Posted: November 1st, 2015

What is the “fall-out” or perceived consequences of more liberal sexual expression at a younger age?

Article 37
The SexuaB Revolufion Hits Junior High
The kids are doing more than baring bellies: They’re shocking
adults with their anything-goes behavior
Knr P,qtvreR
Specialfor USA TADAY
icture the mating rites of middie-schoolers. Perhaps you
irnagine hand- holding and first kisses, girls trying out
eye shadow, boys sneaking a peek at vulgar men’s
Now look again, through the eyes ofincreasingly concerned
educators and experts:
. Researchers in WasLrington, D.C., recentiy started aprogram to
prevent early sexual activiry. They planned to offer it to seventhgraders,
but after a pilot study decided to target fifth-graders-because
too many seventh-graders already were having sex. . Jo Mecham, a nurse at a Bettendorf, Iowa, middle school,
says she overhears “pretty explicit sexual talk” from boys and
girls in her “conservative” community. And despite a dress
code, girls come to classes looking like bare-bellied rock stars:
“They’I1 leave the house totaliy OK, and when they get to
school, they start disrobing.”
. Joey Zbylut-Birky, a middle-school teacher in Omaha, recently
asked students to think about “where they feel most comfortable”
as part of an assignment to write song titles about
themselves. A group of giggling boys piped up with comments
about receiving oral sex.
The list goes on. Middle schools that used to do without
dress codes now must send home exhaustive inventories of forbidden
garments, from tube tops to too-low hip-huggers.
Schools that used to handle crude language on a case-by-case
basis now must have “no-profanify” policies. And sexual-harassment
training is a normal part of middle-school curriculum.
The world “is rougher, it is sexier and it has reached down to
touch boys and girls at younger ages,” says Margaret Sagarese,
who, rvith Charlene C. Giannetti, has written several books on
parenting, including the new The Patience of a Saint: How
Faith Can SustainYotL DLtring the ToughTimes of Parenltng.
Baby-boomer parents who thoughL that nothing would ever
shock them are shocked by the way their young teens ta1k, dress
and perhaps even behave, Sagarese says.
“Things have changed,” says Jude Swift, 52, a mother of five
whose youngest is an eighrh-grade boy. “i think a greai deal of
it j.s due to the media and rvhat kids see on TV, in magazine ads, ;, in lideos…. -tt’s all abour beino sexv.”
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The world ‘is rougher, it is sexier’and it’s
harder for teens to avoid it
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Sr.vift, of Camillus, N.Y., says she picked up a Teen People
magazine the other day and “I was amazed. It was page after
page of young teens dressed in very provocative ways and in
very provocative poses.”
Young girls “do not see anything wrong in looking that
way,” says Zbylut-Birky, the Omaha teacher. And, she says.
“they don’t see the difference between how they should look for
a party and how they should look in an educatio.ol ccrrino ”
Boys Want to Look Sexy, Too
Even boys face increasing pressure to look sexy, says Sagarese:
“There are IZ-yeu-old boys going to GNC and taking all kinds
of supplements because they want abs the same way girls want
Of course, many girls who dress like Britney Spears and
many boys who talk like Eminem don’t go beyond nervous
note-passing in their actual romantic lives.
Zbylut-Birky, who overheard the oral-sex banter, says, “A
lot of times they use that kind of language to impress their peers,
but there’s really nothing going on there.”
But for some substantial minority of middle schoolers,
something very risky-including intercourse and oral sex-is
going on, some experts say. In 1995, government researchers
asked teens over age 15 rvhether. they’d had sexual intercourse
byage 14;19Vo ofgirls and2TVo ofboyssaidyes.In 1988,the
numbers were ll7o for giris and the same 2lVo for boys, says
the Washington, D.C.-based research group Child Trends. Data
for 2002 are just being collected.
Another srudy, using different methods, followed 12- rc I1-
year-o1ds between 7991 attd 1999 and foutd 76Vo of girls and
20Vo of boys reported sex at 14 or younger, says Child Trends
researcher Jennifer Manlove.
Sex by age14
Kids ( i 5 and older) r,vho sav thev
had had intercourie byage ia: ”
E grls @lsoys
ffiffiffiffi 1988 1995
As for oral sex, a 2000 study from the Alan Guttmacher Institute
in New York caused a firestorm by suggesting that more
young teens were engaging in that activity-possibly as a way
of remaining technical virgins in the age of abstinence education.
That study was based on scattered, anecdotal reports of increased
oral herpes and gonorrhea ofthe throat.
No nationr.vide, scientific study has actually asked young
teens, or older teens for that matter, whether they have oral sex.
“A lot of alarm parents feel on this issue is based on anecdotal
information,” says Bill Albert, spokesman for the Washington,
D.C.-based National Campaign to Prevent Teen
Pregnancy, a private, non-profit group working to reduce teen
But some of the anecdotes are hair-raising.
“The other day at school, a girl got caught in a bathroom with
a boy performing oral sex on him,” says Maurisha Stenson, a
14-year-old eighth-greder at a Syracuse, N.Y., middle school.
When the Lights Went On
Denyia Sullivan, 14, attends a different Syracuse middle school
but says she’s seen and heard about similar things. One time, a
girl performed oral sex on a boy in the gym bleachers during a
movie. “The teacher turned on the light and there they were,”
Sullivan says. “Everybody was lgoking and laughing.”
The two girls also say there’s more than oral sex going on.
Suliivan can think offive pregnant girls at her school, rvhich includes
sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders. Stenson guesses that
“almost 50%” of kids at her school, for seventh- and eighthgraders,
are en_eaging in some kind of sex.
“This is happeningl they are telling the truth,” says Courtney
Ramirez. who directs the Syracuse Way to Go after-school prosram.
desis-ned to heln kids succeed in school and avoid risks.
Roth oirls 2rp nFer edrre etnrs in thp nrnmam
“Youths are really getting involred in things a whole lot
sooner than we thought,” Ramirez says.
Ariicle 37. The Sexual Revolution Hits Junior Hiqh
But other experts say that without good, current numbers on
nationwide irends, they can’t eyen say with any confidence that
early sex is increasing. “It could be gettiag worse, it could be
getting better, we jusi don’t know,” Albert says.
One problem is that the best government studies are done
infrequently. Another is that researchers-and the public-are
squeamish about asking detailed sex questions of young teens.
And when they do ask, they aren’t sure youngsters always understand
the questions or answer trutMully. Albert’s organization
will try to fili in the gap later this year with a report based
on data from around the country.
But many educators and parents have heard the alarms and
are acting now. Krystal McKinney directs a program that offers
sex education and life-skil1s training to middle-school girls in
the Washiagton, D.C., area. Since the 2000 Guttmacher oral sex
report, she and her staff have redoubled efforts to make sure that
girls understand the risks.
“We have kids who think you can’t get diseases from oral
sex,” she says. “Kids think they know everything, but we challenge
With the youngest teens. clear information is crucial. says
Xenia Becher, a mental health educator at the Syracuse afterschool
Recentiy, she says, she asked some 13- to 15-year-olds to define
sex. “They had trouble coming up with an anslver,” she says.
“Some said it had to be between a male and female and a penis
and vagina had to be involved.
“So I asked, ‘What about if two men were involved?’ ‘We11,’
they said, ‘I don’t know what that is, but it’s not sex.”‘
Becher also trains parents to discuss sex lvith their kids. She
tells them that their voices matter, even in a sex-soaked culture.
“When you get down to what’s right or wrong, popular culture
is going to have an inflnence, but the stronger internal voice
comes from you,” slre says.
Becher admits that setting limits and encouraging independence
can be a real balancing act. When her own 13-year-old daughter
dressed for a dance in a pair of “those nasly hip-huggers” and a
short top, Becher says, she asked her to think how she’d look
when “she was waving her arms around on the dance floor.” Brit
she didn’t make her daughter change.
“You’ve got to pick your battles,” she says.
Parents Shouldn’t Back Off
“Kids really do care what their parents think,” says Kristin Moore,
president of Child Trends. ‘They don’t really want their parents to
back away. But a lot 0f parents do back away at this age.”
Some parents, she says, are so intimidated by a child’s hostile
behavior and demands for privacy that they give far too
much ground. “Somerimes parents are home during a party but
have no idea what is going on at ihe party.”
Mark Gibbons, an Augusta, Ga., father of two girls ages 8
and 12, says that he and his rvife are doing everything they can
to stay invoived. They try to talk to their daughters about everyrL;–
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“I talk to them a1l the tjme,” says Lauryn, a seventh-grader
who takes classes for gifted and talented kids. She does say that
she prefers to discuss boyfriends with her mom.
Nevertheless, when Lauryn has friends over, Gibbons says
he keeps his ears open. lVhen she’s instant messa-eing on the
computer, he says, “Every once in a whjle, I’11just wander over
there and ask who she’s talkiag to. Aad I do look at her little directory
and make sure ali those user aames are people that I
know. We try not to show that lve’re being nosy, but we are.”
Gibbons also chaperones middle-school dances. It’s a window
into his daughter’s larger world-one that, even in a community
of “pretty well-behaved kids,” can be shocking, he says.
“Some of the dancing they do is kind of risque, to say the least.”
Lauryn says she appreciates her parents’ involvement: “I believe
it does makes a difference.. .. I have never gotten into trouble.”
And she says she does know kids who are getting into
sexual trouble. “At some of the parties I go to, people playing
‘Truth or Dare’ wili say that they’ve already ‘done it,”‘ shg
Meanwhile, Gibbons says he recently got a ren-rinder that it
is never too early to discuss sexual values. Third-grader Tayler
“came home and said one little girl took a boy behind a ftee and
they were French kissing…. I said, ‘Weli, do you think that is
wrong?’ She said, ‘Yes.”‘
But while parents are right to watch and won-v, some may be
worrying too much and enjoying too liltle about their children’s
pubescent years, says Sagarese, the parenting author. “I can’t tell
you how many parents have come up to me at speeches and they
are apopiectic that their daughter is kissing. They feel Like the fusr
kiss is a runaway train that will iead to AIDS or pregnancy.”
Her co-author, Giannetti, says, ‘?arents need to take a deep
breath and a step back and remember what it was like to be a
young adolescent-”
Sometimes, Sagarese says, a first kiss is just a first kiss-and
the same lovely rite of passage it was in a more innocent time.
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From USA Toda1, Nspsp6p.r,1v{mch 17, 2002,pp.1-2. @ 2002 by Kim Painter. Reprinted by pemission of the author.
1-What is the “fall-out” or perceived consequences of more liberal sexual expression at a younger age?

2-Do boys have the same challenges as girls in terms of body image but express it differently?

3-Do you think teen sexual activity is as high as youth’s perceive or do they “know someone” who has been involved?

4-Should researchers be able to ask detailed sexual experience questions of youths and adolescents?

5-How can parents really influence sexual behaviour?

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