"I probably wouldn’t do it again if I was sober," said the 17-year-old high school senior, a skinny model type with dark
eyes, short black hair and olive skin.
Minutes earlier, she told the story of being at a house party when she, her boyfriend and another girl — a good friend of hers — wound up in one of the bedrooms. They each took turns having sex with the guy.
When the trio went back to school, "it was kind of weird," she said, tapping her finger nonchalantly on a table at a Starbucks in Scottsdale. "But not really."
Across town in Mesa, a 17-year-old high school junior called threesomes the "in" thing to do. "One of the girls in my class, her best friend had a foursome with her, her boyfriend, and her friend and boyfriend," he said. "Some of the people, you would never expect them to be doing that."
Experts aren’t surprised — they say teens experimenting with threesomes and bisexuality is nothing new. The only people in the dark are parents, said Brita Booth, director of education at Planned Parenthood in Phoenix.
Booth recently met a Valley father who talked about his daughters’ friends performing sexual acts behind the school gym. "Fortunately, (my daughter) doesn’t do that," the man said.
"We always want to assume that it’s somebody else’s kids, and that’s a huge mistake," Booth said. "(Parents) need to acknowledge that their child is a sexual being. They need to be willing to be brave enough to have conversations repeatedly with their kids and any less than that is not enough."
Those conversations must also go beyond birth control — talking to kids about sex can now mean warning them about the possible emotional fallout from having a threesome, or about the diseases that can be transmitted through sexual acts other than intercourse.
"When they do have the sex talk, parents aren’t even grazing the surface of the issues that need to be discussed during that sex talk," said Jack Samad, senior vice president of the National Coalition for the Protection of Children and Families.
When he talks to a group of parents, he often asks who has discussed sex with their child. Most parents proudly raise their hands. Then Samad asks if they’ve talked about masturbation. Oral sex. Same-sex relationships. Hands go down, mouths gape.
"They are just blown away with the reality (of ) what needs to be included in the information," he said.
Esther Battock said she has always been open about sex with her daughter Alison, 16 and son Jonathon, 12. But even Battock — who has been a volunteer with Planned Parenthood for 14 years — has been surprised by some of her children’s questions and comments. For example, when Alison brought up the subject of oral sex, Battock asked if she thought it was sex. Alison said no, telling her "people just don’t think that nowadays."
"What I emphasized is that when there’s an exchange of body fluids, there’s a risk of disease. She said, ‘Oh, I know that Mom’," Battock said. "I’ve taken advantage of all the situations. It really applies to all areas of being a parent — I feel that just by being a parents who is askable, that they know they can come to you with any topic."
To find out what teenagers are being exposed to, parents should pay attention to the media. Suggestive images are all over television — Eminem, in the video for his song "Superman," lying in bed with two women, a heap of scantily clad young bodies in the Abercrombie & Fitch catalog, teens getting caught having a threesome on the hit show "Nip/ Tuck," Britney Spears giving a lap dance to a female dancer while cameras pan to a crowd of wide-eyed tween girls.
"Television hypes up the extreme and makes it seem normal," said Kathleen Waldron, a professor in social and behavioral sciences at Arizona State University West. "Jerry Springer doesn’t just put on a normally conflicted relationship — he puts on weird people. It gets saturated."
Experts say most kids are just imitating what they’re seeing or copying what they’ve heard their peers are doing —to them, it’s common behavior. But parents need to teach their children that it’s not the norm. One way to do this is to use statistics, such as the fact that fewer high school students are having sex, compared with their peers 10 years ago. In 2001, 45.6 percent of high school kids said they’ve had sex. In 1991, that figure was 54.1 percent.
Parents also must be aware that "once the news media catches on to adolescent behavior, that usually means they’re about to get off of it," said Dr. Drew Pinsky, host of "Loveline," a national talk radio show for teenagers and young adults with questions about relationships and sex.
While many of the show’s callers still have questions about threesomes, Pinsky has also noticed a preoccupation with anal intercourse.
"Unfortunately, they are not asking about STD exposure, not asking about pregnancy," he said.
And that’s where parents come in. In addition to talking about sex, they need to outline the possible risks, such as STDs, pregnancy, reproductive health issues, emotional problems, broken relationships — and regret. According to "With One Voice 2003: America’s Adults and Teens Sound Off About Teen Pregnancy," a survey taken by The National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, 88 percent of teens say it would be easier to postpone sexual activity and avoid teen pregnancy if they were able to have more open, honest conversations about sex with their parents.
"There are a lot of things that are involved with sexual activity," Booth said. "Kids need information. If they don’t get it from their parents, they get it from their friends, and they get misinformation."
Teens and sex
• 45.6 percent of high school students reported having had sex in 2001, compared with 54.1 percent in 1991.
• In 2001, 14.2 percent of high school students reported having had sex with four or more partners.
• Among sexually active high school students in 2001, 25.6 percent said they used drugs or alcohol during the last episode of intercourse.
• 43 percent of males and 27.9 percent of females among high schoolers in 2002 said their last sexual encounter happened in their own home.
• 50 percent of those aged 12 to 19 surveyed said that fear of pregnancy and STDs is the main reason teens don’t have sex.
• 85 percent of those aged 12 to 19 say sex should only occur in a long-term, committed relationship.
• 13 percent of those aged 12 to 19 say they are getting enough information about abstinence and contraception.
• The 2001 Youth Risk Behavior Survey, issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, found 46 percent of students in grades nine through 12 have had sex. But 68 percent of teens in grades nine through 12 believe people their age are sexually active, according a study by The National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy.
• Teens seek information about sex and relationships almost a year before asking about birth control and STDs.
Sources: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, Planned Parenthood, The Kaiser Family Foundation, Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States
Tips for parents
Having "the talk" is no longer enough. Parents must have ongoing
conversations with their children about sex — and those conversations should go way beyond the basics. Here are some tips for starting a dialogue with your kids:
• Take advantage of suggestive behavior on television and in print — referred to as "teachable moments." Ask your teenager what she thinks about the sexual act and if it has been mentioned by friends or classmates. Then, talk about the possible consequences of such behavior.
• Use statistics to show your teenager that what he sees on television and movies isn’t always the norm, said Dr. Drew Pinsky, host of "Loveline," a national talk radio show for teens and young adults with questions about relationships and sex. For example, according to a 2003 poll administered by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, 67 percent of sexually experienced teens wish they had waited longer before having sex.
• When discussing sex with your son or daughter, don’t do all the talking. "You have to be nonjudgmental, and you have to listen," said Brita Booth, director of education at Planned Parenthood in Phoenix.
• If your teenager tells you that his or her friend had sex, remain calm. Take deep breaths.
• Set boundaries in a way that is gentle and loving. Say things like, "This is what I find acceptable for you at this age," and "Every family is different and every family has what is considered an acceptable level of behavior."
• Explain yourself. Just saying "Don’t do it" isn’t enough. Talk about reproductive health, sexually transmitted diseases, pregnancy and the emotional tug of war that can result from engaging in sexual acts — from oral sex to intercourse.
• Keep talking. "Any conversation is better than no conversation and multiple conversations are better than one," Booth said.