Teenage Sex: Letting the Pendulum Swing

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3,000 cases of syphilis among the 27 million U.S. teen-agers and 150,000 cases of gonorrhea, more than in any European country except Sweden and Denmark. From 1960 to 1970 the number of reported VD cases among girls 15 to 19 increased 144%, and that percentage does not begin to tell the story, because it is estimated that three out of four cases go unreported.

The spiraling rate of pregnancies among unmarried girls is yet another indicator of sexual activity by the young. Per thousand teenagers, the number of illegitimate births has risen from 8.3 in 1940 to 19.8 in 1972. Of an estimated 1,500,000 abortions performed in the U.S. in 1971, it is believed that close to a third were performed on teenagers. Last year women at one prominent Eastern university had 100 illegitimate pregnancies, while at another there were almost 400—a rate of one for every 15 students. Nationwide the college pregnancy rate runs from 6% to 15%.

In Perspective. "Anything that discourages heterosexuality encourages homosexuality," says Paul Gebhard, executive director of the Kinsey Institute for Sex Research. Is the opposite also true? Some psychiatrists speculate that the new sexual freedom enjoyed by teen-agers may lead to a decrease in homosexuality. "Because there are fewer sexual taboos in our society today, the adolescent is more likely to find a heterosexual pathway," says Dr. Judd Marmor of Los Angeles. Yet only a small number of adolescents are likely to be affected, Marmor contends, since generally "the origins of homosexuality derive from certain specific conditions in the home, and these conditions still exist." There are no recent statistical studies that show changes in the incidence of homosexuality among teenagers. There are, however, some changes in attitudes. Just as there is a greater willingness to "come out of the closet" among their elders, younger men and women are more open about homosexuality, especially in cities and on campuses where there are organizations like the Gay Activist Alliance.

In heterosexual relationships, too, it is the teenagers' attitudes that have probably changed more than the statistics. The different sexual experiences of two sisters, eight years apart in age, illustrate at least some of the changes that are taking place.

Sue Franklin, now 25, had a traditional middle-class Midwestern upbringing. In 1965, when she was 18 and a college freshman, her sorority sisters talked about their sexual feelings only with extremely close friends, and nearly all gossiped about girls they suspected of having affairs. "Virginity was all important," Sue remembers. Then her boy friend of five years standing issued an ultimatum: "Either you go to bed with me or I'm leaving you." She gave in and was overcome with remorse. "My God," she thought, "what have I done? The more I learned about sex, the guiltier I felt, especially about enjoying it. I almost felt I had to deny myself any pleasure. My boy friend felt bad, too, because I was so hung up."

Sue's sister Pat, on the other hand, was just 15 and in high school when she first went to bed with a boy. Only one thing bothered her: fear of getting pregnant. She appealed to Sue, who helped her get contraceptive advice from a doctor. Since then, Pat has had one additional serious relationship that included sex.

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