Education Feature
Girls’ Sex Boundaries
By Robert Seith
CWK Senior Producer
 

"It might be hard the first couple of times, but after you keep that standard for yourself all the time, then others will learn to accept it."
-Tasleem Jadabji, a teen-

At parties, in school parking lots or when they’re just hanging out, girls are often pressured by boys to “fool around” and have sex. But now more than ever, girls are gaining the confidence to answer their male counterparts with a resounding “no.”

“It might be hard the first couple of times, but after you keep that standard for yourself all the time, then others will learn to accept it,” says Tasleem Jadabji, a teen.

“Just standing up for yourself over time will help give you that confidence,” adds her friend, Shoba Reddy-Holdcraft.

According to an analysis of survey data published in Context, a journal of the American Sociological Association, more girls are prolonging sexual abstinence and influencing boys to do the same.

“Guys are becoming more … tolerant, patient and aware of the fact that there are girls who don’t want to have sex and that the pressure is not going to change their minds,” Kristen Baker says.

“By doing that, they learn that you’re serious, so they take you more serious and you gain their respect, and you respect them for respecting you,” adds Courtney McIntosh.

The study’s findings reveal that girls are even becoming more outspoken about who they are and what they want.

“Girls are starting to watch programs that empower them, that say, ‘Hey, it’s OK to be free to respect your body, to respect yourself,’ and I think they’re also becoming more aware that not everyone is having sex,” says Sharina Prince, a health educator.

And sex isn’t the only area where girls are drawing the line.

“We don’t just go along with whatever, and we speak our minds more instead of just letting someone else tell us what to do about everything, what to wear, what we should do, who we should hang out with,” Courtney says.

Experts say that parents can play a key role in helping their teens make positive health decisions by giving them two powerful weapons: self confidence and knowledge.

“In developing or establishing a really positive relationship so that the teen feels empowered and feels like they understand, have an understanding about sexuality education,” Prince advises.
 
Setting Sexual Boundaries

By Kim Ogletree
CWK Network, Inc.

Teenage girls who set the sexual boundaries in a relationship may be a growing trend, according to new research based on national surveys of the sexual habits of teens. The study, published in the American Sociological Association’s journal Context, reveals that girls are convincing more boys to prolong sexual abstinence until they are in a serious relationship. Study co-author Barbara Risman, a sociologist at North Carolina State University, says that more boys are staying virgins longer and “starting their sex lives with their girlfriends.”

“Girls have been able to create a sexual culture in high schools where the boys will be stigmatized if they’re ‘players,’” adds study co-author Pepper Schwartz, a sociologist at the University of Washington.

The study’s findings, based on survey results compiled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, included the following statistics:

  • The percentage of sexually active black teens fell from 81.5% to 72.7% from 1991-1997.
  • Among whites, the number declined from 50.1% to 43.7%; among Latinos, the drop was 53.1% to 52.2%.
  • The number of high school boys under 18 who engaged in sexual activity dropped 5.7% from 1991 to 1997.
  • Teen pregnancy rates dropped 17% from 1990 to 1996.
  • Teen abortion rates dropped 16% from 1990 to 1995.

So why are more teens waiting longer to have sex? Some experts believe that girls are becoming increasingly aware of the risks involved in sexual activity – including pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) – due to abstinent campaigns and a surge in positive messages about self-esteem. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services cites these additional statistics and facts that may help curb teenage sexual activity:

  • More than 1 million teens become pregnant each year.
  • Young girls have more problems during pregnancy.
  • Babies of young, teen mothers are more likely to be born with serious health problems.
  • Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are at epidemic levels.
  • Some STDs are incurable. They may cause pain, sterility or sometimes even death.
 
What Parents Need to Know

While it is important to talk with children about sex and sexuality, parents are often unsure of how to begin such open communication. Children Now and the Kaiser Family Foundation offer these tips for having a positive conversation with your child about sexual relationships:

  • Explore your own attitudes: Studies show that children who feel they can talk with their parents about sex are less likely to engage in high-risk behavior as teens than children who do not feel they can talk with their parents about the subject. Explore your own feelings about sex. If you are very uncomfortable with the subject, read some books and discuss your feelings with a trusted friend, relative, physician or clergy member. The more you examine the subject, the more confident you’ll feel discussing it.
  • Start early: Teaching your child about sex demands a gentle, continuous flow of information that should begin as early as possible. As your child grows, you can continue his or her education by adding more materials gradually until he or she understands the subject well.
  • Take the initiative: If your child hasn’t started asking questions about sex, look for a good opportunity to bring up subject.
  • Talk about more than the “birds and the bees”: While children need to know the biological facts about sex, they also need to understand that sexual relationships involve caring, concern and responsibility. By discussing the emotional aspect of a sexual relationship with your child, he or she will be better informed to make decisions later on and to resist peer pressure.
  • Give accurate, age-appropriate information: Talk about sex in a way that fits the age and stage of your child.
  • Communicate your values: It’s your responsibility to let your child know your values about sex. Although he or she may not adopt these values as he or she matures, at least your child will be aware of them as he or she struggles to figure out how he or she feels and wants to behave.
  • Relax: Don’t worry about knowing all of the answers to your child’s questions. What you know is a lot less important than how you respond. If you can convey the message that no subject, including sex, is forbidden in your home, you’ll be doing just fine.

According to the American Medical Association (AMA), teens who have high self-esteem and self-respect make more responsible health choices. As a parent, you can help your teen develop respect in the following ways:

  • Allow your teen to voice opinions.
  • Allow your teen to be involved in family decisions.
  • Listen to your teen’s opinions and feelings.
  • Help your teen set realistic goals.
  • Show faith in your teen’s ability to reach those goals.
  • Give unconditional love.

Whether your child is thinking about having sex or engaging in other risky behaviors, you can take steps to help him or her make an informed decision. By following these tips from the AMA, your child will realize that you want to help:

  • Allow your teen to describe the problem or situation. Ask how he or she feels about the problem. Ask questions that avoid “yes” or “no” responses. These usually begin with “how,” “why” or “what.” Really listen to what your teen is saying, instead of thinking about your response. Try to put yourself in your teen’s shoes to understand his or her thoughts.
  • Talk with your teen about choices. Teens sometimes believe they don’t have choices. Help your teen to see alternatives.
  • Help your teen to identify and compare the possible consequences of all of the choices. Ask your teen to consider how the results of the decision will affect his or her goals. Explain (without lecturing) the consequences of different choices.
 
Resources

American Medical Association
American Sociological Association
Children Now
Kaiser Family Foundation
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services