NEWPORT BEACH — Lauren McCaul, 15, is concerned about how little most teen-agers know about sex.
So McCaul and 11 other high school students are spending their summer break at the shore in Newport Beach, Laguna Beach and Huntington Beach, distributing sex education pamphlets and advice to the thousands of teens who come for waves, sun and fun.
"It is incredible what most teen-agers will believe is true about sex," said McCaul, a student at Orange High School. "There are a lot of myths out there and . . . I know there are a lot of people who are taking chances."
She has a high school classmate who became pregnant because her boyfriend attempted to use a plastic bag as a condom. Other classmates, she said, have tried jumping up and down after sex as a form of birth control.
"That should give us a clue that there are a lot of questions out there," she said, adding that schools and parents typically are not anxious to deal with questions about sex from curious young people.
"A lot of this stuff is not covered in (high school) health classes," McCaul said. "But if you are sexually active, this is the stuff you need to know."
As to those who abstain from sex, McCaul believes the extracurricular sex education helps them continue to do so.
To become a member of the sex-education group, youths must attend 40 hours of training at the Planned Parenthood office in Orange County. Once they begin working at the beach, they try to answer questions about any sex-related topic, except abortion, from anybody over age 14. They do not distribute condoms.
To draw more attention to their message, the 12 youths last Monday began performing sidewalk skits they wrote about such things as date rape and sex in advertising. They put on a few of the low-budget skits for pedestrians near Newport Pier and plan to take the skits to Huntington Beach and Laguna Beach.
In one of the skits, Sharon Ramsden, a 17-year-old student at El Modena High School in Orange, plays an actress in a toothpaste commercial who is encouraged by the commercial's director, played by 16-year-old Matt Grimm, to become increasingly erotic in her presentation of the product. By the end, Ramsden is running the tube up and down her body while flashing her white teeth to the camera.
"On television, sex is made out to be nothing but fun," said Grimm, a student at El Modena High School. "No one gets pregnant, no one gets AIDS and no one dies of diseases."
Because of that and pressure from friends, said Khara Schnaible, 17, a lot of young people lose their virginity before being told how to protect themselves from sexually transmitted disease or pregnancy.
Public support for the beach outreach program is not unanimous.
Some beach-goers have been offended by the graphic material being distributed by the youngsters, and believe that if young people are shown how to use a condom, they will go out and try it. Two weeks ago, Newport Beach City Councilman John W. Hedges publicly condemned using teens to distribute brochures containing drawings of a condom being put on a penis and other sexually explicit matters. Hedges called it "wholly inappropriate" and asked the city to boot the youths off the beach. The city attorney is reviewing the request.
For the last seven years, Newport Beach officials have issued a permit to the peer educators without attempting to regulate the content of the materials, said Glen Everroad, revenue manager for the city. "They are exercising their First Amendment rights," he said.
Among the materials stacked on a table festooned with a blue Planned Parenthood banner are brochures with titles such as "A Man's Guide to Sexuality," "101 Ways to Make Love Without Actually Doin' It," "Being an Askable Parent," "Genital Warts" and "Over the Counter," which discusses birth control for females.
"Some of it is corny, but at least it gets people talking," said Brian McMichael, who runs the beach outreach program. The youths are paid $4.50 to $5 per hour and hand out about three or four dozen pamphlets per day. They wear beach attire and, when the pedestrian traffic is slow, might play cards.
So who goes to the beach for sex counseling from teen-agers anyway?
Mostly parents, said Rachel Scheinberg, 17, who is in her second summer of beach work.
"We hear a lot of parents say, 'I told my son or daughter everything, but they just won't listen,' " said Scheinberg.
Says McCaul: "They look at the (brochures) and ask us, 'Which ones would help you?' "
Of the many teens who walk by the table on a typical summer day, all but a few are too sheepish or unconcerned to take a look.
"When you go home, you think about all the people and how much they don't know," said Scheinberg.
The peer educators say their influence--and frustration--extends well beyond the beach.
"I know most of my friends are having sex," said Yadira Aceves, 17, a student at Saddleback High School in Santa Ana. "At first they didn't (discuss it) but now people got used to talking to me about it."