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Abuse recounted in one-fourth of teen sexual relationships

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Among teens who have had sex, one-quarter of those relationships included some form of abuse, with nearly one in 10 teens reporting physical abuse within their relationships, according to a study by Child Trends released Aug. 7.

The study also found that one-fourth of teens who have had sex reported having sex with their first partner only once.

Richard Ross, founder of the abstinence program True Love Waits and professor of youth and student ministry at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, drew a link to the entertainment business’ inaccurate portrayal of sexual encounters.

“In order to titillate bored adults and hormonally raging teens into buying $8 movie tickets, the movie industry usually portrays teen sex as a grand adventure without consequences,” Ross told Baptist Press. “This study suggests otherwise. For any number of reasons, one-fourth finds their first sexual encounter with a partner so negative that they never repeat the mistake. Even more alarming, one-quarter find that what they thought would be magical is instead filled with shoving, insults, disrespect and even violence.”

One-fourth of teenagers who have had sex reported that verbal abuse such as name-calling, insults, threats of violence and disrespectful treatment occurred within their first sexual relationship, the Child Trends study noted. Nine percent reported physical abuse, and 7 percent reported both physical and verbal abuse.

In other findings, Child Trends reported that a majority of teens viewed their first sexual relationship as more than a casual fling, with 85 percent of teens defining their first sexual relationships as romantic involvements and 61 percent having begun sex within three months of the start of a romantic relationship.

Teen girls were more likely to have older partners, the study found. Among sexually active teens, half of girls reported that their first sexual partner was at least two years older. Nearly one in five girls had a partner who was four or more years older.

Ross recounted, “Just before we appeared together on ‘Nightline’ with Ted Koppel, the then-president of the very liberal Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States tried to tell me a joke. She said, ‘Do you know what we call a conservative in my organization? It is someone with a 13-year-old daughter.’ That attempt at humor just nails the current situation. Even leaders who want to insure the ‘sexual freedom’ and the ‘informed choices’ of teenagers get cold feet when it comes to their kids. In their quieter moments, they must know ignoring God’s best always puts the young at risk.”

Founded in 1979, Child Trends is a nonprofit research organization based in Washington, D.C., and dedicated to improving the lives of children by providing science-based information to improve the decisions, programs and policies that affect children.

The Child Trends study found that among teens who had sex, 59 percent discussed contraception with their partners before they had sex for the first time. Twenty-two percent reported never using contraception with their first sexual partner.

Concerning ethnicity, 17 percent of sexually active Hispanic teens experienced physical violence in their first sexual encounter, compared with 6 percent of non-Hispanic whites and 12 percent of non-Hispanic blacks. Also, Hispanic teens were less vigilant when it came to using contraception, the study found, with 36 percent reporting they did not use contraception during their first sexual relationship.

“Though this study is filled with troubling news, we must not miss the best news,” Ross said. “The study reaffirms that now less than half of teenagers have had intercourse before 18. Rates of teenage sexual activity started dropping about the time True Love Waits and the broader abstinence movement emerged. By God’s grace, we hit the tipping point just last year. Now abstinent youth are in the majority! We need to celebrate that.”

In other recent news about teenagers:

— A study by Columbia University’s National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse released Aug. 19 found that students at smaller schools and those attending religious schools are less likely to abuse drugs and alcohol. Also, young people ages 12 to 17 who are often bored are 50 percent more likely than those not typically bored to smoke, drink, get drunk and use illegal drugs, according to the study.

–Fewer than half of graduating high school seniors who took the 2003 ACT college entrance exams were prepared for college-level algebra, and only about one-fourth were prepared for college biology, according to a New York Times article Aug. 20 based on recently released ACT scores. The Times noted that colleges, high schools and testing boards have become increasingly focused on improving students’ writing skills and may have neglected math and science skills.

Two-thirds of high school seniors had the skills necessary for college English classes, but only 40 percent were prepared for college-level algebra and only 26 percent were prepared for college biology. Among African Americans, only 5 percent were prepared for biology and only 10 percent were prepared for algebra, The Times reported.

Experts noted that the problem could stem from too few students taking challenging courses in high school.
Compiled by Erin Curry, with reporting by Art Toalston.

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