Fifteen-year-olds Victoria Richardson and Ben Ochrym are in love, and they're the closest of pals, too.
"He is like really my best friend," Victoria said. "He was always there for me, and he really listens well and I really respect that about him."
The high school couple will be spending the summer together, traveling in Europe on a teen tour. But the plan caught her dad off guard.
"I was under the impression, somehow mistaken, that it was all girls," Gene Richardson said. "And at some point it became clear that it was not all girls. And I just kind of flipped."
When Victoria is far away from her Rochester, N.Y., home, her parents worry, how far will she go?
"I want them to feel comfortable with their own sexuality, with how things will progress, but I guess I'm not ready for her to be really involved with that," said her mother, Sandi Richardson. "So … that's a struggle."
Forget the Fairy Tales
If Gene Richardson had his way, his daughter would wait — and wait a good long while — before she had sex.
"I guess the fairy tale would be until she was married," he said.
Fairy tales rarely come true. According to a survey of 30,000 teens released last month by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, 20 percent of teens lose their virginity before their 15th birthday. More teens lose their virginity during the summer months than at any other time of the year, according to research in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior. By the time teens graduate high school, two-thirds have had intercourse, and when they walk down the aisle, a mere 15 percent will still be virgins.
Victoria Richardson says that peer pressure to have sex exists, but she has a mind of her own.
"I feel that pressure a lot with my friends," she said. "But I don't let that get in the way because I want to be ready and feel good about it."
Why Kids Have Sex
In fact, peer pressure is only one of the reasons that teens have sex, said pediatrician Dr. Mark Schuster, co-author of Everything You Never Wanted Your Kids to Know About Sex, But Were Afraid to Ask.
"I'd say the main reason kids have sex is because they've heard it feels good and they want to see what it's all about, and another reason kids have sex is because their partner expects them to or might even break up with them if they don't have sex," Schuster said.
Parents should speak to their children about sex, and the importance of being ready before they do anything.
"You don't pressure someone else to have sex if they're not ready to have sex. That's a very important message for boys certainly, but also for girls these days," Schuster said. "They both need to learn it."
Having sex too soon can wreak havoc on teens emotionally. Research shows that sexually active teens are more likely to feel depressed and to attempt suicide. In fact, two out of three say they wish they had waited.
Out in the Open
Gene Richardson doesn't think teens are ready to cope with the responsibilities and the possible results.
"My biggest problem is that sexual intimacy is an adult activity, and there are adult consequences," he said.
Parents who are concerned about their teens becoming sexually active should bring those concerns out in the open, Schuster said.
"The biggest mistake parents make in talking about sex is to not talk about it," he said. "There's an epidemic of noncommunication about sex. Parents just avoid the subject."
Eliminating gray areas is critical, so experts say that parents should be specific and define what they mean by "sex," including oral sex. They should also talk to teens about sexual responsibility, contraception and sexually transmitted diseases, and make sure that teens know how to say "no."
They should also understand that saying yes can be a wonderful thing — when the time is right.
"Sex is a gift — sex is a wonderful part of life, and we don't want kids growing up and being afraid of sex," Schuster said.
Victoria says talking to her mom about sex has been a comfort.
"My mom tells me that it's not a bad thing," she said. "So that makes me feel OK, 'cause I don't want her to think it's terrible. If I do it, I don't want her to be really mad. And I think she knows that I'll just wait and then it'll be a good thing, just like she said."