, Research Paper
Irresponsible Attitudes Toward Intimacy and Contraception in Teens
When it became clear that HIV/AIDS was beginning to seriously affect the heterosexual community, greater numbers of individuals began practicing safe sex or abstinence. In addition to self-reports, one indicator that this was true of teens as well as adults was declining teen pregnancy rates. Those rates, however, began rising again in the late 1980s after years of decline. Teens are typically greater risk takers than their adult counterparts and it is clear that many teens are again practicing irresponsible sexual behavior, having numerous consequences including teen pregnancy and the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV/AIDS. The consequences of both this behavior and the failure of adults to adequately address the situation continues to negatively impact society.
Continuing Education Problem
Statistics clearly indicate that there continues to be a problem relative to educating teens and promoting responsible sexual behavior. In the U.S., one teen becomes infected with a sexually transmitted disease every ten seconds, two people under 20 become infected with HIV every hour and 3,000 teens become pregnant every day (Conniff, pg.12-14). One girl interviewed by Louise D. Palmer (par.5) indicated that she thought only sailors got syphilis and that if she and her boyfriend used a condom occasionally, she would be safe from disease and an unwanted pregnancy—before she became pregnant at 15. While today’s generation of teens has had abstinence and condom use drilled into their heads in schools, churches and through the media, the message has had no more success getting through than it did with past generations. “Sex. It can be confusing and complicated for a mature adult, but when you’re a teen living amid a world of mixed messages, it can be downright traumatic” (Carr, par.10,12-13).
Premarital Sex/Statistics and History
While many have attributed American promiscuity to the sexual revolution of the 1960s, the incidence of premarital sexual intercourse was increasing for decades prior to the 1960s and has continued to rise since then (Smith, pg 30-35). At the same time that levels of premarital intercourse were rising, the age of first intercourse was falling. Half of all teens, age 15 to 19, have had sex according to a survey of the Department of Health and Human services compared with 29 percent in 1970 (Carr, par 1). As the age of first marriage was also rising, this indicates that men and women are spending longer and longer periods of their sexual lives outside marriage, increasing the likelihood that they may have numerous sexual partners (Smith, pg 1).
Some Teens are Practicing Safe Sex
One problem specific to teens is relative to their concept that they are invincible. Conversely, there is some evidence that the message of fear has been taken to heart. Jessica Bina, a 17-year-old senior at West Chicago High School, indicated that sex worried her. “’The only thing that’s kept me from having sex is the consequences and that the consequences are so great. Religion is not a factor. AIDS worries me.’” (Carr, par 9), Donald Suggs (1) wrote about a different category of teen—those who are thrown into sex work by circumstances—many of whom do not have the power to protect themselves. Youthful prostitutes indicated that whether or not they were protected was largely determined by the rules set by pimps. If a girl was lucky, her pimp would wish to protect his investment and require that condoms were used (Suggs, par. 13)
Changing Adult Attitudes
For most teens, the scenario described by Suggs does not apply and society must begin to address the problem of education and availability of protection. Piccione and Scholle (par. 35-36) indicated that members of Congress and state officials believed that problems of illegitimacy could be addressed through functional public policy (welfare reform) designed to combat illegitimate births and adolescent pregnancies. This meant abandoning the contraceptive approach to adolescent pregnancy in favor of the abstinence approach that “successfully incorporates the basic cultural and psychological realities of the transition to adulthood [b]y inculcating individual ‘resistance skills,’ abstinence becomes more firmly established the more widely it is applied” (Piccione and Scholle, 1995).
Changes in Behavior Essential
Common sense would seem to dictate that the proposal outlined by Piccione and Scholle (1995) would be as ineffective as Prohibition was in changing drinking habits. Piercy and Bailey (1996) outlined a program that was designed to develop a series of interactive HIV/AIDS prevention activities to teach HIV-related concepts and skills in the context of either the adolescent’s family or peer group. The first exercise was described under the heading “It’s Hard to Change Behavior,” and was designed to demonstrate that when people are accustomed to thinking and behaving in certain ways, it is sometimes difficult to change even simple behaviors;
That change takes practice, not just wanting to change (Piercy and Bailey, 1996).
Current Trends in Sex Education
According to the CQ Researcher, the current trend in sex education is to encourage abstinence while providing information relative to birth control. This would appear to be the most realistic response to the problem but educators and other adults must also realize that many teens are simply not as sexually savvy as one would assume, given the virtual bombardment by sexual material in the media. The extent of the education lag is made obvious in a section of “Birth Control and Contraception for Teenagers.” In the section addressing what causes a girl to become pregnant, the article indicates that a girl can become pregnant even if she has sex standing up, the first time she has sex, even if she has sex during her period, even if a boy pulls out (or withdraws) before ejaculation or if she forgets to take her pill (Birth Control, 1999). Even this information is incomplete, as it fails to mention that a certain percentage of individuals will become pregnant even when they take their pills as prescribed or that many birth control pills simply do not work when an individual is on antibiotics. The article does go on to address barrier methods of contraception, providing pictures, which is very useful in initially educating teens about contraception in general.
Barrier Methods of Contraception
The male condom is the only method of contraception boys can use. It’s really just a rubber tube. It’s closed at one end like the finger of a glove so that when a boy puts it over his penis it stops the sperm going inside a girl’s body. An advantage of using male condoms is that a boy can take an active part in using contraception. It’s not just left to the girl.
There is more information on other pages on this site about using condoms as well as the different types.”
The female condom is a fairly new barrier method. It is not as widely available as the male condom and it is more expensive. It is however very useful when the man either will not, or cannot use a male condom.
It’s a good idea to try to practice with condoms before having sex. You can get used to touching them, and it might help you feel more confident about using them when you do have sex.”
How Should Sex Education be Taught?
While many people continue to debate whether sex education should be taught in schools, most people have come to realize that the real issue is how it should be taught. Over 93% of all public high schools current offer courses on sexuality or HIV (Kirby, 1994). Teens need the right information to help protect themselves. According to the Centers for Disease Control, the U.S. has more than double the teen pregnancy rate of any western industrialized country, with more than a million teenagers becoming pregnant each year (Does Sex Education Work?, 1999). Research indicates that knowledge alone is not enough to change behaviors (DiClemente, Durbin & Siegel, 1992).
Various Programs that Work
Numerous programs do work to varying degrees. Reducing the Risk, a program for high school students in urban and rural areas of California used behavior theory-based activities to reduce unprotected intercourse. Postponing Sexual Involvement, a program for African-American 8th graders in Atlanta used peers to help teens understand social and peer pressure to have sex and develop and apply resistance skills. Health educators in Oakland, California teach basic sex and drug education, focusing on interactive exercises on values, decision-making, communication and condom-use skills (Does Sex Education Work?, 1999).
Effective Sex Education Program Characteristics
A review of 23 studies found that effective sex education programs share the following characteristics:
1. Narrow focus on reducing sexual risk-taking behaviors that may lead to HIV/STD infection or unintended pregnancy.
2. Social learning theories as a foundation for program development, focusing on recognizing social influences, changing individual values, changing group norms, and building social skills.
3. Experimental activities designed to personalize basic, accurate information about the risks of unprotected intercourse and methods of avoiding unprotected intercourse.
4. Activities that address social or media influences on sexual behaviors.
5. Reinforcing clear and appropriate values to strengthen individual values and group norms against unprotected sex.
6. Modeling and practice in communication, negotiation, and refusal skills (Kirby, Short and Collins, 1994).
It is clear that society cannot continue to treat sex education and promoting safe sex in the same manner as it has in the past. Teen pregnancy has negative consequences for individuals and society, as does the continued occurrence of sexually transmitted disease, particularly HIV/AIDS. As it is highly unlikely that teens will discontinue having sex at earlier and earlier ages, teaching them to act responsibly, in addition to encouraging abstinence, is the most logical and realistic response to the problem. Those existing programs that work need to be evaluated and replicated throughout the country in an effort to keep children safe from the experimentation that was much less dangerous for their adult counterparts of previous generations.
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