November 17, 2007

Teen Sex Study: Surprise!

This is just a quick weekend toss-it-up-there post, but this study was just too interesting to pass up.

So if the newspaper articles are titled anything like this web story, are parents going to be hiding their local Journals and Couriers and Examiners and Independents for a few days?

Or are they going to clip out the articles and hand them to little Madison and Jason immediately so they won't miss finding out: "Early Sexual Activity May Curb Teen Delinquency."

Wow. This is not what everyone previously thought. In fact,we've been hearing pretty much the opposite all our lives.

So do you think the local school boards, PTA's, Church groups, social service organizations, etc, now armed with this new information, should start handing out condoms instead of anti-sex morality lectures? Hmm... that'll probably happen, lets see... when hell freezes over.

The study followed 534 same-sex twin pairs between 1994 and 2002, which would seem to filter out some of the confounding social and economic factors that you'd get if you just compared "kids who end up having sex early" with "kids who ended up waiting."

Said one of the study's authors: "There is a cultural assumption in the United States that if teens have sex early, it is somehow bad for their psychological health. But we actually found that teens who had sex earlier seem to have better relationships later. Now we want to find out why."

This being a Saturday, Cranky Fitness hereby absolves itself from checking out whether this was a peer reviewed study from a reputable source or something less reliable. (We will just note that it came out of the University of Virginia and was published in the Journal of Youth and Adolescence--but that the lead researcher is still a Ph.D. candidate.)

Cranky Fitness just liked this study, even though it did not, itself, "start early."

However, those of you who are the parents of teenagers may not find yourselves quite as amused and pleasantly surprised by this information, should it turn out to be true.

Any thoughts?


  1. One of my first thoughts was that by starting early, kids get to find out the power that sex can have over you. That means they learn earlier to choose better partners, which leads to better choices when it's time to do that monogamy thing.

    The other thought was, "Well, of course the kids get in less trouble. They're too busy having sex to do other things. Duh."

    But I'm not so sure about that. We got into plenty of trouble whether or not we were having sex.

    I'm curious to see what comes next with this.

  2. Crabby solemnly assures us:
    The study followed 534 same-sex twin pairs

    Unless the researchers had a reeeeally interesting time on the job, these results rely on the teenagers to report their activities accurately. How would you discount the ones who boast about doing things they haven't yet done, or the ones who deny doing the things they really did do? (And does that sentence sound as convoluted to you as it does to me?)

  3. I'll say that people I know who had sex at an earlier age have a healthier overall understanding of it now than people who started later, like, say, me.

    That's not to say I think teens all over the country should be Playing Doctor as much as they want, but um...America's education about/understanding of sex and sexuality sucks. Hard. Harder than a hooker on the event horizon of a black hole hard. Kids should understand everything about sex by the time all those hormones make them want to start having it, and should be adequately protected once the fun begins.

    Being sort-of Catholic I got to associate it with both shame and True Love for far, far longer than I should have, and now I'm still in my Wild and Crazy Guy phase when everyone around me wants to settle down. :/

  4. That "bard-kun" comment is me, by the way; I just have two Google accounts and sometimes forget to switch.

  5. Gosh, Crabby, what do they mean by 'early'? The Bag Lady knows some folk who started earlier than she (which was perhaps early by some standards...this IS confusing), and it certainly didn't seem to stop them from getting in trouble. Especially if getting 'in trouble' is used as a euphemism for getting pregnant! If they mean just general juvenile deliquency, those kids who were having sex at the age of 13 also were the ones who were smoking cigarettes (or other stuff), drinking alcohol, and staying out late, doing Bad Things. Oh, dear, this is all just too confusing for an old bag. The Bag Lady is very grateful she doesn't have teenagers.
    And Mary makes a valid (though slightly convoluted!) point -- lots of teenagers aren't exactly truthful about their activities - I mean, really, were You?

  6. I think part of the perceived correlation between sex and Bad Things is the idea that sex itself is a Bad Thing. I mean, look at the Netherlands: kids are taught, in escalating detail, about sex from around first grade or so (gender differences, then puberty, then the mechanics of sex, then the wrong ways to be sexually active, etc) so by the time they hit eighteen they're, if not sexually experienced, sexually educated. Sex is treated as something normal, healthy, and important. The results are, if memory serves, some of the lowest STD and pregnancy rates in the world.

    Meanwhile, here in America, we still argue over whether or not kids should even learn about sex in schools, and the government is trying to minimize or destroy practical sex education (i.e. "here is what you do if you do have sex so you don't get the AIDS/pregnant"). Sexuality is what gets films rated NC-17, sex in video games is a huge deal whereas violence is A-OK, Janet Jackson's breast caused an uproar while nightly mayhem on CSI does not, etc...

    I think if we collectively acknowledged sex is, when had responsibly, a Good Thing, we wouldn't see so many sexually active teens being delinquents as well. Just my two cents as a guy that was horribly damaged by Catholicism's take on the whole thing. :)

  7. Well, naturally teenagers who are sexually active aren't juvenile delinquents. They're too busy fwomping to bother with stuff like tagging gang signs, stealing cars, and robbing lemonade stands.

    It's the out-of-wedlock grandchildren that cause all the trouble.

  8. Some of our mothers and grandmothers (depending on our ages) had sex pretty darn young. it was though in wedded bonds. There was a time when a young woman hit 18 she was considered practically doomed to spinsterhood (and expected to be without sex) .

    I don't know how we can expect kids not to have sex young when sex is in their face everywhere they turn. Then we tell them don't do it. We adults are deluded.

    There is no answer that will satisfy all.

    This comment is totally without a central point. Call it a mini rant.


  9. Wow, Crabby. Talk about opening up a can of worms!

    Oh, those crazy teenage years. What can I say? There are too many variables involved in human relations for anybody to be stating absolutes.

    Growing up, I had three best (girl)friends. We all used to pretend to be princesses, and we'd play "Miss Universe" and switch places as the "winners".

    We liked boys and talked about them A LOT. When we graduated from 8th grade (Catholic school) two of us went our separate ways.

    A year later, I found out that all three of them were pregnant. I was very surprised at first but, when I really thought about it, I wasn' much. They all came from broken homes and had lots of struggles at home.

    Ultimately, I think the difference - and reason I did not even think of becoming sexually active back then - might have been the loving example I saw at home.

    My parents respected each other, they answered my questions about sex honestly, and encouraged me to respect myself and think about the consequences of my actions.

    I was more blessed than most. Like I said, there are no simple answers, but I don't believe teenagers should be having sex.

    However, we cannot ignore the fact that many do. I wish I had a perfect solution to help all those teens who are having problems!

    Unfortunately, I don't.

  10. My guess is that teens who are busy humping like bunnies are much too busy (and tired) to knock over a liquor store.

    But what do I know? I was spade in 2002 after my first bout of "heat". Karen thought I had an upset stomach and took me to the Vet ER.

    For seventy bucks they told her the problem could be solved by a good tomcat. She chose, instead to have me fixed two days later.

    -- P

  11. Hmmm...

    I'm probably one of your youngest readers and I'm aware of the fact that I'm perhaps "crazy" to be a virgin in college and have no immediate plans to change that. I am, however, far from being clueless about sex and sexuality and perhaps had a very advanced knowledge of all of that from a VERY young age. What's really sad is that I used to be the one explaining sex to those people who did start early. Some of them were so clueless that we all ought to be worried about that... You are having sex way too soon if someone has to explain to you how a woman gets pregnant... Granted I knew people who had sex before they had their first period.

    Somehow, from what I've seen, I don't think we should be trying to justify this. My best friend from kindergarten through about 8th grade had sex for the first time in elementary school. We stopped being friend prcisely because she was doing so many bad tghings and hanging with so many bad people. So maybe I have a bias there.

    Maybe as a rather devout believer in god, i have another bias, however I was an athiest most of my life...

    And I don't know, maybe people should be more worried. Later every therapist everywhere told me how odd it was how much I did know about sex at a young age... hmm, told me it probably had a whole hell of a lot to do with having been molested...

    So I'd think a whole lot of factors could weigh into this. But I do think a lot of people who "start early" gey into it for a lot of wrong reasons or with just too much ignorance/ lack of knowledge. So personally, the study can say what it likes, but I'm still never going to see 10 year olds or 13 year olds or 15 year olds or whatever having sex to be a good thing...

    But anyway, that's just me.....

  12. And wow sorry for leaving such a whiny rant... I'd delete if I could.

  13. Wow, what intelligent comments on a really complicated issue! All the thoughtful consideration of the issues I didn't bother doing--you folks are all over it.

    Like you Susan, I'm curious to see what else they find. And good point about learning about the power that sex can have!

    Excellent observation Mary, about how kids aren't necessarily truthful about their actions! But the result is still pretty counter-intuitive-- why would the group who either has sex or claims to have sex (untruthfully) be LESS delinquent than those who don't have sex or pretend they don't? Seems like lying could happen either way, and would only add noise to the data, not flip the results around. (And I hadn't even noticed that 'followed' language, that's pretty funny!)

    Jim--I was wondering if that was you. I think we're in total agreement on this one. I think the Dutch take on this is so much more mature, effective, and sensible than ours. We Americans swing wildly as a culture from treating sex like something filthy and horrible, to acting like a bunch of horny teens to whom it is the Most Important Thing in the World. (So crucial and ubiquitous you can't sell beer or even banking services without reference to it).

    Bag Lady--I grew up with the same associations, that the 'bad kids' were more likely to do it. And that some how it contributed to an overall state of 'badness.' But what if the second part isn't true at all, and in fact works in reverse? That the intimacy, however fleeting, is overall having a positive impact on development even if in some cases it totally messes with people? It's really fascinating to think about--but I, like you, am confused! Also, I was very frustrated that the summary I found didn't say when "early" was because it seems crucial to the discussion! Not frustrated enough, however, to pay to read the whole study.

    Poppy--"Fwomping," I love it! (I may have to steal that sometime). And yeah, the unintended pregnancy part is very troubling. But dang it, it shouldn't be such a problem, at least if we had better resources available and a less screwed-up culture.

    I like your mini rant! And Cranky Fitness likes to be the proud home of mini (and maxi) rants from all kinds of smart folks. Rant on!

    wow, interesting story about your friends, and I think you're right about the links between unstable homes and early pregnancy. But is it possible that early sex and early pregnancy are related but different issues? I think that between contraception and a feeling of having lots (or fewer options), the girls who have sex but don't get pregnant may be a different population (and possibly less troubled) than those who find early pregnancy a more tempting alternative. But I'm with you in having sort of gut reaction that sex early=possible trouble ahead!

    Penelope, that's too funny! (But sorry for your loss). Actually, I bet there are a lot of parents of teenagers who have days they wish they could just send their kids to the vet too).

    Meg, I don't think there's anything crazy about your point of view at all! (I do think we probably disagree on some religious matters, but then people often do). As to wishing you could delete--strong opinions are perfectly fine here! But if you'd like me to take out your comments, just let me know and I can do that. (Though I may not be around much until Monday).

  14. I wasn't 'early' with my sexuality, nor was I a delinquent! My youth really was wasted on the young :-)
    Dr. J

  15. This comment has been removed by the author.

  16. Sighs Crabby, Crabby, Crabby. shakes her head
    Do I have to spell it out? Sheesh.
    Okay, either
    a) the successful kids are having lots of sex, or
    b) the successful kids are lying through their teeth.

    Clearly, the obvious conclusion is that to be successful in life you either need to have enough wits to be a convincing liar or you need to sleep your way to the top.

    Actually, I think probably the combination of both of those two qualities would help one become a success. Otherwise you end up with teen pregnancies and STDs and other nasty stuff.

    Why yes, I am trying to distract myself from H-Hing by leaving silly messages on other people's blogs, why do you ask?

  17. I totally agree with Jim and don't agree with some of chattypatra's points. In fact for once here I'm a little offended. I am so tired of people saying things like they aren't surprised when girls get pregnant because, "They all came from broken homes and had lots of struggles at home." I came from a broken home, my son is part of one, many of my friends are.

    I guess I'm tired of it because if we did maintain a view that it takes a village we wouldn't blame "broken families" we'd blame ourselves who is responsible as a community? You know.

    Also, as an ex social worker who worked with both homeless youth and homeless pregnant and parenting youth I met many who managed and thrived -- with a lot of help but still. Age is not an indicator of good parenting. Age is also not an indicator of sexual smarts. Sexual drive is also more connected to biology than brains. There's a whole lot to this issue but overall Jim said most of what I think.

    I think the one and only thing that has to do with sex readiness TRUE sex readiness is knowledge and in the U.S. at least that knowledge has become polluted with what people think should be a reality rather than what really goes on. We need to educate everyone better. Ok, I'll shut up now. Most of my favorite clients ever were pregnant teens from broken homes so I get irrational.

  18. I found this study SO interesting!
    I see no difference in my friends who 'waited' versus my friends who 'started early'. On both sides of the coin, some are married, some are divorced.
    I think whether or not someone is delinquent likely boils down to MANY complex factors and certainly can't be pinned on any one particular behavior.

  19. I agree with Thick Chick. Thinking about all of my friends, and the different ages they became sexually active... there just isn't a trend between that and their success level or their social/relationship skills.

    I think trying to generalize sex as being 'bad' or 'good' is bad 'in general'. It's all about context.

  20. More excellent points! Thanks Dr. J., Mary, Jennifer, Thick Chick, and Sarah--and sorry my lousy time management skills prohibit more thoughtful replies. (Perhaps if I'd studied a little less Trigonometry and a little more Biology in high school I'd be better at multi-tasking?)

  21. I have to say that I agree with chattypatra for the most part. Having been a pregnant teen myself, as I look back on the situation, I was in fact looking for the love and affection that I didn't receive from my parents. My father was absent from my early teen years on, and when I was little, he didn't want to be bothered. I think all this talk about how resilient kids are has lulled us to sleep. Kids NEED both of their parents, preferably together and focused on caring for them. When we wake up and admit that to ourselves, we will solve most of this problem. It is our responsibility to educate our chilren on sex, if we do it, we don't have to worry about how lame the schools sex education is. We are responsible for the training of our children.

  22. Thanks, Tavie, for sharing your experiences. I think lots of folks would agree that having involved, caring parents is really the ideal situation for teens trying to navigate the difficult choices they have to make.

  23. Interesting to read about but I don't think that a teen's sex life and "teen delinquency" would be linked in anyway.


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