According to the United States Bureau
of the Census, the percentage of unmarried teenagers who had children
climbed from 5.6 percent in 1992 to 6.5 percent in 1994, when
544,000 unmarried teens had given birth (U.S. Bureau of the Census,
1995). Consequently, social costs brought from their families
are mounting. For example, at least 40 percent of never-married
mothers receiving the Aid To Families With Dependent Children
(AFDC) program, which provides cash assistance to low-income families
where one parent is absent or incapacitated or where the primary
earner is unemployed, are expected to remain on the rolls for
ten years or more. The estimated cost to taxpayers of families
begun by teenagers was $29.3 billion in 1991 alone (Society, 1995).
Though the cost has a great impact on the nation, it is only a
part of the problems brought from teenage sexuality. This research
is intended to show risk factors which teenagers are facing concerning
premature sexual activities and the consequences biological and
Risk of Premature Sexual Activity
Obviously, the most common biological risk factor is Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs). STDs are infectious diseases spread primarily through sexual contact. They are the most common infections in the United States, affecting an estimated 30 million people (The Macmillan Health Encyclopedia, 1993). STDs include more than 20 diseases, some of which may lead to chronic pain, infertility, heart diseases, arthritis, cancer, birth defects, and even death if left untreated. Though there seems to be some room to be considered in statistics concerning sexuality, shocking reports have been made, such as Newsweek reports that every day 8,219 teenagers are infected with an STD (Newsweek, 1991).
Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) is the most feared of all STDs, which is incurable and fatal at present. In 1993, AIDS killed 28,090 people age 25-44, exceeding accidents as the leading cause of death among young adults (USA TODAY, 1995). Regarding teenagers, Time Magazine reports that the number of cases of AIDS among teenagers doubles every 14 months (Time, 1991). The most effective way to prevent STDs is not to engage in sexual activities, that is, abstinence. Another preventive measure is mutual monogamy (The Macmillan Health Encyclopedia, 1993).
Though much attention has been given to the physical consequences of early sexual activity, such as STDs, little has been said about the emotional and psychological impact. "The high probability of emotional soars, guilt, confusion about self and others ... make sexual activity a high-risk proposition for both boys and girls" (Search Institute Source, 1988). Some researches show the association of premature sexual activity with other, nonsexual, psychosocial risk factors. Orr, Beiter and Ingersoll examined the strength of association of coital status with other risk behaviors and feelings of 1,504 junior high school students. According to their research, nonvirginal boys and girls were significantly more likely than their virginal cohorts to engage in other activities considered risky. Nonvirginal boys were at 3.8 times the risk of virginal boys (odds ratios) for smoking cigarettes, 6.3 times greater risk for ever having used alcohol, and 9.7 times greater risk for having ridden with a drug-using driver. The corresponding ratios were larger for girls, with relative risks of 7.2 for smoking and 10.4 for use of marijuana. Sexually experienced boys and girls had significantly greater risk for running away (2.7 for boys, 17.9 for girls), legal difficulties (3.6 for boys, 9.2 for girls), thoughts of dropping out of school(6.7 for boys, 4.2 for girls), and school suspensions (7.0 for boys, 5.1 for girls). Nonvirginal boys were not at greater emotional risk, but the ratios for nonvirginal girls were higher for feeling tense (3.1), upset (1.8) and lonely (2.1) and for reports of difficulty sleeping (2.2) and suicidal behaviors (6.3) (Orr, Beiter and Ingersoll, 1991).
Another study also shows that childhood sexual intercourse is associated with several potentially serious indicators of distress and health-compromising behaviors among the young, such as lower academic performance, gang involvement, unprotected and more frequent sexual intercourse, pregnancy, emotional distress, and suicidal involvement (Resnick & Blum, 1994). Though these researches are not suggesting that premature sexual experience is a cause or leads to the other negative behaviors, they should be paid more attention to by educators.
Risk of Pregnancy, Abortion and Parenthood for Adolescents
What is cruel for girls is that often pregnancy is a key factor in terminating relationships, as "more than 85 percent of all boys who impregnate teenage girls will eventually abandon them" (Gordon, 1983-84). Usually, the relationships are terminated, and broken relationships have consequences. These teenage girls can have problems with interpersonal commitment because of their negative experience. Those with one or more broken relationships may build up defenses against being hurt again and protect themselves by becoming involved with multiple sexual partners, by being uncommitted, or by living with a man, unmarried (Vandegaer, 1983).
Moreover, those who decide not to engage in sexual activity have the satisfaction of being in control and are free to be more helpful to others, while those who engaged tend to turn inward and think about their own needs and wants. They do not enjoy the same freedom as nonvirginal peers do. They lost control, and this can result in diminished self-esteem (Kennedy, 1991).
Those who become pregnant have to decide whether to carrying their babies to term or to have abortions. In general, abortions are regarded as very safe surgical procedures for the woman. However, there is a difference of opinion among therapists about the effects of abortion, some believing that there is no effect, others perceiving great stress, still others claiming that every abortion produces trauma. Reardon (1987) undertook a study of 230 women who had abortions. Forty-six percent of his subjects were 15-19 years of age at the time of their abortion. Over 93 percent of those in his study stated that their abortions resulted in severely diminished self-image. Nineteen percent described themselves as engaging in "suicidal" behavior: 10 percent reported were insomnia, nightmares, fear of touching babies, constant thought about the aborted child, unforgiveness of self, bitterness, loneliness, and promiscuity. Sixty-six percent of these women believe their lives today are worse because of their abortions. Rue (1986) stated that the 70 percent failure rate of an unmarried relationship following abortion is evidence of the trauma.
Many of those who undergo abortion initially feel a sense of relief. However, within recent years, professionals who counsel women who have had abortions are observing a delayed reaction to the event known as Post-Abortion Syndrome (PAS), not unlike the response some veterans experience years following combat duty. Among the therapeutic hallmarks associated with PAS are denial, hostility, depression, guilt, and a feeling of being victimized (Rue, 1986).
Although pregnancy and child birth for teenagers involve both tangible and potential risks, in some cases, the teenage girl does not receive adequate prenatal care because she is trying to hide the pregnancy, does not know that special care is needed. Teenagers often do not eat in such away that they and the fetus get proper nutrition. In addition, some teenagers endanger their health and that of their babies by drinking, smoking, or taking other drugs. Lack of prenatal care may lead to toxemia or anemia in the mother and to a higher than normal rate of miscarriage and stillbirth. Younger teenagers are also at risk because their bodies are still developing, and the pregnancy puts a special strain on them.
As a consequence, children born to teenagers tend to have low birth weight or be born prematurely, which can result in cerebral palsy, respiratory illness, mental retardation, and other disorders. Also, more babies of teenage mothers die during their first year than do babies of older women.
Most teenage girls who become pregnant unexpectedly postpone finishing their education and therefore initially do not have sufficient skills and training to adequately support themselves and their children. If the father of the child is in school, and takes financial responsibility for the child and the mother, he may have to leave school without an adequate education, resulting in low-paying jobs. A teenage pregnancy may result in couple's entering an unhappy marriage or in the mother's living alone without help from the baby's father. President Clinton in 1995 an address stated;
"The single biggest social problem in our society may be the growing absence of fathers from their children's homes because it contributes to so many other social problems. One child in 4 grows up in a fatherless home. Without a father to help guide, without a father to care, without a father to teach boys to be men and to teach girls to expect respect from men, it's harder. There are a lot of mothers out there doing a magnificent job alone - a magnificent job alone, but it is harder. It is harder."
Child abuse is a problem among teenage parents because they tend to lack adequate parenting skills and are under the additional stress caused by poverty and lack of a job or a low-paying job (The Macmillan Health Encyclopedia, 1993).
The Causes of Increase of Teenage Sexual Activity
Among high school students, 54 percent (including 61 percent of boys and 48 percent of girls) say they have had sexual intercourse, according to a 1992 Centers for Disease Control study. The number of 9th graders who say they have already had sex is 40 percent (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1992).
In a study of 14- to 16- year old teenagers, it was noted that 47 percent of the boys and 65 percent of the girls responded that they engaged in sexual activities even though they did not desire to do so (Hass, 1981). A study of 1,006 teenage girls revealed that 24 percent often felt pressured into participating in sexual behavior because of not knowing how to say no (Nonkin, 1982). In addition, they may engage in sexual activity to gain acceptance in their social groups.
As these researches show, in addition to the strong adolescence sex drive, the fear of loneliness makes it difficult for teens to resist the temptation to use another person sexually. Loneliness is one of the biggest problems of adolescents, and the effort to break away from it is a major cause for girls' becoming sexually involved. She gives him sex and he gives her companionship, but they both find that the exploitation leads to unhappiness (The Foundation for the Family, 1987). However, there is another reason, which is more essential and led vulnerable adolescents to such a situation, that is, the lost of family values.
Kennedy (1991) stated that the breakdown of the American family is thought to be a primary contributing factor in causing premature sexual activity, and the love famine experienced by many teens provokes them into searching for affection and attention outside the family. The leading role of the fundamental change was played by a great conversion of value system in society, which is the emergence of the idea of "value-neutral" in 1960s. The sex education, as a part of moral education, is one of those which was greatly influenced by the change. In 1940s-50s, in spite of vast cultural change brought from World War II, the Korean War, and the Cold War, moral education did not change substantially (Ryan, 1986).
However, it did not take too much time afterward that comprehensive sexuality education, which organized in Sweden in the 1950s, quickly became the mainstream in the Western world (Richard, 1990). Its one of the fundamental premises, which might cause many kinds of problems, is that educators should be value-neutral regarding sex. The idea of value-neutral itself is supposed to be touched off by the two historical events - Sputnik shock and Vietnam conflict (Hodge, 1989). Curriculum revision from traditional one to inquiry-oriented, promoted by Russia's victorious space launch, and Vietnam conflict caused the fundamental value changes in society. As a result, educators abandoned teaching specific values, and promoted students to decide "personal value" - their own set of values. Value-neural, in this way, spread quickly in society, as well as school. As a result, it did not only establish the new social norm, which allowed free sex, but also led to the collapse of the American family in the name of "personal value."
Implication to the current education
The key to solve the problems concerning adolescent sexual activity is for educators to teach responsibility in order to establish a solid family foundation.
First, educators should be responsible for keeping adolescents away from various dangers as much as possible. As for sexual matter, adolescents may not have enough reason to decide what they should do and foresee what may occur - the possibility of being involved physical and mental difficulties. Hence, it is ethically irresponsible to leave adolescents, who do not have adequate knowledge to prevent various risks, to the discretion of choosing "their" values about sex because of the premise that adolescent sexual activity is inevitable. Hence, school should teach the "safest" sex - not "safe" nor "safer." To do this, education should be clearly show a direction. In other words, education should contain common, fundamental value about our lives, which all can share, even though it might not be a task done only by educators to decide what is common value. Common value never obstructs the development of adolescent independence, contrary to the fear of relativists. Rather, it enables adolescents to build their own personality with satisfaction.
Second, school should teach responsibility to students. Although this also should be done in the family, it is difficult to expect parents to do so in some cases today. Hence, school should teach each student to be a responsible sexual partner, spouse, and parent with community involvement.
Those adolescents who engage in sexual activity have to pay a heavy price, in most cases, exceeding their ability to pay, for whatever outcome. Furthermore, the increase of "arrears" would undermine not only adolescents themselves but also our society morally, economically, and even politically. In conclusion, only the marriage between a responsible person with commitment, not sexual exploitation, can lead all to happiness.
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