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Teens Experimenting With Intimacy at Earlier Age

May 01, 2000|KATHLEEN KELLEHER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

In a message posted on a sex and information site for teens and young adults, a 14-year-old girl recently wrote, "Oral sex is not real sex. I would do it to preserve my virginity."

Her attitude is not uncommon and troubles physicians and psychologists who say that some teens engage in oral sex with an alarming nonchalance.

"I know that me and my girlfriend do it in place of sex because her virginity is a very big thing to her, and she isn't ready to lose it, and I am fine with that," wrote a 15-year-old New Mexico boy, who, like the 14-year-old girl, posted his message at http://www.drdrew.com, the site co-founded by Dr. Drew Pinsky of the TV and radio advice show "Loveline."

"I have discovered that oral sex is taken much too casually," Pinsky said. "Kids today are beginning to have oral sex at 14 or 15. The diabolical part is that often the guy gets it and the girl doesn't, but she somehow sees it as empowering and as a way of preserving her virginity. . . ."

This is the first generation of children to come of age with the AIDS epidemic. The experience seems to have redefined the way sex is viewed and described.

"Our notion of abstinence is very closely tied to penile-vaginal intercourse that is seen as an intimate act that carries with it health risks such as AIDS, sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy, which isn't to say oral sex isn't risky," said Dr. Robert W. Blum, director of the division of general pediatrics and adolescent health at the University of Minnesota. "Oral sex is very risky, and you can get most STDs through oral sex. But that is not how it is perceived by kids. All the messages about sex are focused around intercourse. Other sexual acts, as a consequence, are trivialized."

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According to the Alan Guttmacher Institute, a nonprofit research organization, significant numbers of adolescents are experimenting with sex at younger and younger ages. Experts attribute the phenomenon to high divorce rates, work-obsessed parents, hyper-sexual media depictions and alienated kids maturing at younger ages.

"There is a hunger in teenagers for a sharing of intimate feelings, and it gets played out sexually," said Dee Shepherd-Look, a Woodland Hills child psychologist who has treated children as young as 12 who report engaging in heavy petting, oral sex and "dry intercourse." "Kids crave real intimacy--but the physical closeness is the best they can do right now."

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In the wake of these bids for intimacy, said Shepherd-Look, teens, especially girls, often complain of feeling empty and used.

Psychologist tell parents they need to do more than just give a standard talk about sex and anatomy.

"You must talk to your child about sex when they are 10 years old, a preteen in our culture," said psychologist Ava L. Siegler, author of "The Essential Guide to the New Adolescence" (Plume, 1998).

"Then you have the chance to talk about it in the context of your values and ethics before there is the adolescent push to reject your information. You don't just want to talk about sex, but you want to talk about the meaning of sex and the value of it in human affairs."

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Birds & Bees is a weekly column on relationships and sexuality. Kathleen Kelleher can be reached at kellehr@gte.net.

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