Melissa Ferrari: Parents should take comfort in teen sex trends
It’s the last thing a parent wants to read.
A La Trobe University survey released earlier this month found nearly half of high school students in year 10-12 are sexually active.
As a parent of teenagers, the thought of one in two 15-18-year-olds engaging in sexual activity is terrifying.
Yet as I dug a little deeper into the stats, I began to see an interesting trend emerging; a trend I have noticed over the past number of years.
Our youth today take a greater deal of responsibility around sex than generations before ever have.
They are having less sex, with fewer people, more safely — with 75 per cent of respondents having sex at home with just one partner.
Reassuringly, 77 per cent of respondents discussed sexual health before sex and 88 per cent discussed their sexual activity with their GP.
No generation of the past is more aware of the dangers and risks associated with sex than our current crop.
Yes, I would like to see an increased use of condoms, and suspect that the reason 44 per cent of respondents failed to use one in their last sexual encounter relates to the fact that they believe they are in a committed relationship, using contraception with a lower risk of STDs and pregnancy.
Sometimes a little bit of knowledge is a dangerous thing, and the dangers around this decision to eschew condoms means it needs to urgently be addressed in sexual education being taught in schools.
As does the most significant concern of the study, that over 1700 kids, nearly one in three, had experienced “unwanted sex” — a clear sign that we are a long way from appropriately dealing with sexual assault and creating a safe environment for young women to report an attack.
For the respondents who had not had sex, a question I asked myself was what they were feeling, given that it was likely that they were aware that many of their friends had participated in consensual sex.
Well, if you think it’s jealousy, regret and an American-teenage-movie-type desire to conquer some kind of personal Everest, you could not be more wrong, with 53 per cent of respondents who are not sexually active saying they felt no regret or pressure to engage in sexual activity.
Results like this have been replicated in overseas studies, with today’s 20-somethings two-and-a-half times more likely to abstain from sex than generations before them, while 15 per cent of people aged under 30 have had no sex since reaching adulthood.
So, what does all this mean?
Well, despite Millennials being surrounded by sexual imagery, with access to hooking up with partners having never been easier, they are showing that more so than any recent era, consensual sex is a choice and a choice they control.
These choices — whether to be attached, single or seek a more casual relationship — are leading Millennials to seek more comfort, safety and security with their partners.
More evidence of this was shown in the study, with 78 per cent wanting to be in love before having sex, a significant shift from the ‘sleep with as many people as you can’ generations of the past.
This shift in how sex and intimacy is viewed is being driven by the exposure of Millennials to the swipe right era, seeing them turn away from disposable relationships, more willing to wait until the right person comes along.
Millennials are also living in a very different time to past generations, spending longer living at home than any other time in modern history, with 60 per cent of under 35s still under the same rood as their parents.
Our living arrangements impact our ability to find intimacy across generations, which is why we are seeing sexual activity rates decline, as mums and dads are finding it tough to find ‘alone time’ in a house filled with their adult children and their partners. Likewise for young people living at home.
In addition to the challenges of where they can have sex, Millennials are also faced with difficulties in finding a partner. Despite the access to online dating Apps, we have never lived in an era with so many singles.
In the past, we met our partners through families, friends, work and social gatherings, yet for today’s generation, the search for love will be mostly online as we continue to move towards a less connected world.
They are also the ‘stressed’ generation, with Millennials facing more anxiety and mental health issues than previous generations too, which can significantly impact the libido.
As parents, we will always have concerns around the sexual activity of our kids, but we should take comfort that they want to wait for a meaningful relationship, are aware of their own sexual health, and seem to be moving away from disposable relationships, all of which are positives.
Melissa Ferrari is a Sydney-based psychotherapist, counsellor and couples therapist.