Teenagers in the United States are experimenting with sexual activities more and more today than ever before. According to Charles Krauthammer, "Sex oozes from every pore of the culture and there's not a kid in the world who can avoid it." (Meier, 1994, p. 7). Teenagers are surrounded by some sort of sexual connotations all the time. Whether it is television, radio, school, or even the Internet, teenagers are hearing the affects of sex on our society. The price that teenagers pay for being sexually active greatly outweighs any advantages. The period of puberty occurs somewhere between the ages of 10 and 14 for most but can vary for different people. Heredity, health problems, and emotional and physical stress can cause these variations. Teens begin to experiment with the opposite sex by hugging, kissing and other forms of sexual expression. People are capable of creating babies as soon as puberty begins. Teens also watch more television and listen to more music developing their own unique personalities. According to one study, about 65,000 sexual acts or comments on prime-time television occur every year (Meier, 1994, p. 9). In the movies or on television, the actors and actresses make sex look easy, fun and glamorous. It appears to be something everyone is doing. On television shows like "Dawson's Creek", sex is usually the major topic of the entire show. Whether it is guys and girls, guys and guys, girls and girls, or multiple persons of each sex, the sex act itself is a major conflict. Movies, such as "Cruel Intentions", portray sex as a game. The main characters are placing bets on each other that one of them will have sex with some girl who is against the idea of premarital sex. That movie is rated R, but little kids were in there with their parents. Those types of movies are not meant for a young audience. Now those kids might end up having sex when they become teenagers. Those same teenagers might often be the ones that get pregnant. Teenage pregnancy happens so often that people hardly even recognize it anymore as a negative affect on our society. Experts estimate that the combination of lost tax revenues and increased spending on public assistance, child health care, foster care and the criminal justice system totals about $7 billion annually for births in teens. Despite a 20-year low in the teen pregnancy rate and an impressive decline in the teen birth rate, the United States still has the highest teen pregnancy rate of any industrialized country (Casey Foundation, 1996). That's not saying a whole lot for our nation. In Kids Having Kids: A Robin Hood Foundation Special Report on the Costs of Adolescent Childbearing, researchers note, "During her first 12 years of parenthood, the average adolescent mother receives income and food stamps valued at just over $17,000 annually…" Recent declines in pregnancy and birth rates, however, are encouraging. The rates keep dropping and are showing no signs of increase, yet. The rate of pregnancies has dropped from a peak of 117 for every 1,000 young women ages 15 to 19 in 1990, to 101 in 1995. That 14 percent drop brought the rate to its lowest level since 1975 (Casey Foundation, 1996). Rather than deal with a pregnancy after the fact, more teenagers seem to be trying to prevent pregnancies. Teenagers are learning to better use contraceptives and are using them more frequently than before. Some teenagers are aware of the contraceptives available, but they just choose not to use them. Others may find it difficult and embarrassing to talk to their partners about birth control or contraceptives. Contraceptives such as the condom, Depo-Provera, diaphragm, IUD (intrauterine device), and the pill are effective more than 80% of the time. Some of those, more than 90%. Nine in 10 sexually active women and their partners use a contraceptive method, although not always consistently or correctly. About one in six teenage women practicing contraception combine two methods, primarily the condom with another method (Guttmacher, 1998). The only method effective 100% of the time is abstinence, which means not having sex at all. Although there are contraceptives, they only work so much percent of the time. The other percent of the time, they will fail and lead to a traumatic downfall for anyone involved. Many consequences are contributed to having sex as a teenager, and even as an adult. Sexually transmitted diseases (STD) are gaining more and more publicity. Every year 3 million teens-about 1 in 4 sexually experienced teens-acquire an STD (Guttmacher, 1998). The more common sexually transmitted diseases include HIV (caused by the AIDS virus), herpes, gonorrhea, chlamydia, syphilis and genital warts. Teens have higher rates of contracting gonorrhea than do sexually active men and women aged 20 to 44. Chlamydia is more common among teens than among older men and women; in some settings, 10-29% of sexually active teenage women and 10% of teenage men tested for STDs have been found to have chlamydia (Guttmacher, 1998). Along with the physical status of a sexually active teen, the emotional status can also be depleted. The emotional problems a teenager will feel after becoming sexually active can be overwhelming. Sometimes the stress from friends and family members becomes too much for a teenager to bear. This can often lead to suicide or beating of themselves to kill the baby and make it look like an accident. When a teenager first learns she is pregnant, she often will not tell anyone-not even the baby's father-about her predicament (Meier, 1994, p. 21). Holding a secret that immense inside you causes great stress and emotional upset. The teenager may have intense feelings of fear, confusion and depression. In that case, it is a good idea for the girl to get help by talking to a counselor at school or a health clinic. Sooner or later, the pregnant teenager will have to face reality and make some tough choices. She will first have to decide whether or not to have the baby. If she chooses to have the baby, she will have to decide whether to keep it herself or give it up for adoption. Pregnancy itself is usually a very uncomfortable situation. During the first few months, the pregnant woman will undergo many changes. Morning sickness, tiredness and sudden mood swings are just a few of these changes. Teenagers will most likely not want to go to school feeling like that. After a few months of skipping school and receiving poor grades, the student is most likely to drop out altogether. Every year, about 40,000 teenage girls drop out of high school because they are pregnant (Meier, 1994, p. 24). Many never go back. Young males who become fathers before the age of 20 often do not finish high school, making it more difficult to find a good job. The average woman who becomes a mother before the age of 18 earns about half as much money as the woman who has children at an older age, or has no child at all. One out of every three teenage mother's turns to welfare to make ends meet (Meier, 1994, p. 24). Because of those mothers, anyone with a job must pay the taxes to keep them on welfare instead of out on the streets. Jobs are too scarce for people with no experience in certain fields of work. Thirty or 40 years ago, it was fairly easy for young people to make lives for themselves after the pregnancy. But the American economy and kinds of jobs have changed. Now a high school graduate will qualify for only lowest paying jobs (Meier, 1994, p. 71). As a result of all these teenagers looking for jobs, the unemployment rates have gone down, and the employment rates have risen. However, teenagers who get the jobs are more likely going to be working at minimum wage, which can cause unemployment. According to the supply and demand curve of economics, higher wages increase the number of workers willing to work but decrease the number of workers employers will hire (Dallas Headquarters, 1997). Teenage parents or just plain teenagers find it difficult to work for minimum wage, and even more difficult to find an employer who will hire them. Some teenagers feel the need to turn to abortion as a way of solving their problems. I personally feel that abortion should not be accepted in any case other than rape, but that's not what this paper is about. About 23 states have passed anti-PBA (partial birth abortions) laws as of August of 1998 (Robinson, 1999). Illinois is among those 23. In some states, the legal age to have an abortion with no authorization is 17. That is too young to be deciding the life (or death) of an innocent human being. Another major concern for teenagers having sex is that some people feel that the teenager should have the right to choose what to do with their own bodies. They, as people of the United States, are loyal abiders of the Constitution as well as adults. The Constitution states that we have the freedoms of speech, religion, the press and assembly. Freedom of choice is in there, too. Teenagers might listen to the advice of adults and peers, but they have to be able to make their own decisions. If teens want to go out and have sex, then so be it. Nobody can really stop them. Sure, parents can lock them in their rooms or something worse, but a crafty teen will almost always find a way out. After a punishment like that, a teenager will often just run away from home. That is another issue. Teenagers sometimes are not the best at making their own decisions, especially when it comes to sex. Teenagers often worry that if they get married, then they can have sex all they want without any complaints. In Japan, the legal age to be married without a parent's authorization is over 18 in males and over 16 in females (Kasumigaseki, 1997). It is probably not much different in the United States. Teenagers think that by getting married, it will reduce the stress and pressures from having sex as opposed to not being married. Some teenagers already have it squared away in their heads that they are going to wait until they are married to have sex. Some of those just cannot seem to wait. A lot of pressures go along with having sex; pressure from peers, classmates, people outside of the school setting. Around school, sex is usually a major topic of conversation. Students around are talking about how great sex is and how often they "do it". Those same students are usually the ones who do not worry about protection. Teenagers find it to be some sort of competition nowadays to see who can have the most sex before they graduate. Boys often find that they are being pushed to prove themselves by "scoring" (Meier, 1994, p. 9). None of them think of the consequences. Some of them even end up getting pregnant. Some teenagers believe that if they have sex a lot, they will not get pregnant. Others believe that you cannot get pregnant in a hot tub, girls cannot get pregnant during their period, and that you cannot get pregnant the first time they have sex. Some even believe that if birth control is taken right before intercourse, it will prevent a pregnancy. Those are all myths. Getting pregnant is easier than anybody would think. In fact, one out of every 20 girls becomes pregnant the first time having sex. Another statistic is that one out of every 5 becomes pregnant during the first month of sexual activity (Meier, 1994, p. 12). There are positive influences out there offering advice and assistance to those teens in need. Parents, teachers and religious leaders tell teenagers that sex should be saved for marriage. Young people are caught between two sets of messages: one says, "Go!" and the other says, "Stop!" Most teens are too embarrassed to talk to their parents about sex, and many schools provide little or no sex education. Teenagers often rely on their friends for information, which is not always accurate. There are many teens that make a definite choice not to have sex until they are older because of religious beliefs or other reasons. Some realize that problems could get in the way of their plans for the future. Still, others worry about diseases (Meier, 1994, p. 10). Some pressures come from other sources and not just their peers. When a young person becomes involved with a boyfriend or girlfriend, the couple may have to deal with the pressures directly. One might pressure the other to have sex. This can often lead to break-ups causing more emotional problems. A girl is more likely to think of sex as something romantic but, however, have sex with boys with whom they have no real relationship (Meier, 1994, p. 10). Couples who have sex 12 times run a 50 percent chance of starting a pregnancy (Meier, 1994, p. 12). Teenagers should think of the consequences and read over the statistics before jumping into anything. Alcohol or drugs also play a major role in the sexual activity of teenagers. Sometimes, alcohol and drugs play a part in the teenager's decision to have sex. A person who is drinking alcohol or using drugs is less likely to be cautious and responsible about their behavior (Meier, 1994, p. 10). Teens will often go to parties and get so "smashed" that they have no control over what they are doing. Some of them go back to school and brag about what happened at that party or gossip about what happened to someone else. That is where some people earn their reputation as sluts or whores. I do not know about you, but that is what I want people to remember me by when I graduate. Often, those same people are the ones not doing well in school, especially if they come from poor families. They may have few goals or little hope that things will get any better. Some teenagers think that if they are drunk, they cannot get pregnant. That is yet another myth. Unless something is physically wrong, a boy and girl run the risk of beginning a pregnancy every time they have sex (Meier, 1994, p. 12). Many services deal with issues about teenage pregnancy directly. Unlike many European countries, however, the United States does not have a nationwide program to deal with teen pregnancy. In 1978, President Jimmy Carter's administration sponsored the Adolescent Health Services and Pregnancy Prevention and Care Act, which helped provide a variety of services for pregnant and parenting teens. Three years later, President Ronald Reagan eliminated this program and replaced it with the Adolescent Family Life Act, which focused on abstinence programs that encourage teens not to have sex (Meier, 1994, p. 77). With a little variety of social services and very little correct information from peers, some people say that children should get information about sex from their parents and only their parents. Studies show that teenagers who can talk to their parents about a lot of topics, including sex, are less likely to become sexually active at an early age (Meier, 1994, p. 79). Adults believe that children learn all they need to know about life in school and that if their children are not asking questions, then they are not thinking about it. Some parents think that if their son or daughter has a question or problem pertaining to sex, they will go directly to their parents. Some teens think that their peers know more about it than their parents, so they turn to them. Other parents think that if their son or daughter is getting into trouble, they would know about it. Teenagers will, however, keep lots of information from their parents that could possibly get them in trouble. Parents often assume that their kids do not want to listen to their parents' advice, when really they do. Some will not admit it, but most would like them to help out.
The price that teenagers pay for being sexually active greatly outweighs any advantages. Teenage pregnancy, STDs, and emotional and physical problems are just a few examples of the disadvantages of having sex as a teenager. Teenagers pay a great price for being sexually active. The risks are just too great for getting pregnant and contracting an STD. There are more important things in life to worry about than things a person has control over. Another disadvantage, and this is mainly a disadvantage to anyone working and paying taxes, is that society must pay for the children of teenage parents. The taxes are used to pay for welfare and housing for these children. Teenagers often fail to comply with any rules stating that they cannot do something. These rules regarding teenage sex need to be more strict and re-enforced. A lot of parents need to get their own acts together before they start telling their children how and what to do. The parents are the ones we are arguing with here. They are not doing the job that society has handed them. We, as citizens of the same country, need to better the lives of our own kind.
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