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Dealing with the reality of teen sex

10/12/2002

If your teenage daughter is older than 15, it's quite possible she's already had sex. Kathryn Holmquist on the mixed messages that today's youth are giving out - and taking in.

Boys are expected to act like gentlemen. That's the politically correct view. Even when a girl has deliberately got drunk, flirted, engaged in heavy foreplay and ended up sprawled naked in a boy's arms, the boy is expected to have the self-control to stop if she suddenly says "no". Otherwise, he's a rapist. Such lofty expectations of human behaviour appeal to the best in our nature.

However, in practical terms, this is a load of purist nonsense - unfair to boys and girls, because if a boy is expected to behave like a gentleman, shouldn't a girl be expected to act like a lady? Many girls don't.

Girls are now as sexually aggressive as boys - perhaps even more so. They're drinking the boys under the table and they're dressing like streetwalkers (as your mother would have said) at discos. When you drop her off at Wesley disco, you may not realise that her real outfit is actually under the one she appears to be wearing and that there's a bottle of vodka hidden in her bag.

If your daughter is like half of Irish 15- and 16-year-olds girls, she's having sex. If she's like most of them, she's drinking. She may be one of those turning up at women's health clinics looking for the morning after pill, not remembering if she actually had sexual intercourse or not.

Pretend otherwise and you're a fool, or blind, or you don't want to be bothered. Even if she's not getting drunk and having sex, there's at least a 50/50 chance that her friends are. And those friends will be encouraging her to do the same. If she's vulnerable, she'll want to please them by engaging in sex games with boys.

Some 15- and 16-year-old girls play a game in the relatively-controlled environment of the disco, in which they give each other a challenge to get off with a certain number of boys. (This game has been going on for 30 years, so nobody's shocked). Usually it's five - although I'm told that the gold standard is 20. Watching each other, the girls line the boys up and get off with them one by one. We're not talking pecks on the cheek. We're talking full body contact, deep kissing, hands up the skirt - the whole foreplay fantasy. The girls have an illusion of control, because the disco is a "safe" environment.

When the action moves to the uncontrolled environment of a car, a park or a private home, the rules blur. When a boy goes "too far", this is date rape.

It can be devastating, with the girl feeling betrayed and no longer trusting her own instincts. She may live with the emotional pain of it for years. And all because she believed that it's never too late to say no.

So what do you say to your 15- or 16-year-old daughter when she's going out the door?

Choices at the two extremes might be: "Don't do drugs and use a condom", like the ridiculous, drug-damaged anti-father Ozzie Osbourne says to Kelly. Or "I trust you completely and I know you would never drink, or do drugs or have sex because you are such a sensible girl. I am going to sleep well tonight knowing that I can trust you." The latter is guaranteed to ensure your daughter's virginity to the age of 24 at least.

For most parents, the actual words will be some way between the two. One thing is sure: no matter what you say, you don't know what you're talking about. Your teenage daughter is more clued in, more experienced and more emotionally intelligent than you are - at least that's what she thinks. Her world is light-years beyond the one you knew as a teenager, as sure as J-Lo has Latin curves. You know this isn't true, but play along with her.

The worst advice you could possibly give would be to tell her that she can always say no, even when she is no longer in control. Girls, just like boys, need to be told about the likely consequences of their actions.

Parents should openly discuss with them the possibility that if they get drunk, they are more likely to get laid, whether they want it or not. Alcohol inflames sexual passion and lightens inhibition. Girls need to think about what they really want. They need to feel unashamed about their sexual desires, but at the same time understand that those desires may lead them to something they cannot handle yet.

"Don't get yourself into a situation where the boy you are with misunderstands your motives," parents should tell their daughters. "Act like a lady and there's a greater chance that he'll act like a gentleman."

This is not to say that "ladies" don't get date-raped. Nor am I saying that girls who behave in a certain way deserve what they get. What I am saying is that girls, if they want to act like boys - getting drunk and being sexually predatory - have to understand that a boy, if he is that way inclined, may take advantage. And boys, for their own protection, need to understand that a drunk girl who he thinks wants sex, may turn around the next day and accuse him of rape. Both are responsible for this tragedy.

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