What Parents Don't Know About Their Teen Daughters' Sex Lives

ByABC News

May 18, 2006 — -- So many teen girls today seem forced to grow up very fast, especially when it comes to sex. The question is, how can parents talk to their teens about sex and help them negotiate the pitfalls they might face?

While about 90 percent of parents say they've spoken to their teens about sex, only half of their teens agree. Where is the disconnect?

ABC News' "Primetime" and Seventeen magazine hosted a slumber party for 14 girls between the ages of 13 and 17 to talk about what sex means in their lives. Their parents later joined the party to see what their daughters said, and some of those parents found out a few things they didn't know.

The girls talked candidly about their lives, but four hours into the sleepover, the talk turned to some topics that make many parents cringe -- girls kissing girls to please boys, "chicken parties" and unsafe sexual practices.

Tiffany said that at parties, boys will frequently ask girls to kiss each other.

"They get like a little drunk and then they're like, 'Oh my God, like I have to see two girls make out or I'm goin' to die,'" she said. "And girls will just be like, 'All right.' Like once they're drunk, they're like, 'Who the hell cares?'"

Atoosa Rubenstein, Seventeen's editor, asked the girls about unsafe sexual practices. "Who has performed oral sex without using a condom?"

Only two girls at the party admitted to doing it, but when asked if they had friends who performed oral sex without a condom, most of the girls said a resounding yes.

Rubenstein said girls seem to assume that the boys they know are "safe."

"What I hear over and over again is from girls who think a guy is cool and think it's totally fine, it's like my friend, of course he's fine," she said.

In fact, a Seventeen magazine study found that around 56 percent of boys who have sexually transmitted diseases do not tell the girl.

And finally, the discussion turned to a topic even the girls were uncomfortable discussing: sex parties, which go by several different names. They're sometimes called hooky, rainbow or chicken parties.

Only one girl in the group admitted to having been to what she called a chicken party.

"I've been to lots of them, actually," said Christina. "Me and my friends all go out and we meet at one place, and then we all just kind of ... haphazardly hook up, sort of just like kissing. We'll be half-naked, we'll watch porn and make fun of it, because there's almost nothing as unsexy as porn."

Sabrina Weill, a former Seventeen editor, says in her book, "The Real Truth About Teens and Sex," that one in 11 teens has witnessed people having sex in front of other people.

Weill says that two things are at play here. One is old-fashioned pack behavior: If those kids are doing it, it must be OK. And secondly, she says, alcohol plays a factor in these games and parties, making teens feel invincible and more vulnerable to suggestion.

After the candid conversations and a few hours of sleep, the girls were ready to reunite with their parents. "Primetime" taped the girls' discussion and edited it to show their parents.

Even in families that said they communicate well, both the girls and parents were nervous about what would be revealed. And even parents who are close to their kids sometimes don't realize the complexities of the decisions teens must make and the pressures they can face.

Most of the parents believed their girls are still virgins, but Natalie's parents learned just how close to the brink their daughter got with a boy who didn't even like her.

"That the only reason he even talked to me was because there was a chance that he might get something out of me, and that I was totally not attractive, or his type, or anything," Natalie said on tape. "And um, and that was kind of a wake-up call."

Natalie's mom, Jana, cried as she watched her daughter talk about her heartbreaking experience. "Shocking," Jana said.

Natalie's dad, Jim, said he thought his daughter could handle herself with boys and wouldn't put up with being treated poorly. But after seeing the tape, he said, "I think we're a little smarter now on the real Natalie."

Rubenstein told Jim and Jana that they know the real Natalie, but "it's just that the world that she lives in ... is different. ... So don't think it's her."

Another parent, Elaine, watched her daughter, Tracey, talk about losing her virginity to her best friend -- and getting her heart broken.

"It's painful for me because I ... know she really cared about him, and it just, it hurts me, because his parents almost came up to me in my face and said to me, 'You are a bad parent, because you're not like a parent to your daughter, you're more like her friend,'" Elaine said.

But Elaine wondered why only her daughter was looked upon as the "bad" person.

"And it's not my child that's corrupting yours, it's yours that's as equal in this as mine is. ... It made me mad," she said.

But Tracey's stepdad may not understand and might punish her when he hears her confession, Elaine said.

"I think he expected for her to stay pure until she was married," she said. "But you know what, this is not realistic. That's not living in the real world, just like his [the boy's] parents don't live in the real world."

And then there was Tiffany, who had been so bold the night before, talking about engaging in behavior to please boys.

When her mother, Christine, watched the video, she said she was bothered that the girls were so easily manipulated by the boys. "I question why would they feel that they need to be manipulated to impress a boy or excite a boy?" she said.

In many cases, the girls felt it was easier to tell their secrets on national TV among strangers than it was to tell the people who love them most in the world. But they also longed to feel safe in confiding in their parents.

"It's just so embarrassing for them," Rubenstein said. "That's the thing, to us as adults might feel like, you know what, we've all been through it. It's not a big deal. To them, it's a lot of times, the first time they're going through things, and it's a big deal."

It seemed that when both the parents and teens took those first steps to talk about the details of sex -- without anger or embarrassment -- they found it easier to move ahead and talk about how to deal with difficult situations and stay safe.

As Natalie's dad, Jim, said after the experience, "This was huge. ...I hope we can do this again."

And Natalie, too, was relieved about having the conversation. "It has definitely shown us something was missing in our relationship and we definitely needed to patch that hole up before it was too late," she said.

Since the sleepover, "Primetime" received updates from many of the girls, who said that revealing so much on camera was a life-altering experience for them, and that it actually improved their relationships with their parents.

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