*Students who wished to remain anonymous are referred to by fictional first names.
The Prevalence of Sex
Picture your stereotypical high school party. There’s drinking, blaring pop music, and, let’s face it, sex. The topic seems to be a societal taboo: nobody wants to talk about it, nobody wants other people knowing about it, but everybody wants to hear about it. Though not discussed, sex in high school is extremely common. The Centers for Disease Control reported that in 2009, 46 percent of all high school students admitted to having intercourse.SHS is not immune. “I would think that maybe twenty percent of SHS is sexually active,” estimated Ernie Collabolletta, a psychologist at SHS. Others declined to put a figure on it. “I think that there is a good number of students having intercourse [at SHS],” noted youth outreach worker Lauren Pomerantz.
Whatever the exact number, many SHS students are “doing the deed.” “Sex is pretty common at SHS,” commented Marcus ’15. “It’s just part of the high school experience.” Other students agree. “I think sex is definitely there, it’s just not really talked about openly,” added Solange Azor ’14.
“I think that sexual activities that are not [intercourse] are very common in high school,” explained Jessica ’14. “We’re teenagers; if you want to kiss someone, you can kiss someone.” However, many high school students go much further than just kissing. “A lot of people perform casual sexual favors, like oral sex,” specified Marissa ’12.
The frequency of sexual activity increases as students get older. “Sex gets a lot more common senior year,” noted Marissa. “People start losing their personal boundaries, especially because people start partying a lot more once they get into college.” Others agree with this assessment. “Ninth graders are definitely not as active as twelfth graders,” observed Jessica.
Not only are ninth graders not as sexually involved, but some also question the propriety of underclassmen “doing it.” “I don’t think it’s appropriate for a freshman to be having sex, but maybe [it is okay for] a senior,” remarked Leah Kashar ’15. Other students have “looser” standards. “The appropriateness of sex in high school depends on the person and how long you’ve been with a person and how much you trust them,” Jessica countered. “I feel like sex doesn’t need to be regulated by age.”
Some students have stricter beliefs. “I don’t think it’s appropriate for anyone to be having sex [in high school], but most people probably engage in it anyway,” noted Samuel ’14. Others question the wisdom of having sex in high school for different reasons. “Teenagers in general aren’t emotionally prepared to deal with some of the consequences of sex,” concluded SHS psychology intern Heather Kattalia. “Particularly girls, I think, tend to underestimate how attached they might feel after the fact. A lot of times people try to separate their feelings from the physical and that can be a little bit difficult.”
Sexual activities occur in a variety of places. “I think that [sex] probably doesn’t usually happen so much at parties… it usually just happens on weekends when people’s parents aren’t home,” Samuel speculated. While few students have their parents’ permission to have sex at home, most manage to find the necessary privacy. “I think [students have sex] behind closed doors. I don’t think kids feel the need to rent hotel rooms – that sounds really sketchy,” commented Sally ’14. Other students agreed. “Usually sex just happens at aperson’s house, but it can happen in a bedroom at a party,” said Marissa. “I’ve never heard of anyone getting walked in on by parents or siblings, but that’s a big fear for those having sex.” Certain events during the year increase the number of SHS students who are “getting down.” “A lot of people are planning to have sex at prom. That is the quintessential high school experience,” revealed Marissa. “There’s something romantic and cool about a long-standing, national tradition. It’s a rite of passage.”
Sexual pressure afflicts students throughout the year. Many students believe that indirect peer pressure plays a large role in the decision to have sex. “I don’t think there’s a ton of direct pressure within a relationship, where a person – usually the boy– keeps asking for sex… the pressure comes more indirectly,” commented Marissa. “It…come[s] when a lot of a girl’s friends have had sex, so the girl feels the need to keep up. Also, there is a certain expectation when a girl’s boyfriend does certain things, like when he says, ‘I love you.’ Some boys try to make sexual relationships progress faster by doing certain sexual acts to the girl to make her feel compelled to return the favor.”
Some students think that feeling any sort of sexual pressure should be, in the words of Liz Lemon, Tina Fey’s character on NBC’s 30 Rock, a “deal-breaker.”
“I don’t feel pressured whatsoever. I think if you do feel remotely pressured then it’s not an appropriate situation for you to be in and you should end the relationship,” asserted Sally.
Many students believe girls feel more pressured into having sex than do boys. “Boys tend to pressure girls into sex more than the other way around,” believes Collabolletta. “But it’s not so much direct pressure as it is [the boy saying], ‘Oh I love you,’ and that type of thing. [I don’t think boys say] ‘let’s do it or we’re breakingup.’”
“At parties, I’ve seen guys pushing up girls’ dresses while dancing, which is just continuing this mentality of the guy pushing and the girl saying no,” explained Marcus ’15. “I’ve never heard of a girl pressuring a guy for sex. It’s always the guy just wanting to get laid.” Other students have heard about pressure first-hand. “I’ve found that it’s mostly boys doing the pressuring…because I have talked to girls that have said that guys have pressured them,” said Kashar.
Though girls may feel more pressured from their partner, boys receive pressure to have sex from peers. “In our generation, guys receive more pressure from their friends,” Jessica remarked. “That is why guys generally want to lose their virginity earlier.” Some students even believe that boys feel more pressure than girls do. “Boys might be slightly more pressured or encouraged [than girls] to have sex,” Samuel maintained. “If girls [have sex] it usually creates a bad image for them, so they don’t really encourage it amongst each other.” “There is a sense of competitiveness among boys. I’ll be completely honest with you: I’ve felt pretty competitive with some of my friends at certain points in time, and I think that there’s always going to be that sense of competitiveness… there’s always that feeling of wanting to be at the same level as your friends,’ added George ’14.
Many students have noticed a double standard for boys and girls: girls who have sex are considered sluts while guys who “score” are praised. “Girls have much more to lose, especially because of societal pressures. If guys [have sex] they’re not considered to be a slut, while girls are,” explained Jessica. “There are the preconceived connotations of boys and girls. For some reason, among guys it’s sort of considered respectable to hook up with other girls on a casual basis. Strangely enough, with girls to a degree, they did something slutty,” said George. “When you ask a woman how many times she has had sex, she will always undershoot it, whereas a guy will always overshoot it probably because the woman is afraid of what society would think,” added Josh ’13. Some students think that the double standard has always existed. “For most of modern civilization, women have… been… a symbol of purity,” continued Josh. “I think that stems from an archaic idea and how it was from early on. This double standard has existed forever,” concluded George.
Even if students are pressured, theymanage to find many outlets for support. “I have heard of some cases where people are being pressured, but they always have friends to talk to about it, and I know that a lot of people who have been pressured have found ways to get around that,” explained Jessica.
What Does it All Mean?
Relationships may mean different things to the different sexes. “’Tis the nature of the beast,” said Collabolletta. “I always remember what my father told me…‘boys play on love to get sex, but girls play on sex to get love.’” He pointed out that, “Guys often go around saying, ‘I love you, I love you, I love you’ when all they want to do is go to bed with [their girlfriends], [while] girls are more intimate and get involved more emotionally.” Still, not all boys fit this mold. Andrew ’14 is in a relationship and does not believe this to be the case. “I haven’t heard of any relationships that aren’t mutually respectful,” he noted. Other students concur. “For the most part, the high school couples that I know are respectful to one another and to each other’s wishes,” said Jessica.
In addition to mutual respect, having a serious relationship in high school raises other issues. It can change the dynamic of one’s social life. “I hang out with [my boyfriend] a lot, and I hang out with his friends so I know more people,” stated Jessica, adding that she “[tries] to find a balance.” For Jessica, old friends remain an important part of her life. Despite an expanded social circle she, “still hang[s] out with [these] friends.” Others, however, have more trouble finding this balance. “Socially, I find that I am hanging out with certain groups much more than others,” observed Andrew. “I don’t have as much time to hang out with certain friends as I used to, but, it’s a choice.”
Sexual relationships are different depending on the level of commitment in the relationship. “There is definitely a distinction between having sex with a long-term partner and a short-term hookup. There’s an emotional distinction,” said Sally, noting that she doesn’t “find short-term hookups appropriate. [She thinks] they are fine in college, but not at the high school level.” Other students found a difference in the public opinion of intercourse in different circumstances. “It’s a lot sluttier for a girl to have sex for fun than to do it with a long-term boyfriend. There’s a difference in how it’s perceived,” surmised Lawrence ’14.
For some homosexual couples at SHS, it may be less difficult to balance old friends with romantic relationships. “I think that for queer girls, it’s a lot more common to date within friend groups than it is for straight people,” commented Suzy. While not many members of the LGBTQ community at SHS are “out,” Suzy noted that there is a sizable population. “I think there’s a fairly large underground LGBTQ community at SHS,” she said. However, Suzy does not suggest that LGBTQ students are more sexually active than straight students. “I really can’t compare it to anything, but I would say that it’s about on par with what you would expect from straight students,” she said.
Although few at SHS are willing to discuss their own practices, both students and teachers believe that the vast majority of people practice safe sex. “People do, for the most part, use protection,” said Marissa. Couples appear conscious of the risks involved. “I think that nowadays people feel more comfortable advocating for their needs, you know girls saying, ‘could you use a condom,’” said Kattalia. “In the past, girls that I’ve seen were more hesitant to ask because they thought that the guys that they were with might turn them down or lose interest. I think that for the most part, protection is pretty common practice.”
Some girls choose to use more long-term and trustworthy forms of contraception. “A surprisingly large amount of girls are taking birth control pills,” divulged Marissa. “The girls who are on it usually lie to their parents saying that it is for their period, as birth control can make periods more infrequent or lighter, so they don’t have to admit to their parents that they are thinking about or having sex.”
Some of the SHS faculty have had experience discussing birth control. “Girls will sometimes come [to me] about the use of birth control and not wanting to share with parents, and if they’re going to share, not knowing how to approach the topic. I’ve had girls come to me with scares about pregnancy or STD’s,” stated Pomerantz. Even when SHS students use protection, there is no safety guarantee. “Nothing is totally reliable, because a few girls in the school have gotten abortions. The abortions are all very hushed up and not talked about,” said Marissa.
STD’s are also a major consequence of students having sex. However, SHS students are not very worried about them. “Some people are concerned about STD’s, and I’m pretty sure a few students have minor STD’s, but it’s not as worried about [as pregnancy is].” The SHS curriculum does a good job in educating its students about the consequences of STD’s. “I know more about STD’s from health class than I ever wanted to,” joked Andrew.
Having sex has many different consequences, and not all are just physical. Students can be affected socially and emotionally. To avoid problems, SHS students and social workers caution other students to question thoughtfully if having sex is the right choice during high school. “Before having sex, I think you need to really assess what your values are and how confident you are in your relationship,” recommended Sally. “You need to have a lot of trust in your partner. If you don’t have that, then you really need to rethink your actions.”
“I give students advice to really think clearly, to not use alcohol and other drugs, because that’s when people make decisions they end up regretting,” Pomerantz stated. “I certainly give students advice to talk to the person that they’re involved with, whether its a boy, girl, whomever, to discuss things and to talk about their comfort level. I give students advice to talk to parents. Mostly, I give students advice to be safe.”