What Parents Should Know About the University of Minnesota Casual Sex Study

Some say the world has flipped on its side, leaving parents in a quandary. Long gone are the sugar-coated days of Ozzie and Harriet and their well-separated twin beds. No such sweetening of reality for today’s young people. No, sir. Now such comedies as Two and a Half Men portray casual sex as an entertaining end-goal, and ads extol the benefits of Viagra and KY Intense.

Meanwhile, “adults” can simply head to Craigslist, click on “Casual Encounters,” make a few promises, like being at least eighteen, and then connect with some stranger. No more complicated than seeking a used crib or laptop. The message nowadays is clear: nothing is taboo anymore.

It’s been an uphill battle for parents and schools for some time now, and the forecast doesn’t look promising. Despite pleas to abstain, make commitments, be responsible, and appreciate the risks-unwanted pregnancies, STDs, and HIV/AIDS–our kids continue to engage in oral and casual sex at ever younger ages. Our all-encompassing media makes no-strings-attached-sex seem so appealing. Face it: nowadays, enjoying “friends with benefits” is no longer out of the ordinary.

Previous studies, such as the one out of England’s Dunham University last year, confirmed what many of us have been thinking, and that’s that there is an emotional downside to the one-night stand. Indeed, while 80% of the surveyed men in this instance reported positive feelings afterward, only 54% of the women said so, reporting that they regretted having been “used.”

Yet now comes word out of the University of Minnesota’s Project EAT (Eating Among Teens) suggesting that young adults engaging in casual sex don’t appear to be at any more increased risk of negative effects than those in more committed relationships. Of the 1,311 sexually active 18- to 24-year-old participants-574 males and 737 females:

o 55% reported that their last sexual partner was with an exclusive partner;

o 25% said their most recent partner was a fiancé, spouse, or life partner;

o 12% said their last sexual partner was a close but not exclusive partner;

o 8% had been with a casual acquaintance.

Said lead researcher, Maria E. Eisenberg, Sc.D., M.P.H, “We were so surprised. The conventional wisdom is that casual sex, ‘friends with benefits,’ and hooking up is hurtful. That’s what we’ve been teaching kids for decades.”

For some, this study’s conclusions all but sanction such behaviors. As one Internet post reads: “But the mentality that young people’s sexuality needs to be controlled, especially young women’s sexuality, is what’s responsible for this so-called ‘conventional wisdom.’ If you haven’t been brainwashed by abstinence-only education, you can see with clear eyes that hooking up is about enjoying pleasure… Casual sex only becomes harmful when it’s stigmatized.”

Still, despite the Minnesota study’s findings and the progressive attitudes held by many, it should be noted what the researchers also found: more than twice as many males as females reported that their last sexual coupling was casual. It seems reasonable, then, to conclude that such findings underscore more than ever the need for parents to remain vigilant, advise their children to protect themselves, and be wary. Schools, too.

As Dr. Eisenberg cautions about the study, “… This should not minimize the legitimate threats to physical well-being associated with casual sexual relationships, and the need for such messages in sexuality education programs and other interventions with young adults.” The risks are very real– physically, as most agree, but emotionally, too, and parents must take note. This is, after all, just one study among countless others that contradict its conclusions.

Pros and Cons of Sex Education – Is Prevention of Teen Pregnancy Possible?

The U.S. Educational system suffered in the last U.S. administration, especially in regards to the pros cons of sex education. When then president George Bush was still campaigning for more funding for abstinence-only education programs in November 2007, it was immediately following a national study found that sex education programs – which included contraception information as an integral feature – were most effective at preventing teen pregnancies. This focus on abstinence-only sex education flew in the face of the findings by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy.

Today, we are hoping to see a positive increase in the awareness and habits of young people regarding abstinence and safe responsible sex. Unfortunately it remains the poor who lack the opportunity to get the help they need or have a voice as to what their opinions are on these issues that impact their communities. Polls show that most teen pregnancies continue to be amongst blacks and hispanics living in lower income regions of the U.S. The sex education curriculum must consider these findings in better reaching its audience.

Cons – Without Sex Education many young people will be left to the media and hear say to find answers to important questions. Questions – if left unanswered – can lead to unplanned pregnancy and the repetition of a continuing cycle of ignorance. It seems impossible to get an exact match on every parents core values when it comes to sex education, and so it is an ongoing debate more than a con or conflict.

Pros – With Sex Education, young people have the opportunity to learn a basic understanding of their bodies, human reproduction facts and pregnancy prevention techniques. There is no replacing parental, guardian and peer influences upon the behavior of young people. The sexual attitudes and low teen pregnancy statistics of many European cultures is a great example of progressive education. It is hopeful that the current U.S. policy toward sex education will be encouraged by the study of the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy.

When I counsel families and couples, I try to encourage a proactive approach to learning about sex. There are two extremely good resources that I recommend to my clients for their knowledge of intercourse and hopefully have an impact on lesson plans in their families and communities. Having knowledge and wisdom about sex is an invaluable gift to share as a parent or peer of a young person who may not find the greatest sex advice elsewhere.

Abstinence Only Sex Education – Does it Work?

Does abstinence only sex education work? The United States government funded a nine -year, 7 million-dollar study, to discover whether abstinence only sex education classes are effective. Abstinence education encourages students to wait until marriage to have sex. The Bush administration financed the establishment of thousands of these programs across the United States and wanted to gauge their impact. The study found that students who participated in abstinence-only education programs were just as likely to engage in premarital sex as students who did not participate in such programs. This is not good news for the proponents of abstinence only education. It leaves one wondering what is the most effective way to teach teens about sexual behavior and its consequences. I decided to ask the ‘experts’, some high school students.

Most kids think that high school is way too late for sex education. Elementary school is when kids should be learning about abstinence only. According to the high school students I talked to, most sixteen year olds are already sexually active. Don’t expect them to listen to anyone teaching them about abstinence.

Most teens don’t like to be told what to do. They say if abstinence- only programs just ‘straight-out’ tell kids ‘don’t have sex’, they won’t listen. You have to provide teens with the facts and statistics. Tell them about the long-term problems that can result from having sex before marriage and then let them make the decision about whether or not to practice abstinence on their own.

A number of high school students I spoke to claimed the main problem is most teens don’t have a communicative relationship with their parents. So many parents are busy with work and social lives of their own, or they are divorced and don’t live nearby and so they don’t spend much time with their kids. Kids might learn the hazards of pre-martial sex if their parents were around enough to teach them. According to some high school students the government should be spending millions of dollars to teach adults how to parent, not on teaching teenagers how to stay abstinent.

One young woman wisely observed that teens are only doing what they see as socially acceptable. The problem lies with adults and the behavior they role model. They are showing the younger generation that it is okay to ‘sleep around.

I was reminded by many of the students I talked to that kids don’t like to be told what to do, especially by adults. Maybe if someone developed a sex education program that didn’t force a rulebook down teens’ throats they would listen and not just treat it as a joke. One girl told me she had decided to abstain from pre-martial sex but not because of a sex education program. All it took was hearing her mother’s story. Her mother had made mistakes when it came to sex that the girl certainly didn’t want to emulate.

One thoughtful young man said religion needs to play a greater role. He told me lots of kids believe they should be abstinent and save themselves for their honeymoon because of their religious values. He wished more religious groups would be outspoken about their support for abstinence.

Several kids told me lots of unprotected sex happens when teens are under the influence of alcohol and drugs. They are also a huge part of the problem.

The high school students I talked with had wise and insightful things to say about abstinence only education. Why spend 7 million dollars on a study when you’ll probably learn the most by just talking to the teens in your community?