Teenagers in the United States are experimenting with sexual activities more and more today than ever before, and the sad thing about this issue is that it is becoming common-place in our society, because it is not being frowned upon as it were just a couple of years ago. It is now a known fact that majority of high school aged boys and girls would have engaged in some sort of sexual activity by the time they graduate high school.
50% of girls and women aged 15 to 19 told the National Center for Health Statistics they had had sex,  55% of single males ages 15 to 19 have had sex (Maggie Gallagher). Also alarming, is the growing rate of children having sexual intercourse before they are of the age of thirteen. Stephanie Ann Sanders states The problem of teenage pregnancy is considerably worse in the United States than in almost any other developed country. Studies show that birth rates for women under 20 are higher in the United States than in 29 other developed countries.
Some sort of sexual connotation always surrounds teenagers, whether it is the television, radio, school, or even the Internet. The price teenagers are paying for being sexually active greatly outweighs any advantages; the consequences of teenage sexuality cannot be overlooked by the society, as consequences such as diseases, and unplanned pregnancy have been known to have both short-term and long-term effects on teenagers. These consequences cannot even be thought about without first looking at what pushes teenagers to the notion of early sex.
The society, peer pressure, and the media play the major part in gearing adolescents to finding out about, knowing, and finally engaging in sexual intercourse before they are both physically and mentally capable of handling the reality that accompanies sexual activities. This paper will be broken into two parts; part one of which will deal with the probable causes that push teenagers to early sex and part two which will deal with the effects of early teenage sex.
One of the most important factors that encourage teenagers to start exploring sex is the society. In the society we live in today, sex is the number one favored topic. From home to school, in the malls, in the theaters, and almost everywhere else that teenagers mostly frequent, it will be seen that sex is always been advertised as the cool thing. Take for instance the school, the coolest or the most hype boys and girls any given school are those who openly express their sexuality, for example the cheerleaders who are always clad in very skimpy outfits. In relation to effects of society, a question that should also be asked is that do we really need sex education in the schools?
The answer is no. Sex education is now given in most American schools, public and private, from grades 2 to 12. Teachers are told to give the technical aspects of sex education without telling the students about moral values, how to make the right decisions, and abstinence. Even as late as 1993, a proposal in the New Jersey Legislature that required school sex-ed programs to stress abstinence provoked fierce opposition from establishment groups, ranging from the New Jersey Education Association to the League of Women Voters.
This bill not only pushes New Jersey back to the Victorian era, it hurls the state all the way back into the Middle Ages, when chastity belts were considered the effective method of preventing pregnancies, (Maggie Gallagher). After describing the male and female anatomy, and reproduction, the main emphasis is on the prevention of venereal diseases and teenage pregnancy. This has now led to some schools having to start dispensing free condoms and contraceptives to students who go to the schools health clinics.
Sex education as promoted by some educators is devoid of morality in many ways unacceptable to our value system, and still has not helped decrease the teenage incidence of sexually transmitted diseases or teenage pregnancy. All sex education in schools has led to is simply showing teenagers how to have sex safely. Another important factor that contributes to teenagers having early sex is peer pressure. One of the most common issues that affect adolescents behavior is concern with peer approval.
Both in sexual behavior and in all other areas of behavior, teenagers strive to attain social acceptance by their peers, which is common at the stage in which teenagers are. The desire to be loved or to love may be a factor which results in the decision to be sexually intimate. (Margaret-Ann Corbett, 125). This motivation for acceptance within a social group can be a very strong driving force that pushes teenagers to start having sex as the notion of since everyone is doing it has been instilled in their heads.
Adolescents who have sexual intercourse at this stage often do so out of the need to prove to themselves that they are lovable and acceptable. Also related to the issue of teenage sex due to peers is the lack of good communication between parents and teenagers, and the wanted independence by teenagers. Adolescents often prove their parents lack of control over them by initiating behaviors that are forbidden such as sexual intercourse.
When there is no good communication between parents and teenagers, teenagers turn to their peers for advice on most issues affecting them. And when questions about sex arise, instead of talking to their parents or a trusted adult, rather teenagers talk to their friends about sexual matters, and the unfortunate reality sets in as the message they receive often very clear yet terribly misguided: Sex is an accepted and expected part of any relationship.
The single most important factor that influences teenagers to explore their sexuality is the media. The media expose adolescents to the sexual scripting of behaviors they may not have observed elsewhere . On prime time TV, the occurrence of premarital and extramarital sex far outnumbers sex between spouses, with the rate soaring to 24:1 in soap operas . The rate is 32:1 in R-rated movies . In action-adventure series, premarital sex and prostitution are the most frequent encounters . (John R. Chapinanders).
By catering to our basic sexual desires, the media can easily manipulate and adjust the attitudes and actions of its watchers, listeners, and readers. The teenagers of today seem to be the most easily manipulated age group by sexual connotations portrayed by the media due to their vulnerability for conformity. In the movies or on television, the actors and actresses make sex look easy, fun and glamorous. It appears to be something everyone is doing. On television shows like “Dawson’s Creek”, and Gilmore Girls, sex is usually the major topic of the entire show.
Whether it is guys and girls, guys and guys, girls and girls, or multiple persons of each sex, the sex act itself is a major conflict. Movies specifically aimed at the teenage audience, specifically known as teen movies, base most of their story lines on relationships and sex between teenagers. For example movies, such as “Cruel Intentions”, portray sex as a game. The main characters, who are supposed to be high school students, are placing bets on each other to see which one of them will have sex with some girl who is against the idea of premarital sex.
As a result of the extensive and wide range scope the media covers, the media keeps gaining an ever increasing amount of influence in teenagers decision making than it did in the past. One major consequence attributed to having sex as a teenager, and even as an adult is the acquiring of diseases. Diseases in this respect are not limited to just those that affect the physical well-being of a person but also that which affects the mental well-being of the person. Sexually transmitted diseases (STD) are gaining more and more publicity.
Every year more and more teenagers are getting infected with some form of sexually transmitted disease. Health professionals continue to be concerned about sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), AIDS in particular, among the adolescent population . At the end of 1999, there were over 25,000 cases of HIV infection among Americans between the ages of 20 and 24, and an additional 3,500 cases among those between 13 and 19. People under the age of 25 account for half of the HIV infections in the U. S. (John R. Chapinanders).
One of the nations most urgent health problem is that of venereal diseases. They infect more than 1 million Americans a year, about three thousand a day, or two every minute. Among teenagers there are hundreds of thousand of cases, many of which are untreated. (Evelyn Millis Duvall, 119). The more common sexually transmitted diseases include AIDS, which is caused by the HIV virus, herpes, gonorrhea, chlamydia, syphilis and genital warts. Teenagers have higher rates of contracting gonorrhea than do sexually active adult men and women.
Chlamydia is more common among teens than among older men and women. Rates of syphilis and gonorrhea are highest for adolescents and decrease exponentially with increasing age (Centers for Disease Control, 2000). Currently, an estimated 15% of adolescents have contracted an STD. Such rates are likely underestimated, because random urine analysis of asymptomatic adolescents has revealed that up to 12% have unknowingly contracted, then spread, a venereal disease (John R. Chapinanders).
Along with the physical well-being of sexually active teenagers, the emotional well-being can also be depleted. The emotional problems a teenager starts to get after becoming sexually active can be overwhelming. Few studies have looked at the importance of emotional or conduct disorders, but it seems that sexually active teenagers are more likely to be emotionally disturbed. In one study sexually active teenagers aged under 16 were found to be at increased risk of depression and suicide. (Sue Stuart-Smith).
They start to get edgy and nervous around parents and siblings due to fear of suspicion of sexual activeness, the fear of diseases start to arise especially if no protection was used during intercourse, and also the fear of how they will now be looked upon by others, especially in relation to girls; will she be seen as a slut. Sometimes these kinds of fear lead to the feeling of stress from friends and family members, and then becomes too much for a teenager to bear, which eventually, a lot of times, lead to emotional breakdown.
Another major effect of early sexual intercourse in teenagers is teenage pregnancy. Teenage pregnancies are soaring more now than ever before. The United States has the highest rates of teen pregnancy and births in the Western industrialized world, . More than four out of ten females become pregnant at least once before they reach the age of 20, nearly one million a year. Over 80% of these pregnancies are unplanned and over 80% are to unmarried teens. (John R. Chapinanders). Teenage pregnancy happens so often that people hardly even recognize it anymore as a negative effect on our society.
As this is the case, people rarely ask what becomes of teenagers who become pregnant. For all of the teenage girls, who drop out of school, majority of them do so because of pregnancy. Due to lack of completing their high school education, these teenagers will likely get on welfare. The really sad thing about teenage pregnancies is that the teenagers whose families are at the low-income bracket are the ones who are at the highest risk of becoming pregnant, this now means the children of teenagers who are on welfare are also prone to engage in sexual activities in their teenage years.
In conclusion, since the causes and the effects of teenage sexuality have been looked at, the only thing left to do is to find a solution to this problem. Firstly, as regarding the issue of sex education been taught in our schools, it has been noted that just the teaching of the technical aspects of sex without telling the students about moral values, how to make the right decisions, and abstinence is not the right way to go about sex education. Sex education also has to stress the importance of abstinence.
This notion of stressing abstinence is equivalent to asking young people to ‘just say no’ to drugs. ” (Maggie Gallagher). The parents of teenagers also have to pitch-in in the effort to combat teenage sexuality because believe it or not, children actually do listen when their parents talk to them. The parents also have to remember that having a talk about sex with their children is not a sex organ recital; they have to be able to discuss the effects of having sex with their children at the cognitive level that the child is at.
As regarding the media in general, it has to start making changes in the type of programming and material that it puts out. By this, I dont mean banning everything and anything that is sexually inclined, or censorship for that will only serve to stir up a controversy. I am referring to changing the way sex is presented to the society in general. The media and the society need to start portraying sex as something that should be experienced by adults and not by teenagers.
Teen movies need to change their story lines from being based on the sexual relations between teenagers to something equally interesting but not as vulgar. As noted above, the society and media uses social conditioning to direct peoples view of things and behavior in the society. This same social conditioning should be also be used to make sex not appear as the coolest thing to do. A change truly has to be implemented, or else history will not forgive this generation in which we are for turning a blind eye to one of the most important issues of our time.