Lloyd Garver: Listen to the children
"Kids today. Teenagers aren't like we were when we were their age. They can't be trusted, and they're totally irresponsible." That's how many adults view today's teenagers. In one area, they're wrong: sex. According to a recent survey, teens are more responsible about sex than adults.
The data comes from the National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior conducted at Indiana University. It was based on responses from 5,865 people. The results are clear. Depending on gender, somewhere between 80 and 69 percent of teenagers reported that they used condoms the last time they had sex, while less than 50 percent of adults said they used condoms when they had "casual" sex. Notice that this survey wasn't talking about couples that are married or are in a "serious, committed" relationship. You'd expect those people to probably have a lower condom use than those noisy kids who hang out at the mall. But no, they're not comparing apples and oranges in the survey. They're comparing motels and motels – adults and kids who have casual sex.
Maybe we've been trying to discourage unsafe sex in the wrong way. It looks like teenagers should do commercials aimed at adults. Maybe those in middle and high school should have "that talk" with their parents. Kids, I know it's not easy to have a discussion like that, but it's up to you to start a dialogue. You want to do it without causing any embarrassment or guilt, because you'd like your parents to feel they can always come to you with any questions they might have.
I'm sure all this is going to bring about some controversy. People will disagree about whether it's OK for there to be sex education for adults. Some on the conservative side will feel that it will only encourage adults to have sex, rather than encourage them to have safe sex. Those on the liberal side will see nothing wrong with bringing up the issue of sex with adults, regardless of the consequences.
And there will be that great debate about whether kids should only teach their parents about safe sex at home or whether it's appropriate to learn about these things in the workplace.
Some people will probably propose outlawing sex for people over 21. I think that's ridiculous. It would be just one more example of the "nanny state." Let's leave government out of the bedroom and keep it where it belongs, in the den on TV. I think we adults can be trusted to act responsibly once we learn all the facts – except, of course, on New Year's Eve.
This has turned traditional perceptions (and stereotypes) upside down. If we've misjudged teenagers in terms of their sex lives, maybe we've misjudged them in other ways. It's possible that when we see them hanging out on a corner late at night in a big group, we shouldn't feel that they're up to no good. Maybe they're talking about how they can save the planet or which charities they should support or what's their favorite book of the Bible. On the other hand, as we drive past a retirement home and see a group of senior citizens socializing, maybe we shouldn't smile and think how nice it is that they're talking to each other. Maybe they're the ones who are up to no good. How do we know that they're not talking about egging some cars or scoring some drugs?
Let's return to sex, as people always seem to do. This study was quite comprehensive. It's the first survey of its kind that questioned people as young as 14 and as old as 94. I sure hope that 94-year-old woman's having protected sex. If she's not married and gets pregnant, just think how upset her parents are going to be.
Lloyd Garver has written for many television shows, ranging from "Sesame Street" to "Family Ties" to "Home Improvement" to "Frasier." He has also read many books, some of them in hardcover. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Check out his website at lloydgarver.com and his podcasts on iTunes.