Sunday, December 02, 2007

Seventeen: The Age of First Sex in the West

How old, on average, is a person in the West before they first have sex?

Well, according to Julien O. Teitler, the median age for first sex among people living in Western industrial nations dropped steadily from 1960 to 1995, before stabilizing at around age 17.

(Damn! If I'd only known that sooner, I wouldn't have held out until 50.)

Although the median age for first sex has declined, the median age for marriage has risen in those same countries. Clearly, it is now normative in Western industrialized countries to have sex before marriage. In America, for instance, fully nine out of ten people have sex before marriage.

(Damn! If I'd only known that sooner, I would never have promised my latex love doll a wedding ring after our first night together.)

The problem is our ideals have not kept pace with our actual morals. So many people in the West still act as if it is reasonable to expect kids to hold out until marriage, even when they themselves failed to do it! Instead of merely expecting kids to hold out until marriage -- something only one in ten of them will do -- we should be teaching kids how to deal with premarital sex.

Teaching kids how to deal with premarital sex involves much more than merely teaching them to use a condom. Among other things, it involves teaching them a whole morality, a whole sexual ethics, and even a sexual etiquette.

A few years ago, when I was hanging out with dozens of kids here in town, I was often asked questions about ending relationships. Naturally, if you are going to start having sex years before you get married, you are almost certainly going to face the prospect of ending one or a few relationships. But when and how is it best to break up? Kids need to be taught a practical morality that addresses those issues.

That's only one example. There are many more moral, ethical, and etiquette issues that are not being adequately addressed in part because we still hold to the ideal of waiting for marriage to have sex.

Our failure to adequately address those issues goes beyond idle interest. Morality, ethics, and etiquette are ideally ways in which generations pass down what they've learned of life. When all we pass down are failed ideals, we are relinquishing our responsibility to the next generation to share what real wisdom and learning we have to share.


Jackie said...

Gosh, Paul, not sure I agree with age 17 as first sex age, at least in USA. Still, it may be true, but I am skeptical - sorry. In my healthcare work, and as an involved auntie with a teen girl---this is NOT what I've observed. I hear them talking -- heck, they know more about sex (TV, internet) than we did. And it seems to me they are experimenting earlier. Age 17 seems _old_ by our measures :-). The best I can do is teach our children safe sex - STDs, etc. Took my niece for her first cootchie exam, as we called it--and, yes, birth control RX. Rather be realistic... She learnt from me (I hope) that teen pregnancy is the WORST things that can happen - their kids with grow up welfare/grandparent dependent, likely fatherless. The mother will likely live in poverty.
And many of these teenager born children will have a grim future indeed - you sound like the exception.
Not all people can overcome fatherlessness, poverty, etc. You, my friend, are the exception, and although I don't really know you, you seem to be a kindly, loving soul, based on your postings recently about the troubled friend Suzanne. But I'm afraid you are the exception.
I may be wrong, but these are my unedited, intuitive thoughts. Thanks

Paul said...

Hi Jackie! You raise some good points! Teitler's study ended in 1995, and even if he was right back then, the age for first sex could have dropped since then.

My mother was in her 30s when she had my two brothers and me. (We lost our father to a disease.) So, she didn't face all of the problems typically faced by teenagers who have children out of wedlock. We were fortunate in that respect.

Your niece is very lucky to have you, Jackie! Teen pregnancy is indeed one of the worse things that can happen to a girl. Thankfully, your niece has you to steer her away from it.