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Study: Young Teens are Most Likely to Engage in Risky Sex

Aired May 20, 2003 - 19:16   ET


BILL HEMMER, ANCHOR: There are a couple of new studies out today revealing intimate details about the sex lives of teenagers. Some of that information, parents may not want to hear.
One in seven sexually active 14-year-old girls has been pregnant. That's according to part of the story.

Sarah Brown is the director of the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy in Washington, which helped conduct that survey. Sarah, good evening to you.


HEMMER: What's the most surprising item in here, do you believe?

BROWN: Well, what we have found in talking with people around the country about this is that they simply cannot believe that one in five teenagers has had sex before his or her 15th birthday. Some of us in the field have been aware of this for some time, but I don't think parents in particular know that.

HEMMER: And why the focus 12 to 14-year-olds? Why did you focus that area?

BROWN: Well, these are young people who are particularly high risk. When we see sexually active kids at these very young ages, a lot of red flags go up.

For example, they may very well be involved in other risks like alcohol or drug use. We know that young people who start sex very early often have many partners by the time they turn 20, which increases their risk of sexually transmitted diseases and AIDS. We're concerned about pregnancy.

They really are not just sort of younger 19-year-olds. They really carry a bunch of risks. So everybody's worried about them, including parents and teachers.

HEMMER: And Ms. Brown, a look at another statistic that came out in the study. I'll read it for our audience right now. One in 10 girls, you say, one in 10, about 10 percent, who first have sex before the age of 15 say it was forced.

BROWN: Well, that's right, particularly at very younger ages we know that there is some forced intercourse and we also know that even if it's not forced there are a lot of young women who report that it's unwanted. Maybe they weren't actually, you know, pressured physically, but it wasn't what they wanted to do.

And when you ask older teens who have had sex, do you wish you'd waited a little longer? The proportion of the youngest teens who said yes I wish I'd waited is higher.

So for all these reasons and more, all of us need to think about sex as not just something that's part of high school, but it's also part of middle school. And there are a lot of take home messages for parents in particular.

HEMMER: I want to count these numbers and get your reaction to a few of the surveys out there. The CDC is saying between 1991 and 2001 in a 10-year period that the sex between high school teenagers actually went down 9 percent.

BROWN: That's right.

HEMMER: You couple that with another number out here by -- the pregnancy rate for 14-year-old and younger gone down by 40 percent, about the same timeframe. How do you score that with what you found?

BROWN: Well, again, our report is about a point in time, sort of the mid- to later '90s, a portion that have had sex. If you asked me how does it look in 2002 or 2003, I think it may have gotten a little better just because of the numbers you read.

But regardless of what the actual number is, it remains the fact that the U.S. has the highest rate of teen pregnancy birth and abortion in the entire industrialized world. So we're delighted these rates have gone down of pregnancy and birth, and we're delighted the proportion of the kids who have had sex in high school has gone down, but we are not where we need to be on pregnancy and birth statistics.

HEMMER: Sarah Brown, thanks for talking tonight live in D.C.

BROWN: Thank you.

HEMMER: There's another survey, this one from the Kaiser Foundation looks at the sexual activities of slightly older teens. It suggests that peer pressure has a huge impact.

One in 16 say occasional sex without a condom is not a big deal. One in five teens have unprotected sex after drinking or doing drugs.

If you're confused and worried about your teen tonight, wondering what to do as a parent, Dr. Drew Pinsky is a radio talk show host and expert on teen sex and he is live tonight in L.A.

Dr. Drew, thanks for your time tonight.


HEMMER: Your reaction to what we were just talking about with Sarah brown. PINSKY: Sarah is absolutely right on. I think one of the ways at that study data, though, is that's more reflective of what was going to in the mid- to late '90s. I think things, in fact, have improved and the Kaiser Family Foundation study does bear that out.

HEMMER: Why do you think that's the case, then, if it's only a few years later?

PINSKY: I think it's something that's already moving in a positive direction.

I've got to tell you for myself as somebody who goes out and speaks to thousands of college-aged kids, I've seen a distinct change since 9/11. They seem to be very interested in understanding how their behaviors impact on others. There's a much greater sense of desire to understand one another more thoroughly.

And indeed, also, we've been very successful in delivering the message that sexuality has a very important impact on their health and their psychological well-being and they're getting that message loud and clear.

I think what stands out for me in the Kaiser study, though, is how much drugs and alcohol continues to be a significant factor in very risky behavior.

HEMMER: Is that so? Is that what they talked about?

PINSKY: Well, you had a column up there that showed that most kids that don't use a condom do so when they're using drugs and alcohol. Most kids that engage in unwanted intercourse do so under the influence of drugs and alcohol. This is coming out again and again, if kids are sort of -- if we manage the drug and alcohol issue, we may have a significant impact on some of these unwanted sexual behaviors.

HEMMER: And what is being said today about abstinence? Is that message out there and if so, how is it heard?

PINSKY: Abstinence message is out there. This study didn't specifically look at that. I think most of the people -- everyone believes abstinence is a wonderful goal. The reality is, though, if abstinence only is the message that kids get, it tends to decrease the probability that we're going to get to them with important information about to negotiate the reality of their lives, how to be responsible if they do choose to be sexually active.

Abstinence as a social norm, however, turns out to be a very excellent message and as a social norm, may increase the probability of them choosing abstinence as their choice.

HEMMER: Another statistic, you heard the question of Sarah Brown. One in 10 under the age of 15 say they were forced to have sex prior to that age. Your reaction to that is what? Does your research, do your talks back that up and support it? PINSKY: You know, that's a very broad piece of data. We don't -- we know that young women are commonly victims of sexual abuse, unwanted sexual encounters in childhood and this may reflect that, more than anything else.

Fifty percent of young women have an unintended pregnancy, 50 percent. And that -- listen, if nothing else, we should look at their proper condom use, the morning after pill, things that will decrease the probability that pregnancy will occur.

HEMMER: Quickly again, what do you find right now about the way parents are talking to their kids and the level of communication, or lack thereof?

PINSKY: I think it's improving. The research shows that parents have a very specific window between the age of 8 and 12. If they reach their kids during that window with this important information, not with a plumbing lesson, but just with the opportunity to establish a dialogue, you will sustain that dialogue throughout adolescence, when the more difficult material comes to bear. And kids will come to you with questions. And 85 percent of kids say that they want to get the information from their parents.

HEMMER: Thanks for talking. Dr. Drew Pinsky, live in L.A. And our thanks to Sarah Brown, prior to that in D.C. Thank you, Doctor.

Earlier today we were talking about this story. We wondered, how much more sex education is seen on the airwaves than in years before.

Of course, we thought of Dr. Ruth. You remember Dr. Ruth Westheimer, the petite sex therapist who became famous dispensing her sex advice in the early 1980s. After the break, what she is up to today when we continue.


HEMMER: Right before the break we asked you whatever happened to Dr. Ruth Westheimer, the famous German-born sex therapist, famous for her outspoken sex education. What's she doing today?

Dr. Ruth is still speaking out. Not as much, though. She's in her 70s and currently you can seen her in the Herbal Essence shampoo commercial. She's the author of a number of books in sex education, and still sees, we are told, patients about six hours a week in her office in New York City.


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