Monday, February 09, 2004

Your Kids are Really Scary! Part II

The Globe Focus section has officially jumped the shark... (See my rant last week.)

This week's Your-Kids-Are-Scary-And-Out-Of-Control! article is called Good Girls Do:

School counsellors, researchers and teenagers themselves say that girls as young as 12 and 13 are performing oral sex -- not just the class 'bad girls,' but students from every walk of life. They don't consider it real sex, but an act almost as normal as acne and cafeteria gossip. In today's oversexed consumer culture, reports Sara Wilson, popularity commands a high price.

The Middle School Oral Sex Epidemic! story has been around for a while now, so The Globe is actually way behind the meme on this one.

In a 1999 article, the Washington Post wrote about an "unsettling new fad" of oral sex being indulged by "about half" of suburban middle-schoolers. In a 2000 article called "The Face of Teenage Sex Grows Younger" (pdf/html), The New York Times quoted a Manhattan psychologist who said that for Middle Schoolers oral sex "is like a goodnight kiss." (A much more sensible simile than "acne and cafeteria gossip.")

These stories -- like The Globe and Mail's on Satuday -- were anecdotal and alarmist and tended to blame pop culture. Both then and now, any rise in Middle School sexual activity was not backed by statistics. As Mike Males, senior researcher for the Justice Policy Institute, wrote in a debunking back in 2002:

Among today's 10-14 year-olds, birth rates are lower than they were in 1950, while total pregnancy rates (birth, abortion, and miscarriage) are at their lowest level since statistics first were collected in 1973, Guttmacher reported ("U.S. Teenage Pregnancy Statistics" 3/01). Despite better monitoring, sexually transmitted infections such as gonorrhea and syphilis (both transmittable by oral sex) fell to their lowest rate in 2000 among boys age 10-14 since 1958; among girls that age, the lowest since 1972 (Centers for Disease Control, "STD Surveillance 2000").

The great thing about Sara Wilson's Globe Focus piece is that it claims to have statistical evidence...

According to statistical evidence, as well as reports from social workers, educators and the girls themselves, oral sex is now a fact of life in middle-school culture.

... but then a few paragraphs later admits that there is no such statistical evidence:

While there are no hard data to confirm the increase in oral sex, late last year Health Canada published the best evidence available in this country -- a state-of-the-union survey of about 11,000 students in Grades 7, 9 and 11 entitled "Canadian Youth, Sexual Health and HIV/AIDS."

The study was the first in more than a decade to examine adolescent sexual trends in Canada. However, researchers deliberately avoided asking Grade 7 students about intercourse or oral sex, for fear that controversy-averse school boards would have refused to participate...

Let's face it folks: The Middle School Oral Sex Epidemic! is a media myth. Teen pregnancy and STD transmission have been on the decline since the 1970s in the States and in Canada, even though kids have become exposed to more and more sexual images in the media in that time. (Perhaps if Janet Jackson exposes her breasts more often we can eradicate teenage pregnancy!)

I repeat the question the Globe Focus section spurred me to ask last week: Why are parents so frightened of their children these days?

Post-script

For a very level-headed view on how to discuss the Super Bowl half-time show with your kids, check out this pamphlet from The Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States.


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