I know there a lot of scary talk about teenagers and sex, but the sky is not falling in. It’s simply not true that all kids are being sexualised too early or are madly into porn or pressured into sex before they are ready.
I actually think is a really good time now to be a teenager with so much information online to help them learn about their bodies and prepare for sexual experiences. When I was first working in sex education back in the ‘70s I used to smuggle slides of penises and vulvas into the country so I could show people what normal genitals looked like. Now there are great websites showing all the normal variations and teaching young people about their bodies. It’s amazing.
Sure, there’s been a slight drop in the age when kids have intercourse for the first time. But actually that hasn’t changed at all in the last decade – so there’s no good evidence that all the sex on the internet is leading more kids to have early experiences. When I was growing up there was a group of kids who were into everything really early, just as there is nowadays. But most kids are more cautious – the La Trobe [University] research shows half of all teenagers leaving school are still virgins. So young people need to know that not everyone is doing it, even though those who are sexually active often give that impression.
Most kids are not having a lot of casual sex – in fact, it’s the kids with steady boyfriends or girlfriends who are most likely to be sexually active. That’s a good thing. It’s actually far more likely these young couples will enjoy their first experiences if it’s a romantic experience and they are with someone they know and trust. That’s really important for girls because often they won’t learn to really enjoy sex until they feel confident enough to teach their partners what feels good for them.
Sex can be such a wonderful experience and it’s great if people enjoy it from that very first time. That won’t happen if you get pissed and fall into bed with some random.
When I talk about first ‘sex’ here, I’m really talking about intercourse, and of course there’s lots of ways of experiencing sexual pleasure without ‘going all the way.’ It’s a really good idea to learn a lot about each other’s bodies long before you think about taking that next step. And to learn to talk about sex – everyone is different, which is why we all need to get over our embarrassment and talk openly with our lovers about what works for us.
What really helps girls learn to experience sexual pleasure is to know their own bodies. Girls who have experience climaxing on their own are usually better equipped to teach their partners how to arouse them.
Years ago I did research for my clinical psychology masters showing that masturbation was often the key to helping women reach orgasm – firstly on their own and then with their partners. It’s unfortunate that so few teenage girls are having this valuable experience.
We’ve learnt so much about sex since I was a teenager. Like the fact that the clitoris is only the tip of a really expansive sexual organ which extends right up around the vagina. And that some women have a sensitive area on the top wall of the vagina – the G Spot – which for some leads to squirting or female ejaculation. That males can be taught to slow down and delay the climax. And that male response is much more varied than we once thought i.e. men can have multiple orgasms, can climax without ejaculating, and have their extra erotic zones, like the prostate.
It’s great that young people also now have access to such a range of different forms of contraception. They shouldn’t just rely on condoms or the pill but find out about the newer long- acting contraceptives, which mean they can be protected all the time. And they all should know about the morning-after pill, which they can get themselves from a chemist if they’ve had sex without protection and fear they may be risking an unwanted pregnancy.
Bettina Arndt is a sex therapist, journalist and clinical psychologist. www.bettinaarndt.com.au