What’s Good For the Goose: How the Sexual Behaviors of Adults Influence Our Teens

June 14, 2012  |  

It seems as though every day there’s a new survey about teen pregnancy, whether it’s a CDC report of states with the highest and lowest teen pregnancy rates, or teens speaking on what and who most influences their sexual choices. “The Target Speaks” study finally gives a voice to this misunderstood demographic.  The survey conducted by The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy provide findings drawn from two surveys: one given to young unmarried adults between the ages of 18-29 and one of the adult population of 18 and older.

What I find when I talk to today’s youth is that more and more the challenges of sexual health are more about values and conflicting ideas of what healthy relationships are than they are about birth control and reproduction. I said it once and I’ll say it again:  Most teens (not all, but most) are educated enough to lead a class about birth control, but they have no concept of self-love, respect, communication and what sex really means to them.  We can give out all of the condoms in the world, but the truth is, many teens and adults alike continue to confuse love with sex and use sex as a means to build confidence, find love and acceptance. Interestingly enough, “The Target Speaks” survey reveals just how disconnected we are with today’s youth and our own values and how those values impact the influence we have over their decisions.

For example, about two-thirds of unmarried young adults 18-29 (67 percent) incorrectly believe that teens have the highest number of unplanned pregnancies. However, most unplanned pregnancies occur to women in their 20’s.  The media is flagrant with infotainment like “16 and Pregnant,” “Teen Mom” and Lifetime’s “The Pregnancy Pact,” which may be responsible for misleading the public into believing that teen pregnancy occurs more frequently than it actually does.  Although the United States is an industrialized nation with one of the highest teen pregnancy rates, it is actually on the decline.  According to the Guttmacher Institute, in 2008 teen pregnancy reached its lowest level in 40 years.

As for adults, the survey also reveals that although most Americans pride themselves on having sexual morality and values, our actions fail to fall in line with those beliefs.  One in five young unmarried adults report that even if a condom is handy, they still will not use one unless their partner insists.  Additionally, many of us aren’t practicing what we preach because our sermons are faulty. Four in ten young adults agreed with the statement, “It doesn’t matter whether you use contraception or not; when it is your time to get pregnant, it will happen.” A whopping 72 percent revealed they knew little or nothing about IUDs and 36 percent of young adults incorrectly believe that a woman should “take a break” from the pill every couple of years.

Meanwhile, as we are repeating to teens the importance of postponing parenthood until adult years, 67 percent of adults between the ages of 18-29 responded that, “Getting pregnant and having children is one of the most important things people ever do.”  We spend so much time sending misleading messages of what not to do, that we fail to highlight the accomplishments we expect from of our youth such as completing school or getting a job.  In this economy, it’s getting increasingly harder to find examples of how education and hard work pay off; you have to remember that for many teens the examples they witness daily is that the quickest way to independence, financial stability and housing is to have a baby.  While many of their peers struggle to gain financial stability when choosing a more traditional path, those with children are living on their own and leading “adult” lives even if it is through government assistance. “Your children are more likely to delay sex, pregnancy and parenthood if they feel they have meaningful goals for the future and a way to reach them,”  stated the National Campaign in an article published in Essence magazine titled “8 Tips For Talking With Your Teens About Sex, Love and Relationships.”

How do we expect our youth to make healthy sexual choices when we aren’t even sure of our own sexuality?  Just the other day I discussed with a group of young ladies the differences between love and sex.  One of the ladies felt comfortable enough to reveal how she met the father of her child and stated the following: “It was at party.  He grabbed my hand and the next thing I knew we were having sex.”  My co-worker later questioned how I was able to keep my jaw from dropping to the floor and continue to talk to the girls about choices and the expectations of sex without going into “pedestal preaching” mode.  The simple answer: I am comfortable with my own values and sexuality.  When you are comfortable with your own choices and code of conduct you can therefore respect the choices of others and encourage them to challenge their thoughts and actions.

Before we judge what we view as reckless and irresponsible behavior, we must first reflect on our own faults as adults and pay close attention to the examples we are setting and the subliminal messages we send all the times we are NOT having the sex talk, or living recklessly ourselves.  We can’t expect our youth to take an honest look at their attitudes and values if we aren’t even willing to do so ourselves.  To learn about more about the survey’s findings, visit:  “The Target Speaks.”

Toya Sharee is a community health educator and parenting education coordinator who has a passion for helping young women build their self-esteem and make well-informed choices about their sexual health. She also advocates for women’s reproductive rights and blogs about everything from beauty to love and relationships. Follow her on Twitter @TheTrueTSharee.


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