Dating And Sex
Dating is a major arena for exploring sexual activity, and studies indicate that sexual behavior among adolescents has increased. Jane Brooks reported in The Process of Parenting that approximately three-fourths of teens believe sex before marriage is acceptable if two people love each other, although females more so than males link intercourse to feelings of love. The genders agreed, however, that having a reputation for being sexually active and going to the male's home when his parents are not there clearly implies the expectation of intercourse.
According to Brooks, about one million girls between the ages of fifteen and nineteen become pregnant annually. Haffner reported that among teens in grades seven to twelve, strong parental and family connections and perceived parental disapproval were related to the decision not to have intercourse. More specifically, adolescents who felt close to their parents were more likely to postpone intercourse, had fewer sexual partners, and used contraception more reliably when they did have intercourse than were teens that were not close to their parents. Haffner encouraged parents to talk with their children about abstinence, as well as birth control and sexually transmitted diseases, to better inform them about which behaviors the parents feel are age-appropriate and which are not. She cautioned against being too restrictive, however, citing evidence that teens with very strict parents are more likely to become pregnant. Most importantly, she contended, the child needs to know the parents want him to come to them, or another trusted adult, if he is beginning to think about the possibility of sexual activity.
Avoiding unwanted sex is also an issue for this age group in that dating may lead to sexual activity that is coerced or forced. Larry Bennett and Susan Fineran found that 43 percent of high school students reported having been victimized by sexual or physical violence within a one-year period; frequency estimates indicate that between 15 and 25 percent of high-school-aged females have been the victims of date rape. These forms of violence among high school peers tend to be influenced by relationship, gender, effects on the victim, and apparent beliefs about male role power and personal power. Since many adolescents do not report their victimization, those closely involved with adolescents should be attentive to behavioral indicators of sexual abuse: depression, psychosomatic illnesses, irritability, avoidance of men, loss of confidence, nightmares, fears of going outside/inside, and anxiety.