After all of the effort and progress that has been made to bring about equality for boys and girls, one would think that the two genders would appear equal in attitudes and actions on most topics. That's not the case when it comes to sex.

The Kaiser Family Foundation and Seventeen Magazine conducted a survey exploring perceptions of gender roles among teens. Of 512 teens ages 15 to 17 surveyed, more than a third said there is a double standard for boys and girls. Teens are deciphering and dealing with many mixed messages about sex. They sense differences in sexual attitudes, expectations and rules between genders.

According to the survey, 9 in 10 teens said it is good for a girl to be a virgin. About the same number (91 percent) of teens said girls get bad reputations for having sex. However, 78 percent of teens said girls often lose their boyfriends because they won't have sex.

About 77 percent of teens responded that it is good for a boy to be a virgin. But only about half said that a boy would lose a girlfriend because he says no to sex. When a boy does have sex, only 4 out of 10 teens said he would get a bad reputation.

These double standards and confusing messages about sex add to the pressure of a teen's decision-making. Consider that 87 percent of teens said girls feel a lot or some pressure from boys to have sex, while only about half of the teens said boys feel pressured by girls to have sex. However, 67 percent of boys said they are feeling pressure from other boys to have sex with girls.

The study found that 69 percent of teens agreed that it is the girl who usually says no to sex. Most teens said it is usually the boy who brings up the idea of having sex. This may be a result of differing expectations of boys and girls in relationships. When asked how long teens usually date someone before having sex, 28 percent of boys said a month or less. (This was the highest percentage out of the five time frames.)

One interesting fact from the study not published in the January 2003 issue of Seventeen was that 91 percent of the teens said that most people have sex before they are really ready.

The study is a challenge for parents to set a higher standard for their teen, one that is the same for boys and girls and is based on God's standard of morality. Christian pro-family counselors suggest that parents take a stand with their teenagers by teaching expectations about sex and purity. Expectations should be consistent with all teenagers in the home. The study found that 85 percent of the teens agreed that parents' expectations differ for boys and girls.

Experts like Josh McDowell and James Dobson say that purity should be modeled in the home. McDowell, an internationally known speaker and author of the book "Why True Love Waits," says, "One of the greatest securities of a child comes from the love of the parents for each other. Young people today are longing for relationships that will last. They are crying out for role models of men and women who have it together -- in love, marriage, sex, and family.... One of the greatest things parents can do for their children is to love one another and let their children know it."

McDowell writes that if he had to narrow it down to just one reason why kids get involved in premarital sex, it would be because of inattentive parents. "Adolescents who receive warmth, love, and caring from parents," he writes, "and whose parents openly disapprove of adolescent premarital sex and contraception, are less likely to become sexually active."

A Gallup survey indicates that parents seem to have more influence than peers when teens are faced with the decision of whether to have sex. Communication between parents and teens is essential, going beyond "The Talk." Ideas for creative ways to communicate can be found at the True Love Waits website at www.lifeway.com/tlw/par_tips.asp.

 

Adapted from the article, "Sex Smarts for Teens: Help your teen fight the double standard" in the October issue of Living With Teenagers, a magazine published by LifeWay Christian Resources. Subscription information can be obtained by writing the editor at: LWT@lifeway.com.