Should We Control Teen Sexuality?

The tricky topic of teen sex is grabbing headlines again. Political groups are up in arms over Kathleen Sebelius's recent refusal to grant girls under 17 over-the-counter access to Plan B. How should we deal with the bedroom behavior of the not-yet-legal?

Your teen is having sex? Don't panic (necessarily).

Should you worry if your teen is sexually active?

There has been a long-standing belief that sexually active teens are academically at-risk and less likely to go to college. However, earlier this week UC Davis sociologist Bill McCarthy and University of Minnesota sociologist Eric Grodsky released a study entitled "Sex and School: Adolescent Sexual Intercourse and Education," which examined the potential effects of teen sexual behavior on academics and future college attendance.

The result is both a debunking and a confirmation. In contrast to the idea that teen sex is harmful, the study found that teens who were engaged in committed relationships and having sex with that partner do no better or worse in school than those who abstain. Teens in serious relationships did not differ from their abstinent counterparts in terms of their grade-point average or how attached they are to school or college expectations. They were also not more likely to have problems in school, be suspended or absent.

However, teens having casual sex did not fare nearly as well. The study confirmed that teens who have sex outside of any romantic attachment had lower GPAs, cared less about school and were at greater risk of being suspended or expelled. They also had lower odds of expecting to go to college.

Of course, the study does not pretend to conclude something about causality. In other words, we can't say if casual sex amongst teens is the cause of a decline in academics, or if the casual sex and poor academics are both symptoms of a deeper issue that needs to be addressed. We can, however, conclude that adolescent sexual activity in and of itself is not cause for academic concern (although parents may worry about it for other reasons). Instead, we need to pay attention to the context in which the sexual activity occurs; in other words, if a teen is having casual sex there are likely to be other troubles for them as well.

 

Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images

 

Should We Control Teen Sexuality?