What’s the matter with these kids today? Nothing, as it turns out.
Though it’s doubtful that it will lessen the amount of parental kvetching and hand-wringing, according to The New York Times a recent study by the National Center for Health Statistics revealed that the percentage of American teenagers having sex has actually decreased in the past twenty years. These results may come as a surprise, given the media’s insistence that teenagers are insatiable, uncontrollable animals who constantly engage in reckless sexual activity with multiple partners; that is, if you have not yet discovered that the media tends to embellish such alternately titillating and alarmist “news” for ratings. Remember Oprah’s deep concern over “rainbow parties”? Tyra Banks’s behind the scenes look into the “secret lives” of teenage girls? New York‘s now mostly debunked expose on “cuddle puddles” at Stuyvesant High School, where apparently its brainiac students were spending less time splitting atoms in class and more time engaging in same sex fondling in a mysteriously abandoned wing of the school? The “sex bracelet” urban legend, a legend that has been around in some form or another for years, that somehow, amazingly, led to hysterical banning of them in schools in Florida and Ohio? Or the newest trend of “sexting”? These are just but a few examples of how parents are constantly inundated with evidence that their children are budding sex fiends who can’t be left alone for even a minute, because that may be just enough time to engage in a blowjob or a quick orgy.
However, according to the National Center for Health Statistics, the amount of high school students of both genders who have had sex went down from 54% to 47% since 1991. The decrease is also significant with younger teenagers: the number of girls under the age of 15 who have had sex dropped from 20% to 13%. This means that, despite all those panicked ‘What Your Kids Aren’t Telling You’ articles magazines like Good Housekeeping like to run, teenagers aren’t having more sex at a younger age now than they used to; in fact it’s quite the opposite, teenagers are having less sex and waiting longer to have it. The only bit of disappointing news is that the rate of teenage pregnancy has risen slightly, however this can be more likely attributed to a lack of birth control education rather than promiscuous sex.
While I am pleased to see actual good news when it comes to teenagers and personal responsibility, I can’t say I’m entirely surprised. It’s been a while since I was in high school, but not so long that I don’t find the perpetuation of today’s teens as sexually sophisticated, debauched vixens and studs rather laughable. I realize that with the internet and the inexplicable celebrity of people like Paris Hilton the world is a different place now, but if you honestly think that shows like Gossip Girl are an accurate “art imitates life” reflection of the teenage experience, you need to have your fucking head examined. Teenagers for the most part are still just as awkward and socially inept, particularly around people to whom they’re attracted, as they were twenty years ago, and forty years ago, and sixty years ago. On any given Saturday night, it’s not likely that the typical American teenager is engaging in some sort of loveless, kinky sex act that would make his or her mother’s face peel off in shock. They’re more likely slinging burgers at Wendy’s, or hanging out at the mall, or waiting in line to buy tickets to see My Bloody Valentine 3D, or playing Dungeons and Dragons, or chatting online, or listening to The Cure while writing bad poetry. Except for the chatting online part that’s not at all different from what being a typical teenager was like for my generation, and believe me my teen years would have been a hell of a lot better if Al Gore had invented the internet a decade sooner. Also, keep in mind that that 47% cited above only answered that they “have had sex,” not that they’re “sexually active.” There’s a difference. A 17 year-old who has had sex once, or even one sexual partner, is hardly a damning reminder of society’s crumbling morals.
Let’s face it, straight-laced, virgin teens with bad skin who get sick on half a can of beer are kind of boring. Dateline isn’t going to score high ratings on stories about cute high school girls who bake cookies for charity. Claim that those same girls are holding wet T-shirt contests to buy themselves Coach purses, and how this is a “trend” that will soon make its way to your hometown and you have a smash. It’s partly due to the eternal fetishization of teenagers, particularly teenage girls, as both mostly innocent yet somehow still playfully slutty nymphets, and parental fear and guilt. Parents are encouraged to raise their teenagers in an atmosphere of distrust and suspicion, and magazines and TV always come up with new ways to make you paranoid. If your kids speak to each other in a weird code or slang, especially on the internet, you should probably assume that it has something to do with sex or drugs, possibly both at the same time. A text message your child receives has a 75% chance of either being an invitation to a gangbang or a picture of someone’s cleavage. Wearing certain colored socks is some sort of indicator of what kind of sex acts your precious baby is open to performing…and you bought her those socks, this is your fault! Parenting advice books called Hey Mom and Dad, You’re Doing Great! won’t sell. On the other hand, one called Your Daughter is Doomed to Become a Meth Whore if You Don’t Buy This Book Now, preferably with a picture of a sullen young girl in smeared eyeliner on the cover will sell millions. Parents are always being told that they’re doing something wrong, that they’re not watching closely enough, that something terrible is going on behind their backs, when most likely that terrible something is their kid pirating the latest Nickelback album. Which is pretty terrible, but all things considered not quite so alarming. It seems so obvious to simply take your kid’s, or anybody else’s kid’s word for how much sex they and their peers are having, with the grain of salt that must be allowed for the fact that young boys tend to lie about such things (that being that they have had sex, rather than not), over the media’s boogeyman perspective, and yet we believe that people like Oprah and Tyra Banks and Bill O’Reilly have a much better idea of what goes on in our own homes than we do.