| The results of a landmark study of American sexual behavior that was launched in 1992 are being released today, and the results show that, Bristol and Levi aside, most of America's youth are responsible about their choices when they become sexually active. In fact, they are more responsible than the so-called adults.
A vast majority of sexually active 14- to 17-year-olds - 80 percent of boys and 69 percent of girls - said they had used a condom the last time they had intercourse, compared with well under half of adults involved in casual liaisons.
"I think that just as teenagers quickly develop an expectation that they're going to learn to drive no matter where they live," said a co-author of the survey, Dr. J. Dennis Fortenberry, a professor of pediatrics at the Indiana University School of Medicine, "there's the same general widespread sense among contemporary teenagers that as you get to the point where you start thinking about having sex, condoms are going to be part of that decision."
The study, the National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior was undertaken by the Center for Sexual Health Promotion in Indiana University surveyed 5,865 people between the ages of 14 and 94, about 800 of whom were under the age of 18, and the struggles over funding it underscore the idiocy and the paradoxes that abound in American culture:
The report was welcomed by health providers and sex educators, who say the field has had little data to go on, even as monumental social changes - the gay rights movement, increases in cohabitation, later marriage and childbearing, the AIDS epidemic and the widespread use of drugs for erectile dysfunction, among others - have transformed sexual attitudes.
Government agencies and private foundations are reluctant to pay for studies of sexual behavior that do not focus on reproduction, experts say; the last broad sex survey, the 1992 National Health and Social Life Survey, was started under a governmental contract, but Congress cut off financing and it was completed with support from private sources.
"There's been an enormous explosion of research in virtually all areas of medicine except the entity called sexual medicine," said Dr. Irwin Goldstein, editor in chief of The Journal of Sexual Medicine, which is devoting its entire issue to papers from the study and commentaries by experts. "We can't get the funding."
Even though Americans are bombarded with sexual imagery, they have little access to reliable information about sexual behavior, said Monica Rodriguez, president of Siecus, the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States, a nonprofit group based in New York. "That's why this is so important - it gives us a sense of what's really happening, instead of all this, 'Well, my sex life must not be normal, because I don't do this or only do this.' "
Heaven forefend that our children, who are bombarded daily with sexuality everywhere they turn, be educated and informed about it, or that sociological studies of sexual behaviors be studied on the government dime.
The study that is being released today was launched in 1992 - and two years later when the republicans took over the legislative branch, the funding was cut. Private sources, primarily the manufacturer of Trojan condoms, stepped in to underwrite the costs of completing it. Researchers said that while they did share their findings with the company as they came in, the condom maker did not exert influence over the study. The only involvement in the study itself was in the area of offering advice on how to pose questions to more accurately gauge condom use.
The anecdotal evidence that efforts to stamp out premarital sex and rely on abstinance-only programs to do it are abject failures has been apparent for a long, long time in the rates of pregnancy, abortion and STDs among the teenagers in areas where that approach to teenage sexual education supplants the comprehensive sex ed that I got as a teenager in a rural high school in Missourri. My classmates and I all quietly went to a Planned Parenthood clinic that was held once a month in the basement of a church in the county seat and we got on the pill months before we ever had sex. We didn't consider it a license to sluttiness - we considered it insurance against a pregnancy we weren't ready for when the inevitable happened. We had made out, we had experienced orgasms, and we had no intentions of becoming chaste...or teenage mothers.
And apparently, we passed on to our children that which we were fortunate enough to benefit from, even though they were officially getting something different than what we benefited from. I know that in my household, when my oldest started dating I went to Costco and bought a box of condoms and put it in the linen closet outside the kids' bathroom, and stuck a Post-it note on the box that read simply "You don't have to say a word to me about your sex life when you get one, just don't have unprotected sex. Tell your friends not to, either. Love, Mom" About a year later, I was putting towels away in that closet and I noticed an envelope propped against the nearly-empty condom box. Inside was $12 in singles and there was a note that said "Thanks Mrs. B. We want to chip in for the next box."
I am going to go ahead and take a wee bit of credit, not just for me, but for all the reality-based parents who were honest and forthright with their children and did what was best for them, not what some preacher or bible-bleater or authoritarian asshole had to say about it.
We just quietly raised some really, really smart, responsible - and liberal - kids.