Sex in Middle School?

ByABC News

Dec. 6, 2002 -- Remember what it was like to be a young teen? You worried about your clothes, acne, braces, who's popular, and, of course, dating and sex.

But given what's happening in America today, the choices now are bigger.

Anya Alvarez, a 13-year-old girl from Tulsa, Okla., agreed to record a video diary for 20/20. In it, she describes her transition from childhood to adolescence. "When I was 5," Anya said, "it was like, 'Should I give him a toy or not? Now, it's should I smoke weed? Should I have sex? Should I lie to my parents?"

Anya responded to a posting on our Web site seeking people concerned about the pressures middle school kids are facing when it comes to sex.

So far, Anya's done well in life. She's a good student and an accomplished golfer who has won some junior tournaments. But now that Anya's a teenager, her mother, Pamela, is worried about her.

"I am concerned about her sexuality. She's very precocious. She comes on strong. At this age, you don't know what you're doing with it," Pamela said.

This week's Newsweek highlights a government report that says the percentage of high school kids having sex dropped this past decade to 46 percent. Still, that's about half the kids, and more are having oral sex.

Anya said, "There's one girl at our football games that like gave oral sex to five different football players."

Students told us that some kids are having sex in school bathrooms and hallways — even in classrooms.

At a middle school outside Baltimore, Md., a couple of 12-year-olds had oral sex in their science class. Their classmates watched, but the teacher didn't see them. (The teacher was suspended and later resigned.)

And the kids say it happens at home too, and we parents almost never know.

Guys Get Popular, Girls Get Labeled

The girls talked about the pressure they feel to become sexually active. Anya said this is "because guys don't need girls' approval, but girls need guys' approval." But Anya recently learned that giving in doesn't necessarily win the guy's approval.

Anya said she had "an incident with a guy and it wasn't a very good one" last summer. She's not comfortable saying exactly what happened, but it shook her.

"He didn't care about me. It felt, I just felt dirty, I guess. … After that I realized, you know, I wasn't important to him at all," Anya said.

The girls complained that when they give in they get labeled. When people find out, "you're a slut," 16-year-old Josslyn Kolb told us.

Boys don't get the same treatment, according to Anya. She said, "Guys don't get labeled if they have sex with girls."

Josslyn said she learned that the guy she lost her virginity to when she was 14 just pretended to care for her. He had made a bet to see how many virgins he could get to go to bed with him.

So why do girls have sex with the boys if they're treated this way?

"If you like them … then … that just gives you the time to be close with them," Josslyn said.

Don’t Dread ‘THE TALK’

Is this where the sexual revolution has taken us? Middle school kids feeling pressured to have sex?

Sex educator Deborah Roffman, author of Sex and Sensibility: The Thinking Parent's Guide to Talking Sense About Sex, says parents have to step up to the plate. In parent workshops she gives parents advice on tackling the subject at home.

"If there was smallpox in the street, we wouldn't say, 'oh, I'm too uncomfortable with that subject.' We would figure out a way to get through our discomfort, and talk to them in the ways that they need for us to talk to them," Roffman said.

What do you say to the girl who feels she has to "put out" to be popular and to please boys?

Roffman said, "You tell her, don't have sex anymore of any kind until you learn how to do it in a way that is good for you and meaningful to you and where you're making decisions based on your own terms."

Roffman says we've got to stay one step ahead of our kids.That means knowing what's going on in their lives and talking to them about it.

Milly Banos' mom, Maria, says she tries to stay one step ahead of her daughter. She's told 13-year-old Milly that she's not allowed to date, not even with a group. Milly, of course, complains about it. Milly thinks 13 is old enough to go out.

Recently, Maria read in Milly's diary that she's thinking about experimenting sexually and that played into her mom's biggest fear.

But of course she's thinking about it — she's a teenager, and she's got a boyfriend, A.J.. So, Milly is rebelling. She's dating A.J. secretly outside of school.

It's understandable that Maria wants to protect her daughter and keep a close eye on her, but Roffman said such limits may invite kids to rebel.

On the other hand, she says, it IS important to set limits … to NOT give the kids too much rope. Roffman said, "You set them in a reasonable place, don't be arbitrary, explain why you're setting them there."

If you do that, Roffman says kids WILL disobey, but they won't stray so far from the limits you set.

But, of course, to set those limits we need to talk to our kids about what's reasonable and about sex. How the heck do we do that?!!

Don’t ‘Go Psycho’

After Anya had that troubling sexual encounter last summer, she was able to respond to our Web site and tell us what happened to her. She said, "I went too far for my age."

But even though she has a good relationship with her mother she hadn't gotten up the courage to tell her. She was afraid of how her mother might react. At our urging, she told her mom, and, fortunately, Pamela reacted calmly.

She didn't "go psycho" as Anya said she had worried she might.

"Actually, I was relieved when she didn't, because it let off a lot of pressure off of me."

Roffman says Pamela did the right thing. She said kids have enough trouble dealing with their own feelings, and many kids just won't talk to their parents because they fear they'll turn every incident into a catastrophe.

"If they think they're gonna have to deal with your big time feelings, forget it. They're not gonna talk to you," Roffman said.

Still Pamela was not comfortable talking to Anya about sex.

That's no surprise to Roffman. Most adults, she finds, can hardly talk to each other explicitly about sex — even to their spouses.

And the kids don't want to talk. Andy's dad tried to bring up the subject of sex. "He's done it like once or twice, but I tried to avoid it," Andy said.

Even though we parents and kids may be embarrassed, Roffman says we have to convince our kids that can't have more freedom and responsibility until they have information.

And we have to give information in a way that doesn't make the topic even more uncomfortable. Some parents tell their kids frightening, worst-case scenario stories about sex. But Roffman said that's not the right approach either.

"It's not that sex is bad cause that's what they think we're saying," Roffman said, "It's that sex is really good. … but sex is really powerful. And we want sexuality to be a very positive force in your life. … We want it to happen under the best of all circumstances."

One mom found an unusual way to get her son to have "the talk." "She would lock me in the car and just drive around so I couldn't escape … talking to me about these kind of things, said Steve.

Steve now says he's glad she did, and Edmund is glad his parents had the talk with him.

"My dad just went over everything he could think of masturbation, oral sex, vaginal intercourse, and just rammed it all down. … Then my Mom followed," Edmund said, covering "things I wouldn't even think my parents even knew about in their right minds."

Parents', Kids' Definitions of Sex Differ

Of course, to have the talk, it's good to agree on what you're talking about, and here we parents make mistakes, because what we call sex may differ from what the kids call sex.

When I asked the parents what sex was they gave pretty straightforward answers:

• Any contact with genitals in another person

• Oral sex or touching genitals

The kids' definitions were different. They were a bit closer to President Clinton's definition. They said petting or touching wasn't sex. Oral sex wasn't sex.

Whatever the definition, Roffman says our kids want to hear from us. They will listen, she says, because underneath the adolescent bravado parents remain the primary influence in their lives.

What else does the expert say to her kids?

"I always say, you know, as far as I'm concerned, sexual intercourse is the most fundamentally powerful behavior there is on the face of the Earth. It's a behavior that has the ability to do the three most powerful things there are, all at the same time. It has the ability to give life, potentially take life away and to change it forever. That's unbelievably powerful and therefore, it shouldn't be in the hands of anybody who isn't an adult, in as many ways as they need to be an adult. It's not for kids."

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