Sex in the Media

  Sex in the Media Kristen DiPaolo | CWK Network

“Every TV show now has like at least one character who is like a slut.”

– Katie Seewald, 14


  Related Information What Parents Need To Know Resources

Parents have heard a thousand times that sex is all over the media. But is the sheer volume of sexual images harming our children? Or is it something else?

The 2003 movie “A Guy Thing” begins with a bachelor (played by Jason Lee) hurrying a woman (Julia Stiles) out of bed after a drunken one-night stand.

The scene is typical of how casual sex is portrayed on television and in the movies.

14-year-old Katie Seewald says, “Every TV show now has like at least one character who is like a slut.”

Yet researchers reviewing the top 200 movies of all time found only one mention of a condom. The movie was “Pretty Woman”. In the scene, a prostitute (played by Julia Roberts) offers her client (Richard Gere) his choice of condoms. ”Pick one. I got red, I got green, I got yellow, I’m out of purple, but I do have one gold circle coin left, the condom of champions, the one and only, nothing is getting through this sucker,” she says.

The researchers fault Hollywood for showing constant sex –without consquences. 17-year-old Bo Brewer says, “You never see abortion in movies or on TV.” 17-year-old Alexandria Linn says, “Maybe you know they’ll break up with their boyfriend, but there’s nothing to really tell people that you need to be safe. There’s nothing like people getting AIDS, or STDs or something like that.”

Researchers say teens watching the movies get a clear message. “Risk is enjoyable, risk is exciting, risk-takers have much more fun in life,” says Dr. Ralph DiClemente, an Emory University Professor.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, almost one in four sexually active teens have had an STD. But in the media, STD’s are rare.

Dr. Gina Wingood, an associate professor at Emory says, “If they see sex without negative consequences, they may think that having, or engaging in sex may not have negative consequences.”

DiClemente says, “It would be important to see people wrestling about the decision to engage in sex, and not take sex frivolously.”

17-year-old Elizabeth Green says, “They want everything to be in the heat of the moment…to flow…and having to stop to go put on a condom doesn’t really flow with the storyline.”

By Larry Eldridge
CWK Network, Inc.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has suggested that portrayals of sex on entertainment television may contribute to precocious adolescent sex. Approximately two-thirds of television programs contain sexual content, and adolescents who viewed more sexual content were more likely to initiate intercourse and progress to more advanced non-coital sexual activities. Youths in the top 10th percentile of television sex viewing were twice as likely to have sex as those youths who were in the bottom 10th percentile of viewing.

Adolescence is a key period of sexual exploration and development. This is the time when teens begin to consider which sexual behaviors are enjoyable, moral and appropriate for their age group. Many teens become sexually active during this period; currently, 46 percent of high school students in the United States admit to having had sexual intercourse. Consider the following:

  • By ninth grade, 34 percent of teens have had sexual intercourse. By 12th grade, this figure increases to 60 percent.
  • On average, teens watch three hours of television every day.
  • Watching a program that talked about sex was associated with the same risks as exposure to a program that depicted sexual behavior.
  • Approximately one in seven television programs includes a portrayal of sexual intercourse.
  • Television programs with sexual content have an average of 4.4 scenes per hour containing sexually related material.
  • Youths who watched more depictions of sexual risks or safety were less likely to initiate intercourse.
By Larry Eldridge
CWK Network, Inc.

Watching sex on television predicts and may hasten adolescent sexual initiation. Reducing the amount of sexual content in entertainment programming, reducing adolescent exposure to this content, or increasing references to and depictions of the possible negative consequences of sexual activity could delay when teens embark on sexual activities. A quarter of all sexually active teens will contract a sexually transmitted disease each year. According to 57 percent of adults and 72 percent of teens, the media has given “more attention” to teen pregnancy prevention in recent years.

Remember that as a parent you may be able to reduce the effects of sexual content in the media by watching television with your teenagers and discussing your own beliefs about sex and the behaviors being portrayed. Most parents say they have discussed sex with their teenagers, but far fewer teenagers say they had such talks with their parents. Sixty-nine percent of teens report that it would be “much easier” to postpone sexual activity if they could have “more open, honest conversations” about sex with their parents. In addition:

  • About 60 percent of teens have a television in their bedroom. The only way to keep parental control of television viewing is to not let your teen have a television in the bedroom.
  • Unplanned pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases are more common among those who begin sexual activity earlier.
  • Two-thirds of sexually experienced teens wish they had waited longer to have intercourse.
  • Seventy-nine percent of teenage virgins are not embarrassed to tell others they have not had sex.
  • Youngsters who receive little parental supervision may have more time and freedom to watch sexually based programming and more opportunities to engage in sexual activity.
The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation
Medical News Today
Talk With Your Kids
USA Today

Sexual Harassment

  Sexual Harassment Emily Halevy | CWK Network
Keeping a document of all the occurrences that happen is really important, so when you want to do something about it, you have options. They may not want to do anything about it other than quit their job and start somewhere else, and that’s okay.”

- Corinne McNamara, rape crisis specialist -

  Related Information What Parents Need To Know Resources

Twenty-year-old Ibhade Inegbedion experienced harassment at work. “My manager decided he liked me after looking at me one day, kind of looking at me differently, and then he started calling me, cause you know, managers have your number,” she remembers. She was working at a movie theater at the time. It was her first job.

“I was a little flattered cause he was older, but then it was like a little scary cause he was married and he was just always calling, always approaching me,” Ibhade says. She’s not alone. In fact, a recent study by the University of Maine found that 35 percent of teenagers are sexually harassed at work.

“It’s probably several factors,” explains Corinne McNamara, rape crisis specialist, “Probably that they don’t have much experience, so they don’t know what is normal and what is not normal, and supervisors know that. So they may prey on people who come in a little bit more naïve.”

And girls are not the only victims. Frank’s first job was in a restaurant. “My manager was very friendly with me. He’s invite me to come home with him after work, and I was only 16, he was probably mid to late 30s.”

Experts say some kids are vulnerable because they’re innocent, unaware of sexual harassment, and a parent’s first job is to teach them, “to let them know what is acceptable behavior and what is unacceptable behavior,” says Corinne McNamara, “and it can include behaviors such as catcalls, groping, just lewd comments, anything like that, unwanted phone calls.”

Secondly, kids need to know if something does happen, “you should really notify someone you trust” McNamara explains. And if it doesn’t stop “keeping a document of all the occurrences that happen is really important, so when you want to do something about it, you have options. They may not want to do anything about it other than quit their job and start somewhere else, and that’s okay.”
By Larry Eldridge
CWK Network, Inc.

According to a recent publication by the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation, the Ontario Women’s Directorate, the Violence Prevention Secretariat, and the Ministry of Education and Training, sexual harassment in schools is defined as ” … unwanted, uninvited sexual attention. It may involve remarks, gestures or actions of a sexual nature that make a person feel unsafe or uncomfortable. It creates an intimidating, hostile or offensive learning environment.”

This means that when a student feels this “unwanted and uninvited sexual attention,” he/she is being sexually harassed. Also, this type of behavior doesn’t exist solely between people of different genders, and it can include lewd joke telling, gestures or behaviors.

Experts at the LaMarsh Centre for Research have developed the following list of examples of student-to-student sexual harassment. To be considered sexual harassment, these behaviors must be unwelcome by the victim.

  • Unwanted, unwelcome physical contact like touching, grabbing or patting
  • Demeaning nicknames like “chick,” “sexy,” “stud” or “babe”
  • Cat calls, rating or embarrassing whistles
  • Insulting remarks about sexual orientation
  • Sexually insulting remarks about race, gender, ability or class
  • Bragging about sexual prowess for others to hear
  • Intimidating hallway behavior
  • Names written on walls or desks – “for a good time, call … ”
  • Stalking (i.e. following someone)

Sexual harassment is not:

  • Hugs between friends
  • Mutual flirtation

By Larry Eldridge
CWK Network, Inc.

For many people, the term “sexual harassment” may provoke thoughts of adult women being affected in the workplace. However, there is increasing evidence that student-to-student sexual harassment is growing more prevalent. A recent study by the American Association for University Women found that 85 percent of the girls and 76 percent of the boys surveyed [had] experienced sexual harassment. The survey also found that:

  • Although both girls and boys experience sexual harassment at alarming rates, sexual harassment takes a greater toll on girls.
  • Girls who have been harassed are more afraid in school and feel less confident about themselves than boys who have been harassed.
  • Sexual harassment in school begins early.
  • Students are harassed by boys and girls.
  • Girls of all races experience more sexual harassment than boys.

According to the U.S. Department of Education, “sexual harassment can occur at any school activity and can take place in classrooms, halls, cafeterias, dormitories and other areas. Too often, the behavior is allowed to continue simply because students and employees are not informed about what sexual harassment is or how to stop it. Students, parents and school staff must be able to recognize sexual harassment, and understand what they can do to prevent it from occurring and how to stop it if it does occur.

Harassing behavior, if ignored or not reported, is likely to continue and become worse, rather than go away. The impact of sexual harassment on a student’s educational progress and attainment of future goals can be significant and should not be underestimated. As a result of sexual harassment, a student may, for example, have trouble learning, drop a class or drop out of school altogether, lose trust in school officials, become isolated, fear for personal safety, or lose self-esteem.

For these reasons, a school should not accept, tolerate or overlook sexual harassment. A school should not excuse the harassment with an attitude of ‘that’s just emerging adolescent sexuality’ or ‘boys will be boys,’ or ignore it for fear of damaging a professor’s reputation. This does nothing to stop the sexual harassment and can even send a message that such conduct is accepted or tolerated by the school. When a school makes it clear that sexual harassment will not be tolerated, trains its staff and appropriately responds when harassment occurs, students will see the school as a safe place where everyone can learn.”

Sexual harassment is often about power, because it usually involves situations in which the person doing the behavior has more power than the person experiencing the behavior. This means that it can be very difficult for students to solve these problems on their own.

It is the ultimate responsibility of your child’s school to make the school safe for him/her. Share the following tips with your child, and tell him/her to only do the things recommended below if he/she is comfortable doing them. If your child is not comfortable, encourage him/her to get help from a teacher or counselor. And even when he/she takes the actions below, it is always a good idea for him/her to let parents and teachers know.

  • Be assertive
  • Write the harasser a letter
  • Document incidents
  • Check with other students
  • File a formal complaint

Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation
Ontario Women’s Directorate
The Ministry of Education and Training
LaMarsh Centre for Research
American Association for University Women
U.S. Department of Education


More Boys Say No to Sex

Education Feature

More Boys Say No to Sex

By Robert Seith
CWK Network
Senior Producer


I think there is a lot of fear for a lot of young men. (And they’re) paying a little more attention to whether they should be sexually active or not.
- Daniel Jean-Baptiste, STD Prevention Educator -

Teenage boys like to talk about it….

“All they talk about is sex. You go walking down the hallway…sex, sex, sex,” says 17-year-old Tyler Starkweather. And 16-year-old Stephanie Spence adds, “Some guys are really stupid and all they want to do is have sex and yea, they brag about it everywhere.”

But for all the talk… according to the Centers for Disease Control, the number of high school boys who are virgins has risen from 39 percent in 1990 to 51 percent now….

“The attitude is starting to become, you know, it’s not really a big deal…and I don’t really care if my buddies are talking about it and this person is bragging about it,” explains STD Prevention Educator Daniel Jean-Baptiste, “It’s not really a big deal, because you can get std’s. Or you can get someone pregnant.”

“Guys brag all the time. I mean I’ve met one guy who hasn’t bragged about it. But yea, they are, they’re more restrained,” says 17-year-old Brad Ruis.

Experts say that’s because today more boys than ever – know someone, or have heard of someone – who has an std… or had gotten a girl pregnant.

“I’m not going to be like these guys saying sex is good for pleasure and all that and then when they mess up… they mess up with a baby, you know,” says 18-year-old Alan Kopic.

And some guys, like 18-year-old Jesse Kuiper… have said ‘no’ even when pressured by a girl.

“I was just astonished and I was like ‘no’. She wasn’t the right person for me to lose my virginity with,” he says.

Experts say parents should talk with their children about the risks of STD’s and pregnancy. and those talks should start well before adolescence.

“And if we continue to really drive that message into young men that sex is not the end-all, be-all, you know, it can wait… I think it’ll really stick,” says Jean-Baptiste.

“Kids, they might not say they listen to their parents,” says Kuiper, “…but deep down inside, there’s always… their parents are their little voice… anything a parent says usually does get taken to heart.”

By Larry Eldridge, Jr.
CWK Network, Inc.

It’s not uncommon to see statistics showing that girls face a great deal of pressure to have sex at an early age. But a new survey from the Kaiser Family Foundation shows that girls are not alone. Researchers found that one in three teen boys reported feeling peer pressure to have sex – often from male friends. In fact, the survey findings showed that boys were more likely than girls to feel pressure and more likely to believe that waiting to have sex is a myth.

How prevalent is sexual behavior among teens? The most recent numbers come from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s 2001 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Survey of high school students from 34 states:

  • An estimated 46% had sexual intercourse during their lifetime.
  • Approximately 14% had sexual intercourse with four or more partners during their lifetime.
  • About 33% had sexual intercourse during the three months preceding the survey.
  • Nearly 58% of currently sexually active students used a condom during last sexual intercourse.
  • Approximately 18% of currently sexually active students used birth control pills before last sexual intercourse.

By Larry Eldridge, Jr.
CWK Network, Inc.

Nearly two-thirds of teens that have had sexual intercourse say they regret it and wish they had waited, according to the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy. The campaign also found that when it comes to making a decision about sex, 30% said that friends influenced their decision the most.

As a parent, how can you help your child make an informed decision about sex? It is first important to openly discuss sexual health with your child. Although it may be tough and awkward at times, open communication and accurate information that comes from you – the parent – increases the chance that your teen will postpone sex or use appropriate methods of birth control once he or she begins. The American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry offers the following advice when talking to your child about sex:

  • Encourage your child to talk and ask questions.
  • Maintain a calm and non-critical atmosphere for discussions.
  • Use words that are understandable and comfortable.
  • Try to determine your child’s level of knowledge and understanding.
  • Keep your sense of humor, and don’t be afraid to talk about your own discomfort.
  • Relate sex to love, intimacy, caring and respect for oneself and one’s partner.
  • Be open in sharing your values and concerns.
  • Discuss the importance of responsibility for choices and decisions.
  • Help your child to consider the pros and cons of choices.

Your teen may be feeling pressure to have sex from a number of places – friends, peers or partners. As a parent, it is important that you give your child the necessary tools to make a decision about sex before peer pressure makes the decision for him or her. The American Social Health Association (ASHA) offers the following advice about sex and peer pressure to share with your teen:

  • Not every person your age is having sex. Even if sometimes it feels like everyone is “doing it,” it is important to realize that this is not true. People often talk about sex in a casual manner, but this doesn’t mean they are actually having sex.
  • Hollywood doesn’t show the full story. Sexual situations are everywhere in our culture. They are on television, in movies and even in commercials and magazines. This is part of the reason why we enjoy these things so much. Just remember: Characters in these movies, television shows and advertisements are actors and actresses. They can’t get unwanted pregnancies and STDs. You can.
  • There are lots of great reasons why people wait to have sex. You may be making plans to go to college or to start a job after you finish high school. Would a baby in your life make it easier or tougher for you to do the things you’ve dreamed about? Wanting to avoid STDs is another reason that some people are very cautious about becoming sexually active.

You can continue to help your teen avoid peer pressure to have sex by teaching him or her the following strategies from the ASHA:

  • Hang out with friends who also believe that it’s okay to not be ready for sex yet.
  • Date several people and hang out with different groups of people.
  • Go out with a group of friends rather than only your date.
  • Introduce your friends to your parents.
  • Invite your friends to your home.
  • Always carry money for a telephone call or cab in case you feel uncomfortable.
  • Stick up for your friends if they are being pressured to have sex.
  • Think of what you would say in advance in case someone tries to pressure you.
  • Be ready to call your mother, father or a friend to pick you up if you need to leave a date.
  • Never feel obligated to “pay someone back” with sex in return for an expensive date or gift.
  • Say “no” and mean “no” if that’s how you feel.

American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry
American Social Health Association

Kaiser Family Foundation
National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy
Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System


Sex and Suicide

Education Feature
Sex and Suicide
By Adam Wilkenfeld
CWK West Coast Bureau Chief

“The phone ringing would send me into like sobbing fits. I went into … intensive therapy for a while; I started going on antidepressants.”
-Kyle, 17-

Kyle was 16 and in love when a split with her boyfriend left her heartbroken last year.

“She was just sad, I mean, she didn’t want to deal with the world,” says Kyle’s best friend, Laura.

Kyle skipped school for three months and became so depressed that Laura had to talk her out of suicide.

“To tell you the truth, if she hadn’t been in my life at that point, I don’t know if I would be alive right now,” Kyle says.

The breakup was particularly devastating, perhaps because a year earlier Kyle’s ex-boyfriend was the first boy with whom she’d ever had sex.

Teen love and sex are supposed to be magical and happy, but they may actually go hand-in-hand with teen suicide and depression, according to a controversial new study from the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank in Washington, D.C. Some experts say this school of thought makes sense.

“They can get hurt in ways that they haven’t really thought out because they’re paying attention to their hormones more than they are their intellect,” explains Dr. Jim Hutt, a clinical psychologist and a licensed marriage and family therapist.

In the Heritage study, 14% percent of girls who have had sex said that they have also attempted suicide, compared to just 5% of sexually inactive girls. Experts say that this effect is most likely found in younger teens and in girls, but they caution that sexually active boys are also much more likely to attempt suicide than boys who are not. It’s a sign that teens put too much emphasis on sex and not enough on communication, some experts say.

“Have the child explore their feelings and put words to their feelings,” advises Maria Flaherty, a sex educator, counselor and therapist. “When the child has words to describe their own thoughts and feelings, they are able to communicate that in a relationship and take an equal part in a relationship.”

Kyle says that what she’s learned is to take things more slowly.

“As an individual person, you need to make decisions that feel right for you, not because of other people pressuring you,” she says.


The findings of a new study suggest that girls who are sexually active may struggle with depression and make suicide attempts more often than girls who do not have sex. The study, sponsored by the Heritage Foundation, analyzed data on 2,800 students (aged 14 to 17) collected by the National Longitudinal Survey of Adolescent Health. They found that 25% of sexually active girls say they are depressed all, most or a lot of the time, compared to 8% non-sexually active girls who feel the same. Consider these additional statistics from the study:

  • About 14% of girls who have had intercourse have attempted suicide, compared to 5% of sexually inactive girls.
  • About 6% of sexually active boys have tried suicide, compared to less than 1% of sexually inactive boys.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), boys and girls seem to be equally at risk for depressive disorders during childhood. But during adolescence, girls are twice as likely as boys to develop depression. Family history and stress are listed as factors, but another factor that often causes depression in girls is the break-up of a romantic relationship.

The authors of a Cornell University study titled “You Don’t Bring Me Anything but Down: Adolescent Romance and Depression” found that females become “more depressed than males in adolescence partly as a consequence of their involvement in romantic relationships.” According to the study, the reason is because “females’ greater vulnerability to romantic involvement explains a large part of the emerging sex difference in depression during adolescence.”

The NIMH estimates that 8% of adolescents and 2% of children (some as young as 4 years old) suffer symptoms of depression. Most of those nearly 3 million adolescents never get help for their depression, with only one in five receiving the medical treatment they so desperately need.

All teens experience ups and downs. Every day poses a new test of their emotional stability – fighting with a friend, feeling peer pressure to “fit in” with a particular crowd or experiencing anxiety over a failed quiz – all of which can lead to normal feelings of sadness or grief. These feelings are usually brief and subside with time, unlike depression, which is more than feeling blue, sad or down in the dumps once in a while.

According to the Nemours Foundation, depression is a strong mood involving sadness, discouragement, despair or hopelessness that lasts for weeks, months or even longer. It also interferes with a person’s ability to participate in his or her normal activities. Often, depression in teens is overlooked because parents and teachers feel that unhappiness or “moodiness” is typical in young people. They blame hormones or other factors are for teens’ feelings of sadness or grief, which leaves many teens undiagnosed and untreated for their illness.

The Mayo Clinic reports that sometimes a stressful life event triggers depression. Other times, it seems to occur spontaneously, with no identifiable specific cause. However, certain risk factors may be associated with developing the disorder. Johns Hopkins University cites the following risk factors for becoming depressed:

  • Children under stress who have experienced loss or who suffer attention, learning or conduct disorders are more susceptible to depression.
  • Girls are more likely than boys to develop depression.
  • Youth, particularly younger children, who develop depression are likely to have a family history of the disorder.

If you suspect that your teen is clinically depressed, it is important to evaluate his or her symptoms and signs as soon as possible. The National Depressive and Manic-Depressive Association cites the following warning signs indicating that your teen may suffer from depression:

  • Prolonged sadness or unexplained crying spells
  • Significant changes in appetite and sleep patterns
  • Irritability, anger, worry, agitation or anxiety
  • Pessimism or indifference
  • Loss of energy or persistent lethargy
  • Feelings of guilt and worthlessness
  • Inability to concentrate and indecisiveness
  • Inability to take pleasure in former interests or social withdrawal
  • Unexplained aches and pains
  • Recurring thoughts of death or suicide

It is important to acknowledge that teens may experiment with drugs or alcohol or become sexually promiscuous to avoid feelings of depression. According to the National Mental Health Association, teens may also express their depression through other hostile, aggressive, risk-taking behaviors. These behaviors will only lead to new problems, deeper levels of depression and destroyed relationships with friends, family, law enforcement or school officials.

The development of newer antidepressant medications and mood-stabilizing drugs in the last 20 years has revolutionized the treatment of depression. According to the Mayo Clinic, medication can relieve the symptoms of depression, and it has become the first line of treatment for most types of the disorder. Psychotherapy may also help teens cope with ongoing problems that trigger or contribute to their depression. A combination of medications and a brief course of psychotherapy is usually effective if a teen suffers from mild to moderate depression. For severely depressed teens, initial treatment usually includes medications. Once they improve, psychotherapy can be more effective.

Immediate treatment of your teen’s depression is crucial. Adolescents and children suffering from depression may turn to suicide if they do not receive proper treatment. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention reports that suicide is the 11th leading cause of death in the United States. The National Association of School Psychologists suggests looking for the following warning signs that may indicate your depressed teen if contemplating suicide:

  • Suicide notes: Notes or journal entries are a very real sign of danger and should be taken seriously.
  • Threats: Threats may be direct statements (“I want to die.” “I am going to kill myself”) or, unfortunately, indirect comments (“The world would be better without me.” “Nobody will miss me anyway”). Among teens, indirect clues could be offered through joking or through comments in school assignments, particularly creative writing or artwork.
  • Previous attempts: If your child or teen has attempted suicide in the past, a greater likelihood that he or she will try again exists. Be very observant of any friends who have tried suicide before.
  • Depression (helplessness/hopelessness): When symptoms of depression include strong thoughts of helplessness and hopelessness, your teen is possibly at greater risk for suicide. Watch out for behaviors or comments that indicate your teen is feeling overwhelmed by sadness or pessimistic views of his or her future.
  • “Masked” depression: Sometimes risk-taking behaviors can include acts of aggression, gunplay and alcohol or substance abuse. While your teen does not act “depressed,” his or her behavior suggests that he or she is not concerned about his or her own safety.
  • Final arrangements: This behavior may take many forms. In adolescents, it might be giving away prized possessions, such as jewelry, clothing, journals or pictures.
  • Efforts to hurt himself or herself: Self-injury behaviors are warning signs for young children as well as teens. Common self-destructive behaviors include running into traffic, jumping from heights and scratching, cutting or marking his or her body.
  • Changes in physical habits and appearance: Changes include inability to sleep or sleeping all the time, sudden weight gain or loss and disinterest in appearance or hygiene.
  • Sudden changes in personality, friends or behaviors: Changes can include withdrawing from friends and family, skipping school or classes, loss of involvement in activities that were once important and avoiding friends.
  • Plan/method/access: A suicidal child or adolescent may show an increased interest in guns and other weapons, may seem to have increased access to guns, pills, etc., and/or may talk about or hint at a suicide plan. The greater the planning, the greater the potential for suicide.
  • Death and suicidal themes: These themes might appear in classroom drawings, work samples, journals or homework.

If you suspect suicide, it is important to contact a medical professional immediately. A counselor or psychologist can also help offer additional support.


American Foundation for Suicidal Prevention
Heritage Foundation
Johns Hopkins University
Mayo Clinic
National Association of School Psychologists
National Depressive and Manic-Depressive Association
National Institute of Mental Health
National Mental Health Association
Nemours Foundation



Girls’ Sex Boundaries

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.

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.

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



Season of Sex

Education Feature
Season of Sex
By Adam Wilkenfeld
CWK West Coast Bureau Chief

“It’s like, ‘let’s celebrate the New Year by, you know, losing our virginity.'”
-Danielle, 16-

At times of celebration, many teens are taking their celebrations “all the way.” In a new study of more than 19,000 teenagers, researchers asked which month they were most likely to first have sex. The most common answers were June and December.

Sex researchers call it “the holiday season effect.” The reasons are not clear, but Dr. Dani Beckerman, a clinical psychologist with a California-based sexuality center says it could have to do with teens having more unsupervised time, and more parties.

“In the winter, I would say in the December months, it tends to be more romanticized,” she says. “It’s the Christmas season.”

This study, entitled “Seasonality of Sexual Debut,” and recently published in the Journal of Marriage and Family, is the first of its kind. Experts say it has implications for the timing of the parent-teen “sex talk.”

Beckerman says if we know kids are more likely to lose their virginity in one month than another, parents should focus greater emphasis on talking about sex, relationships, intimacy and safety during those times of year. But, she says the most effective form of sex education is a long-lasting conversation that begins in young childhood and lasts through adolescence.

“I think by creating a dialogue the young person is going to feel safer, and more comfortable approaching their parents about sex, and about what it means, if it’s right for them, and how to make choices and decisions,” she says.

Study after study has shown talking about sex does not make kids more likely to have it, Berkerman says.

“They can say no, they understand why they are saying no. They feel more comfortable with their choice, they have more esteem, more confidence,” she says.

But for teens without sex education, this time of year especially, can lead to risky behavior.


By Mandy Rider
CWK Network, Inc.

Sex is something parents should constantly discuss with their teens, but you should really give your teens “the talk” before summer and Christmas vacation. According to a new study, teens are much more likely to lose their virginity during the months of June and December than any other time of the year. Almost 19,000 adolescents in grades seven through twelve participated in the survey, which identified the month they had sexual intercourse for the first time. The survey also asked if the act was with a romantic partner or was more “casual.”

The findings, published in the Journal of Marriage and Family, show June as the most popular month, followed closely by December. Summer and Christmas vacations are believed to be the cause with school out and teens with time on their hands. More events are also planned in June, including high school proms, graduations and summertime parties. The “holiday season effect” makes December the second highest month for teen sex. Experts explained that during the holidays, young females in relationships are more likely to have sex. The holidays usually bring people together and make them closer. The same is true with teenagers.


All studies indicate messages from parents regarding sex are extremely important to teens (Washington State Department of Health). In fact, teens state parents as their number one resource for information on the topic. This talk may be uncomfortable for many parents, so the National Parent Teacher Association (PTA) has provided the following tips for parents:

  • Practice. It may take practice to feel comfortable talking about sex with your kids. Rehearsing with a friend or partner can help. Be honest. Admit to your child if talking about sex is not easy for you. You might say, “I wish I’d talked with you about sex when you were younger, but I found it difficult and kept putting it off. My parents never talked to me about it, and I wish they had.”
  • Pay attention. Often parents do not talk to their teens about sex because they did not notice they wanted or needed information. Not all teens ask direct questions. Teenagers are often unwilling to admit they do not know everything. Notice what is going on with your child and use that as a basis for starting a conversation about sexual topics.
  • Look for chances to discuss the sexual roles and attitudes of men and women with your child. Use television show, ads and articles as a start.
  • Listen. When you give your full attention, you show that you respect your child’s thoughts and feelings. Listening also gives you a chance to correct wrong information they may have gotten from friends. As you listen, be sensitive to unasked questions. “My friend Mary is going out on a real date,” could lead to a discussion of how to handle feelings about touching and kissing.

Parents can also share their feelings on the topic through words and actions. The best way is to talk to teens. Even though it may seem like they are not listening – they are. To have a healthy and effective discussion on sex, the Advocates for Youth Campaign encourages parents to:

  • Educate yourself and talk with your children about issues of sexuality. Do not forget about discussing the importance of relationships, love, and commitment.
  • Discuss explicitly with preadolescents and teens the value of delaying sexual initiation and the importance of love and intimacy as well as of safer sex and protecting their health.
  • Encourage strong decision-making skills by providing youth with age-appropriate opportunities to make decisions and to experience the consequences of those decisions. Allow young people to make mistakes and encourage them to learn from them.
  • Encourage teens to create a resource list of organizations to which they can turn for assistance with sexual health, and other, issues. Work together to find books and Web sites that offer accurate information.
  • Actively support comprehensive sexuality education in the schools. Find out what is being taught about sexuality, who is teaching it, and what your teens think about it.
  • Actively voice your concerns if the sexuality education being taught in local public schools is biased, discriminatory, or inaccurate, has religious content, or promotes a particular creed or denomination.
  • Demonstrate unconditional love and respect for your children.

Advocates for Youth Campaign
Journal of Marriage and Family
National PTA
Washington State Department of Health



Younger Teens Sexually Active

Education Feature
Younger Teens Sexually Active
By Robert Seith
CWK Senior Producer

“I wanted to be in the ‘in’ crowd and my friends. And I wanted to be able to say ‘yes, I’ve had sex before.”
-Katelyn, Age 16-

Katelyn is now 16, but when she was only 13, “I started skipping school,” she says. “Having sex.”

“I wanted to be in the ‘in’ crowd and my friends,” Katelyn explains, “and I wanted to be able to say ‘yes, I’ve had sex before’.”

According to a new survey by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, one in 12 kids say they first had sex at age 13. By age 15, one-third of all girls have had sex…. six times as many as in 1970.

For 15-year-old boys, the number who have had sex has more than doubled since 1970.

“Young people get their mores and values and how they’re supposed to live their lives from the adults in their society,” says Marie Mitchell, who is the Director of the Teen Reproductive Services Program at Grady Health System in Atlanta, Georgia.

Mitchell says in a time when sexual messages are everywhere, parents may be the only line of defense. That means talking to your child about your sexual values often and early, even before they reach puberty.

“What they can expect to face in terms of pressures from their friends,” says Mitchell, “In terms of what these new feelings will mean in their lives, what the consequences of acting on those feelings might be.”

She says parents also need to be pro-active: Get to know your child’s friends. Know what they’re doing and where they’re going and when they’re supposed to return.

And make sure your rules are age appropriate.

“You don’t allow a 13-year-old to go out on a date by herself, because she’s not mature enough to handle those situations,” says Mitchell.

Katelyn has been abstinent for over a year. What convinced her were conversations with teenage mothers.

“That was I think the biggest slap in the face to me…for somebody outside of my family to tell me ‘you’re dumb, you’re stupid, look where I am, I have nothing, I have absolutely nothing…do you want to be like this when you’re my age?’”


By Tom Atwood
CWK Network

The most recent comprehensive statistics on teen sexual behavior come form the National Center for Health Statistics. The study examines teenagers 15 – 19 and shows that in 1995 just over half (52%) had had sexual intercourse at least once. That’s a decline from the previous study in 1998 when 56% of teenagers reported being “sexually experienced.” Highlights of the study:

  • 55% of males (15-19) reported being sexually experienced (down from 60% in 1988).
  • 49% of females (15-19) reported being sexually experienced (down from 51% in 1988).
  • 19% of females had sex before the age of 15 (up from 11% in 1988).
  • 21% of males had sex before the age of 15 (unchanged from 1988).
  • 29% of sexually active females had unprotected sexual intercourse last time they had sex.
  • 18% of sexually active males had unprotected sexual intercourse last time they had sex.

According to a Harris poll commissioned by Planned Parenthood, teens offer the following reasons for having sex:

  1. Peer/social pressure.
  2. It feels good.
  3. Pressure from partner.
  4. No longer a virgin, so what does it matter?
  5. Lack of understanding about real love.
  6. Rebellion.
  7. Curiosity.
  8. An expression of love and a response to the need to be loved.
What Parents Need To Know

Nearly two-thirds of teens that have had sexual intercourse say they regret it, and wish they had waited, according to the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy. The Campaign also found that when it comes to making a decision about sex, teens say parents matter more than they might think.

Results of the poll of 501 teenagers, conducted in June 2000:

  • Regret. Sixty-three percent of teens surveyed who have had sexual intercourse wish they had waited longer. Fifty-five percent of boys and 72% of girls said they wish they had waited longer to have sex.
  • Parents influential. When asked who influenced their decisions about sex the most, more teens cited their parents than any other influence (37%). Thirty percent of teens said that friends influenced their decision-making the most. An equal percentage (11%) of teens identified the media and their religious communities as most influential.
Let’s Talk About Sex

The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry says talking to your children about love, intimacy and sex is an important part of parenting. Parents need to create a “comfortable atmosphere” in which to talk to their kids about these issues. Children and adolescents need input and guidance from their parents to help them make healthy and appropriate decisions about sex. The AACAP says, “Open communication and accurate information from parents increases the chance that teens will postpone sex and will use appropriate methods of birth control once they begin.”

In talking with your child, it is helpful to:

  • Encourage your child to talk and ask questions.
  • Maintain a calm and non-critical atmosphere for discussions.
  • Use words that are understandable and comfortable.
  • Try to determine your child’s level of knowledge and understanding.
  • Keep your sense of humor and don’t be afraid to talk about your own discomfort.
  • Relate sex to love, intimacy, caring, and respect for oneself and one’s partner.
  • Be open in sharing your values and concerns.
  • Discuss the importance of responsibility for choices and decisions.
  • Help your child to consider the pros and cons of choices.

National Center for Health Statistics
The National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy
American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry
Westside Pregnancy resource Center



When Dads Talk to Daughters About Sex

Education Feature
When Dads Talk to Daughters About Sex
By Stacey Dewitt
CWK Network

“I’m probably more comfortable talking to my dad about it.” Kathleen, Age 12.

Twelve-year-old Kathleen asks her dad about everything, including how to handle a boy’s sexual advances.

“I had this one incident,” Kathleen says, ” where a guy stuck his hands all over me.”

Kathleen learned to say ‘no.’ Not just from her mom, but from her dad, too. “I’m probably more comfortable talking to my dad about it,” she says. “Since he’s gone through it, since he is one (a male), rather than my mom.”

But many fathers have trouble dealing with issues like boys, or their daughter’s first kiss. Talking about sex can seem almost overwhelming, so they don’t.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, nearly 60% of girls talk to their moms about sex, but less than 10% have the same discussions with dad.

Kathleen’s father has learned the silence is more than a missed opportunity.

“It means they really trust you and love you enough to want to talk to you about that as a dad. And you can’t pass that off to mom.”

Psychologist Dr. Steven Thomas says, “I don’t know that dads necessarily bring more to the table, or less to the table than mom does. It’s just that the combination of both parents together seems to me is more powerful.”

More powerful because dad provides a different perspective that mom can’t give.

And when Kathleen had to say ‘no’ on her own, it was her father’s advice she remembered. “I’ll remember his voice,” she says. “Some of the things he told me.”

Past Trends

Few subjects trigger as much parental discomfort as does the subject of sex. Even the most confident parent will likely admit to a trace of anxiety when preparing to initiate a discussion about sex with his or her adolescent. Furthermore, in most families fathers will admit to being less comfortable than are mothers in terms of the style and the content of conversations regarding sex and sexuality. Interestingly enough, a recent study concerning conversations about sex between parents and children published in the Journal of Adolescent Health supports and clarifies many of the perceptions and misconceptions intuitively held by parents for many years.

As noted by the researchers, previous studies have suggested the following ideas:

  • Typically, parents begin talking with their children about sex during the children’s preteen years. Some parents, however, do not begin these discussions until their children are thirteen, and some parents never discuss sexuality with their children.
  • Mothers often assume the primary responsibility for sexual instruction of both their male and female adolescents. Daughters are more often the recipients of sexual instruction than are sons.
  • The content of sexual discussions held between parents and their daughters has been classified into three broad categories: [1] the big talk, which deals with the facts about such issues as conception and menstruation, and tend to occur early in adolescence; [2] tea talks, which deal with family values, and [3] social issues, which occur in later adolescence and address such issues as abortion, unwed parenthood and promiscuity.
  • The predominant content of conversations with adolescents revolved around sexual issues and related moral views of right and wrong. The authors noted that these later conversations were important in the transmission of values and morals.
  • The first sex-related topics typically discussed by mothers and daughters are menstruation and contraception. Other topics discussed between mothers and daughters include dating and boyfriends, sexual morality, conception, and sexual intercourse.
  • Children perceive their parents as communicating less about sex than the parents believe they communicated.
  • Although parents are a major source of sexual information, peers also play a unique role in the acquisition and transmission of information and values about sexuality. When parents are the major source of sexual information for adolescents, adolescents’ sexual behavior is less risky than when friends are the main source of sexual information.
The New Study

After reviewing some of the results of these previous studies, the authors described the results of their own research. These results included the following:

  • As with previous research, female adolescents reported more sex-based discussions with mothers than did male adolescents. The adolescents’ reports of discussions were supported by the mothers’ reports that a greater percent of mothers of daughters reported talking with their adolescents than did mothers of sons.
  • Male adolescents were more likely than female adolescents to discuss sex-based topics with their fathers.
  • Both male and female adolescents were less likely to discuss sex-based topics with their friends than with their mothers, but more likely to discuss these topics with their friends than their fathers.
  • The content of the conversations for male adolescents was fairly consistent regardless of whether the partner for the conversation was a parent or a friend. The most popular topics for their conversations were sexually transmitted disease/acquired immune deficiency syndrome and condom use.
  • Female adolescents tended to talk about the menstrual cycle with their mothers, sexual abstinence with their fathers, and sexual intercourse with their friends.
  • Adolescents who reported a greater number of topics discussed with their mothers were more likely not to have initiated sexual intercourse and to have conservative values, whereas adolescents who reported a greater number of topics discussed with their friends were more likely to report the initiation of intercourse and more “liberal” sexual values.
Suggestions For Parents

The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry offers a number of suggestions to help mothers or fathers talk with their children about sex. Some of these suggestions include:

  • In talking with your child or adolescent about sex, it is important to:
    • Encourage your child to talk and ask questions.
    • Maintain a calm and non-critical atmosphere for discussions.
    • Use words that are understandable and comfortable.
    • Try to determine your child’s level of knowledge and understanding.
    • Keep your sense of humor and don’t be afraid to talk about your own discomfort.
    • Relate sex to love, intimacy, caring, and respect for oneself and one’s partner.
    • Be open in sharing your values and concerns.
    • Discuss the importance of responsibility for choices and decisions.
    • Help your child to consider the pros and cons of choices.
  • It is important to talk about the responsibilities and consequences that come from being sexually active. Pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, and feelings about sex are important issues to be discussed. Talking to your children can help them make the decisions that are best for them without feeling pressured to do something before they are ready. Helping children understand that these are decisions that require maturity and responsibility will increase the chance that they make good choices.
  • Adolescents are able to talk about lovemaking and sex in terms of dating and relationships. They may need help dealing with the intensity of their own sexual feelings, confusion regarding their sexual identity, and sexual behavior in a relationship. Concerns regarding masturbation, menstruation, contraception, pregnancy, and sexually transmitted diseases are common. Some adolescents also struggle with conflicts around family, religious or cultural values. Open communication and accurate information from parents increases the chance that teens will postpone sex and will use appropriate methods of birth control once they begin.

“Communication about sexual issues: Mothers, fathers, and friends”; Journal of Adolescent Health,
Volume 24, Number 3, March 1999, Pages 181 – 189; Colleen Diiorio, Ph.D., R.N.a, Maureen Kelley, Ph.D., R.N.b*, Marilyn Hockenberry-Eaton, Ph.D., R.N.c, authors

The Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry