Teen Dating and Sex

I am a Marriage and Family Therapist that serves in four local high schools in Northern California. The business is booming with all the troubles teens are having at home and at school. It is hard to keep up with the number of troubled kids in ninth through twelfth grades. Many are suffering from unhealthy home lives, which translate into desperate times in school. The social scene can be a major challenge for our children. A majority of my cases have something to do with depression, relationship problems and heartache. Kids are trying to find the love of their life, but find themselves in over their heads with the pain and suffering that comes from the dating scene at school. A recent study showed that the greatest fear that a young person has is, that they will never find someone to love and find someone to love them. So the quest is on!

Probably the biggest problem I deal with is the permissive attitude toward sex in our culture. Most videos, teen movies, commercials, music etc. are screaming to our kids, “Go for it!” Kids want to be cool, they want to experience love, they want to be accepted and they want to fit in. So into the action they jump. Soon they find that dating and sex isn’t just fun and games. I see a lot of competition between the girls and guys over who gets to "go out" with who. If a girl wants a guy who is going with another girl, she just has to start a rumor about the girl or guy and say they are cheating on the other and the drama begins. The strongest and most long lasting relationship, begins with being friends. It really is important to try to get to know the person before you “go with, or go out with” someone. Progressing slowly through the natural levels of intimacy will help you to appreciate a deeper and deeper understanding of your partner. But usually kids declare that they are “going out” just to get permission, I guess from the peer group, to talk to that person or talk exclusively to that person. It is not uncommon for kids to go with someone for a few days, and then they break up. They find out they don’t like that person, or they don’t live up to some expectation they have or they just get mad at them and boom, its time to break up! This can happen on a regular basis having lots of boyfriends or girlfriends and lots of “ex’s”.

I find that our kids are not mature enough to handle relationships because they are becoming too involved too fast. They are encountering situations that even adults find to be hurtful and difficult. Multiple sex partners, friends with benefits, fears about past sex partners and what things their present partner has done with others, are just some of the troubles our kids are facing. When the drama gets too twisted with the opposite sex, some turn to a same sex relationship, which seems easier. Jealousy, betrayal, possessiveness, controlling, and violence can ruin a student’s time in high school. I have told my four daughters, when they were in high school, that high school is not the “real world”. I share with the boys and girls I counsel the same thing. The high school drama will change for the better, when you get out of high school and into college or the work world.

I work with a school counselor who has been at the same school for over 20 years. She said that the blatant practice of sex with many partners, one after another, is getting worse than it has ever been. She said the students are acting more like animals instead of humans with some kind of restraint and values. She noted one student who had 15 sex partners in one year complained to her that the other students were ruining her reputation because they kept calling her “slut”. Yes her feelings were hurt but she could not make the connection between her behavior and her reputation. Kids are experiencing with sex more than ever before. But on the opposite end of the spectrum, I am hearing about a growing number of kids who are saving themselves for the future. They see the pain their fellow classmates are experiencing due to break ups, pregnancies, STD's, cheating and broken promises. Being a virgin is not the stigma that it used to be in high school. Some have been burned and want to get out of the drama mill, and others still have their natural shyness about the opposite sex that many adults had when they were in high school. The most stable students are products of stable homes and the most unstable, acting out students come from dysfunctional homes. This wise old adage seems to fit more that ever, “Moderation in everything”. The rushing into physical intimacy can bring some exciting pleasure at times for sure, but most likely it will end up with an equal measure of pain and suffering when the betrayal and broken promises begin. Bob Dylan wrote that “every pleasure has an edge of pain”. This is a good example of that.

Young adults, even adults can have a lot of fun getting to know a partner without sex. www.etr.org has some great pamphlets and materials on abstinence. Here are some fun ideas taken from one of their pamphlets, "101 Ways to Make Love without doing it". Walk arm in arm, write each other a letter, go for a moonlight walk, dance to your favorite tune, trust one another, go bowling, go swimming, and cook a meal together… What usually happens as a couple moves closer and closer to having sex, those fun activities and pure communication drops by the way side. When sex begins, that becomes the focus, and communication and true intimacy loses its allure. Holding off on physical exploration will allow each partner to get to know the other on many different levels. After you can trust your partner, after you have developed a healthy, safe and committed relationship then maybe you can handle the intensity of physical relations.