Teens say one thing but do another

July 18, 2000|By Susan Reimer

NEARLY two-thirds of teens who have had sexual intercourse wish they had waited, according to a poll released by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy.

That sounds like good news.

For teen-agers, there is no more convincing messenger than another teen, and they are saying they regret having had sex so young.

Moreover, eight of 10 teens surveyed agreed that teens should not be sexually active, and 64 percent said they would tell a younger brother, sister or friend not to have sex until they were at least out of high school.

More good news, right? Teens telling each other to wait.

But that is not what teens are saying to each other, according to the results of another teen poll.

Seventeen magazine, in cooperation with the Kaiser Family Foundation, reports in a special edition this month that 75 percent of teens believe that having sexual intercourse is something that most teens do.

Why do they think that? Because, they responded, everyone says they are.

However, only 40 percent of teens told Seventeen's pollsters that they had actually had sex. That is slightly lower than National Campaign figures that indicate about half of all teens have had sexual intercourse by the time they get out of high school.

So it looks like teens are exaggerating their sexual experiences, and their friends are buying it.

All this big talk means that most teen-agers are walking around convinced that sex is a club to which they ought to belong.

Are these the same teens who would tell friends and siblings to wait, or are we talking about two different conversations: the boastful one you have in a crowd in the school cafeteria and the whispered confession you have with a best friend?

There is a troubling disconnect between what teens think and what they do, what they say they are doing and what they think their friends are doing.

Let's take a closer look at the 55 percent of boys and 72 percent of girls who say they regret having had sex so young.

Comments posted on the National Campaign Web site suggest that teens don't necessarily regret having had sex. They just regret who they had sex with.

"It happened with a guy that I didn't like that much."

"I wish I had waited because my boyfriend turned out to be a jerk."

"The guy turned out to be a total loser. I am so embarrassed now."

Other teens said they regretted having sex because they became pregnant or caught an STD.

They all said they wish they had "waited." But it is not clear what they would have waited for. A kinder partner? A condom? When they weren't so drunk? The regret rarely came from a troubled conscience. It was more often from a lousy outcome.

Too few of the teens said what we adults want to hear from them: "I am way too young to handle this. We are all too young to handle this."

And how are we adults supposed to feel about this regret factor?

Should we be thrilled that our children's first sexual experience was so miserable that they wish they had never had it, don't plan to do it again anytime soon and wouldn't recommend it to a friend?

We have been threatening kids with STDs and pregnancy. Now we can tell them with the severity of a Victorian mother that they will hate sex. And we have the poll numbers to back us up.

How would we have felt if the survey had revealed that teens found their first sexual experience to be just like it was for Brooke Shields and Christopher Atkins in "The Blue Lagoon": tender, innocent, wholesome, idyllic.

Would we be publishing those results?

If you put these two surveys together, this is what you get: Teens are bragging to their friends about all the sex they are having, but most of them are lying. And those who have actually had sex wouldn't recommend it.

Teen pregnancy prevention intitiatives need to find a way to put that on a poster.

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