Tuesday, March 19, 2002

KIDS THESE DAYS: Orchid points out an old Salon interview with the author of The Sex Lives Of Teenagers. Searching for The Sex Lives Of Teenagers on amazon turns up this book as well, and I just want to add that if I was a teenager I would never read the book that had a bunch of grinning teenagers on the cover. But that's an aside. The author, Lynn Ponton, is a psychoanalyst, and you have to take that into account when listening to her, knowing that psychoanalysts love telling stories (like case studies, or huge mythological systems spun off from case studies; Carl, Sigmund, I am looking in your direction) and the points they offer as to saving your psyche are usually perfectly debatable. Not that you should dismiss psychoanalysts out of hand, but you shouldn't think what one of them preaches is going to work for everybody. Obvious, I know, but whatever. Anyway: Ponton makes the equivalent of pro-choice arguments in the abstinence-vs.-condoms debate: kids are going to fool around anyway, so we might as well make sure they know what the hell they're doing. Abstinence programs, she thinks, only cause problems, and have results I'm sure their backers never intended:

SALON: One of the things that I found interesting in the recent study on teenage boys' sexuality is that while 50 percent of boys claim to have received oral sex from a girl, only one-third claim to have performed oral sex on a girl. Has the emphasis on avoiding intercourse put girls at a disadvantage?

PONTON: Absolutely. It has shifted the focus. One of the negatives to abstinence-only education is that within many of those programs, maintaining virginity is the top priority. So it's to girls' advantage to view oral sex, or even anal sex, as not being "sex." Oral sex and anal sex have always been there. I did my first study on oral and anal sex rates among teens in the early '80s. We surveyed kids in San Francisco and found very significant rates, even for anal sex. I was surprised: Twenty percent of girls reported that they were having anal sex. So that's been around for a long, long time. It's nothing new.

I actually think that vaginal or penetrative intercourse [among teens] is probably declining slightly. And that's consistent with the decline in pregnancy rates, and other things would indicate that. But we would hope that [a decline in teen intercourse] would result in girls' having increased self-esteem and feeling better about their sexuality.

What seems to be happening is that girls are still being pressured to serve boys -- and that's what I hear about, you know, that all boys now expect oral sex, that the boys themselves say, "This isn't sex," and that they are intent on getting it. It's put more pressure on girls in this area.

Cripes, where were the failed abstinence programs when I was in high school? My acutely wasted youth feels even more acutely wasted at this moment. Dang. Speaking from a completely selfish point of view, I mean. But what does Ponton expect? Idiot kids not to be idiot kids? I guess she's going for marginal improvement in the lives of teenagers, so at least they don't do something completely catastophic.

The paperback version, by the way, has the grinning teenagers, unlike the hardcover version which seems to offer Grim Reality.

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