alcohol or marijuana experience. The link is stronger for

37 O'Reilly, p. 262.

38 ibid. pp. 267-268.

girls. 39

As a society, we do not accept the inevitability of substance abuse. We are resolute in our stance against it and our message is beginning to take hold. Yet, when it comes to teen sexual activity, the message crumbles, our resolve disintegrates:

Regarding drugs, we are now sending an absolute message
of "no" to our children. On sex, we're still stuck in the '60s,
trying to make the best of unacceptable conduct. But if these
two patterns of behavior are intimately related, if, indeed,
they are two parallel expressions of the same ethical vacuum
among many teens, we cannot address them in conflicting
ways. We cannot hope to fill half a vacuum. Either we give
young people a coherent, integrated approach to the
temptations of modern life; or else they will apply the least
common ethical denominator to all the moral questions that
confront them.40

The argument that "everybody is doing it" is not the position we as a culture hold when the issue is drugs, alcohol, or violence. The campaigns to reduce substance abuse or violence send clear and direct messages. So when experts urge that we should not muddle the message about sexual activity we should heed the call:

We need to impress upon our children that they should
simply say no to early sexual activity the same way that we
want them to say no to drugs and alcohol.“I

EARLY SEXUAL ACTIVITY: MULTIPLE PARTNERS

Early sexual activity with its risk of multiple lifetime partners has been described as the most important health risk factor for

Orr, Donald P., Beiter, Mary, and Ingersoll, Gary, "Premature Sexual Activity as an Indicator of Psychosocial Risk," Pediatrics, February 1991, p. 145.

40 Bauer, p. 26.

* Weatherley, Richard A., "What to do About Teen Pregnancy?", Review Essays, Journal of Health Politics, Policy and Law, Spring 1990, p. 217.

young women in America.42

As the following figures clearly demonstrate, the number of teens who are sexually experienced has increased significantly between 1970 and 1988. (See figures 3a and 3b)

42 Elkins, Thomas E., M.D., McNeeley, S.G., Tabb, Thomas, "A New Era in Contraceptive Counseling for Early Adolescents," Journal of Adolescent Health Care, November 1986.

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* Centers for Disease Control, "Premarital Sexual Experience Among Adolescent Women – United States, 19701988," Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, January 4, 1991, Vol. 39, Nos. 51 & 52, p. 929.

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