Parental baby boomers are sexually conservative

June 21, 1993|By Paul Clegg | Paul Clegg,McClatchy News Service

The pendulum keeps swinging.

Thirty years ago, most parents said, "No sex before marriage" -- if they managed to say even that much on the forbidden subject.

Baby boomers rebelled and set off the sexual revolution.

Now they themselves are parents, and they generally have that '60s spirit of "let's talk about it."

But their message to their children is conservative, pragmatic: "If you're going to do it, be committed, be responsible, use contraceptives. Sex can kill."

And their kids? Their kids are having more sex at an earlier age than ever before.

All right, these are broad generalizations. But the baby boom generation covers a lot of ground. The advance guard born in 1946 may seem far removed from the tail-enders born in 1964.

But "we children of the '50s and '60s probably do share a few common features," says Dr. Victor Strasburger, author of "Getting Your Kids To Say 'No' in the '90s When You Said 'Yes' in the '60s."

"Our parents didn't talk to us about sex; our own sexual activity began in an era of repression and secrecy about sex; we tend to be much more liberal about sex than our parents were; we know much more about contraception; and we're scared as hell about teen-age pregnancy and AIDS."

With good reason, too. By age 19, 75 percent of women and 86 percent of men have had intercourse, according to the Alan Guttmacher Institute in New York. By age 15, 27 percent of girls and 33 percent of boys have had intercourse. In 1970, only 5 percent of 15-year-old girls were having sex, the institute said. Sixty percent of 15-year-olds having sex don't use any contraception the first time, says Planned Parenthood.

"Baby boomers look with anxious uncertainty at the moral vacuum their own children seem to inhabit," says writer Patricia Hersch in the March/April issue of Family Therapy Networker magazine. The sexual acquiescence of today's teen-agers "has its roots in the countercultural values of the '60s that repudiated standard middle-class ethics of self-denial and respect for authority," Ms. Hersch says.

With divorce and the singles lifestyle so prevalent, she says, "kids have fewer visible role models for committed, long-standing, intimate relationships. No wonder that for today's adolescents, uncommitted sex seems no big deal."

The changing lifestyles of parents have dramatically affected children of the '90s and increased the influence of teen peer pressure. The presence of a parent in the home all day is no longer the norm. Most children and adolescents in America today are raised by a single parent or in a two-parent household where both parents work and are away from home during the workday, says a 1992 report by the Carnegie Council on Adolescent Development. America's 20 million adolescents, one-fifth of whom live in poverty, have a great deal of discretionary time, "much of it is unstructured, unsupervised and unproductive."

"A lot of parents feel helpless, that they can't have influence on their kids," said Sacramento, Calif., clinical social worker Beverlee Filloy, who has been in practice for 30 years.

"A lot have given up on the strictness of parenthood, and their kids are influenced by other influences."

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