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New trends in adolescent sexuality

SUMMIT COUNTY – The definition of “sex” doesn’t cover all the bases anymore, and it’s causing some Summit County teen-agers to be more promiscuous.

Counselors and teachers at Summit Middle and Summit High schools have noticed an increase in the number of students having oral sex – partly because adolescents don’t think it counts as sex.

They see it as a way to be sexual without “losing their virginity” and without exposing themselves to increased intimacy and the risk of pregnancy. It’s also a way for girls to feel more control over sexual acts, according to therapists at Peak to Peak Family Services.



In conjunction with the schools, Peak to Peak Family Services presented an educational talk last month at Summit Middle School, which discussed adolescent sexuality.

“It just seems like an interesting trend,” said Kate Glerup, a mental health counselor at Summit High School, who has worked with adolescents for 12 years and noticed the rise in oral sex this year. “It’s more acceptable and more talked about.”



It’s not just here

Summit students aren’t the only ones responding to the trend.

A recent Yale University study found 40 percent of sophomores had engaged in oral sex in the past year and most had never used protection against sexually transmitted diseases.

Many teen-agers choose oral sex over intercourse because they believe they can’t contract sexually transmitted diseases, but the behavior can result in several bacterial and viral infections including gonorrhea, herpes and chlamydia, Glerup said.

Age differences and sexual behavior

The Yale researchers also found adolescents equate sexual behavior with being popular, which could be the reason for another problem at Summit High School: seniors having sex with freshmen.

There’s argument as to whether or not it’s a new trend, but there’s little argument it’s happening at the high school.

Karen Woodford, a nurse at Summit County Family Planning, denies seniors engaging with freshmen is a new trend, while Glerup, health teacher Sandy Padjen and some students see the problem increasing.

“A lot of freshmen and sophomores are having a lot of sex,” said a junior at Summit High. “It seems they’re experiencing things at a younger age. When I was a freshmen, some freshmen were dating seniors, but it wasn’t as big as it is now. I don’t remember it being as intense. Freshmen hung out with seniors, but they were never pressured to have sex. (Now, some) senior guys are all into just getting play, and they know the juniors won’t give them any, so they resort to the underclassmen. It’s not all the guys. It’s just this one group of guys that come together, and all the girls want to be with them. And it seems like the freshmen and sophomores will just do anything.”

But not all high school students are sexually active.

“I know a slim number of people having sex – maybe three or four out of 10,” said a freshman girl. “But then you hear stories, and you don’t know if they’re true, which puts the number up to five out of 10. There are so many rumors.”

And rumors can be dangerous, not only for girls’ reputations, but also for adolescents’ perceptions of sexual activity norms.

“Girls who don’t have a high self-esteem and have other issues may feed into the rumors and feel pressured to have sex,” Glerup said.

The risks of adolescents having sex

Along with teaching freshmen about sexually transmitted diseases, pregnancy and date rape, health teachers at Summit High School address the emotional aspects of sexual behavior.

“We realize the trend is going on, and we clarify that you can get STDs from oral sex,” Padjen said. “You have to look at all the responsibilities that come when you choose to be sexually active, so emotional stuff is also a topic.”

“My biggest beef with adolescent girls is that the emotional effect of any kind of sexual activity is often trivialized,” Glerup said.

“There’s so much damage done by the trivialization and desensitization of any sexual activity. I think the emotional toil is going to be huge – if we’re not already seeing it. We’re asking young women who aren’t emotionally developed to deal with the emotional aspects of sex.”

Glerup added, “I would think the correlation between depression has increased as sexual activity has increased. I just think we’re going to be dealing with the effects of this in ways we didn’t expect. Guys tend to connect physically, but they still experience the emotional connection, and they don’t know how to deal with it.

“Girls tend to connect emotionally, and it tends to be more complicated. On the gut level, it affects girls more than they want it to. The hardest thing I deal with is the emotional aspect and the effect that sexual activity has and what it means for them,” she said.

Though studies haven’t definitively correlated depression to adolescent sexual activity, this month, the Heritage Foundation published findings that show a link between depression and adolescent sexual activity.

The foundation, a conservative research institute, analyzed data from the 1996 National Longitudinal Survey of Adolescent Health and found girls (ages 14-17) who have been or are sexually active are more than three times more likely to feel depressed “a lot, most or all of the time” than virgins.

They also are almost three times more likely to have attempted suicide in the previous year. Sexually active boys are more than twice as likely to feel depressed.

The study could not conclude adolescent sexual activity results in an increase in depression – it could be teen-agers who are depressed turn to sexual activity. Nevertheless, the study showed a significant link between the two.

Talking to teens about sex

The “big sex talk” parents and adults have with young people shouldn’t be a one-time event, and it shouldn’t be “big.” Most kids will clam up when a parent asks them if they’re having sex.

Instead, parents can start early and build a foundation for open communication about sex by the time their children are 10.

“Slowly start talking and build kids’ trust so they know they can confide in you,” Glerup said. “Work your butt off on communication and connect with your child so that when the time comes, they’ll be ready to dialogue.”

Kimberly Nicoletti can be reached at (970) 668-3998 ext. 245 or by e-mail at knicoletti@summitdaily.com.


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