Q: My 15-year old daughter is very mature, and has started dating older boys. I’ve talked to her about sex, and told her that I want her to wait until she is older to have intercourse. She asked me “how much older,” and I didn’t really have a good answer. How old do you think a teen should be before having sex?
A: The age that teens have sexual intercourse varies according to cultural standards, and of course in many religious countries, sex outside of marriage is strictly forbidden. We do have some ideas about norms for the U.S., thanks to a review of the research done by the Kaiser Family Foundation in January 2005. According to this report, there has been a decline in the number of high school students (9th to 12th grade) who reported having sexual intercourse, from 53% in 1993 to 47% in 2003. The percentage of high school students predictably increases with each grade from 33% in 9th grade to 62% in the 12th grade. The median age for first sexual intercourse is 16.9 years for boys and 17.4 years for girls. Education about safe sex seems to be working. According to this report, 98% of teens reported that they had used birth control, although not all of the time. Nearly 17% of sexually active females and 9% of sexually active males said that they did not use contraception the last time they had sex. Having sex at an older age, and an increase in birth control has reduced the rate of teen pregnancies, but the rate of sexually transmitted diseases remains high. One in four sexually active teens contracts an STD every year. You can read the report for yourself at: http://www.kff.org/youthhivstds/upload/U-S-Teen-Sexual-Activity-Fact-Sheet.pdf
If you want your teen to be abstinent, or at least wait until he or she is out of high school to have intercourse, there are some things you can do:
1. Discourage drugs and alcohol. Over ½ of teenage girls say they might participate in sexual activities they really did not want to when drinking or using drugs.
2. Have frequent family meals. Many studies correlate the number of family meals with a decrease in the use of drugs and other risky behaviors.
3. Teach your children values from an early age. Values are learned from early in childhood, and remember that children pay more attention to what you do than what you say.
4. Teach your children and teens about the influence of the media and social networking sites. Teens are barraged with overt and subtle messages that promote early sexuality, particularly on sites like MySpace and Facebook.
5. Set limits from an early age. Teens complain about limits, such as early curfews, but studies suggest that this is an important factor in teaching responsibility. Teens who have had clear limits set since childhood will be less likely to rebel as they get older.