It seems as
if girls at my school are very experienced sexually. They all talk
about hooking up, giving head, getting head, getting fingered, and all
that sort of thing. I, having never even kissed a boy or had a
boyfriend, feel a bit left behind. I wanted to know if most girls my
age, 15 (like on average), have had sexual experience like this.
I think it’s so important to try not to get hung up on the idea that
what other people are doing (or not) sexually has any relevance to what
we do or don’t do. I completely get wanting to have some idea of where
we’re at with where others are at, but with something as personal and
diverse as sexuality, it’s a good idea not to put too much stock in the
sex lives of others when it comes to our own sex lives and how we feel
One thing anyone who works in the study of sexuality or sexual
health knows is that self-reporting (what people anecdotally say to
others about themselves, rather than what we can find out based on
measurable things like pregnancy or STI rates) when it comes to
sexuality is notoriously unreliable, especially between young people.
So often, young people are dishonest with each other about what they do and don’t do, have done and have not done, and given how you’re feeling yourself about this, I think you can see some reasons why.
A lot of young people — and people of all ages — feel strong
pressures to fit in sexually with their peers or partners, and also
feel strong pressures to have the "right" answers with given groups
when it comes to their sex lives. If it seems like peers are more
experienced, and like more sexual experience is the right answer,
you’re going to find more people self-reporting that they have had that
experience. If it seems like peers are less experienced, and having
less sexual experience is the right answer, more will tend to say they
haven’t done anything sexually. Often, the desire to fit in outweighs
the desire to be honest. Few people stop to think about how being
dishonest only muddies the waters even more, leaving pretty much
everyone having no idea what anyone is really doing at all.
To give you an idea about what IS really going on from sound sources
we can count on, and where studies are as reliable as they can be,
let’s take a look at this 2006 report from the Kaiser Family Foundation, a very reliable source of health and sexuality information.
- Fewer than half of all high school students report
having had sexual intercourse, declining from 53% in 1995 to 47% in
2005. Males are slightly more likely than females to report having had
sex. African American high school students are more likely to have had
intercourse (68%) than Whites (43%) or Latinos (51%).
The median age at first intercourse is 16.9 years for boys and 17.4
years for girls.4 There are differences in age of initiation by race
and ethnicity, with 27% of African American high school boys, 11% of
Latino boys and 5% of White boys initiating sex before age 13.3.
Over half of males (55%) and females (54%) ages 15 to 19 report
having had oral sex with someone of the opposite sex. Approximately one
in 10 (11%) males and females ages 15 to 19 had engaged in anal sex
with someone of the opposite sex; 3% of males ages 15 to 19 have had
anal sex with a male.
The percentage of high school students who report having had four or
more sexual partners declined in recent years from 18% in 1995 to 14%
in 2005. Males (17%) are more likely than females (12%) to report
having had four or more sexual partners.
You can see, even in that last statistic how unreliable
self-reporting can be: in most sex studies we’ll see more men than
women reporting sexual activity, even when they’re reporting on sexual
activity they apparently had together!
I also think this piece at the New York Times
in January of 2009 does a nice job of shedding some light on teen
sexual activity and the numbers we have about it versus what people’s
general impressions about it are. Here are some highlights from the
While some young people are clearly engaging in risky
sexual behavior, a vast majority are not. The reality is that in many
ways, today’s teenagers are more conservative about sex than previous generations.
…"There’s no doubt that the public perception is that things are
getting worse, and that kids are having sex younger and are much wilder
than they ever were," said Kathleen A. Bogle, an assistant professor of
sociology and criminal justice at La Salle University. "But when you
look at the data, that’s not the case."
…As for that supposed epidemic of oral sex, especially among
younger teenagers: national statistics on the behavior have only
recently been collected, and they are not as alarming as some reports
would have you believe. About 16 percent of teenagers say they have had
oral sex but haven’t yet had intercourse.
Being someone from the generation before yours, and someone who
works as a sex educator for young people today, I’d agree with the
writer of that piece that your generation actually seems to be more
conservative about sex than mine was in our teens. However — and this
is no small deal — my impression is and has been that your generation
feels much more pressure to SAY, or behave like, you are more sexually
experienced than ours did, even though you’re often judged more harshly
than we were if and when you are sexually active.
That probably has a lot to do with why we hear a lot at Scarleteen from young people worried they’re behind when it comes to their peers.
My sense is — and in alignment with some of the sound numbers we do
have — that there are more young teens where you’re at in terms of sex
and relationships than those with greater experience than you, and that
includes some of the teens saying they have more experience.
Given, in the teen years, sexual/romantic experiences do tend to
increase by year fairly rapidly, so, for instance, while two years
isn’t that big of an age difference, we do tend to see many more
17-year-olds reporting 9and who are probably participating in, for
real) partnered sexual activities than 15-year-olds. During
adolescence, a lot changes with every passing year, far faster than it
does in adulthood: the differences, in many ways, between someone at 15
and then at 18 are usually way bigger than those for someone at 35 and
then 38. It’s important to know that when we look at figures about
teens and sex that lump a bunch of ages together, too: for instance,
when we talk about 15-19 year-olds and what sex they’re having, way
more of those 19 than those 15 will be sexually active.
It might also be a comfort to you to know that as someone who works
in counseling so many teens who are sexually active, I far more often
hear from younger teens having any kind of sex who are not satisfied,
who are freaking out, who aren’t really enjoying themselves, who are
finding sex makes more crisis for them than anything else than I hear
from young, sexually active teens who are having the time of their
While age alone isn’t a sound basis for who can or can’t have sex
they enjoy, or sexual relationships of quality, the more life
experience we and our partners have — and this tends to be the case
through our whole lives, which is why, so often, sex just gets better
and better for people as we get older — the better sex does tend to
be, and more consistently. The more maturity we and partners have, the
more we know about our own bodies and sexualities (some of which is
about experience, but some of which is just about reflection and
knowing ourselves as we get a better and better idea of who we each
really are), the more assertive we become about what we do and don’t
want, all of which tends to take some time and some growth, the more
able we and partners tend to be to connect sexually in ways that feel
as good as they can, to our bodies, our hearts and our minds.
But let’s go back to where we started, to the part where I’d
encourage you to try not to be so concerned with what others are doing
or say they’re doing.
If and when sex or a romantic or sexual relationship is the right
thing for a given person is a very individual thing. It depends on
where that person is at themselves, what a given person’s sexuality
(all by themselves, not just with others) and sexual identity are like,
on who (when there is one) their partner is, how they feel about them,
and what those unique relationship dynamics and sets of wants and needs
are like, on how able a person is to do things like take care of their
sexual health and to manage things like birth control and the ability
to say no and yes (and to say either when that is what they mean,
rather than what they feel they’re supposed to say), on how much of the
risks of sex — positive and negative — a person is or feels able to
accept and live with, all of what else is going on in a person’s life,
what our unique ethics and values around love and sex are, how
supported we are or are not in our sexuality by our culture,
communities and the people who love us most and a whole lot more. It’s
a list that can go on forever and ever.
But whether a given sexual experience or relationship is or isn’t
right or of benefit to someone often has very little to do with what a
person’s friends are doing or feel (if they do) are right for them.
I know that it can be so painful in your teens to feel like an
outsider, but if it helps you out, know that no matter what choices —
about anything — teens make, most do in some way feel like they don’t
fit in: it’s a feeling that has more to do with being an adolescent in
general than what choices you make. I also know that if you feel like
you want a boyfriend, and/or want to start some kind of sexual
partnership, it can feel very frustrating, and doubly so if on top of
feeling like you don’t have things you want, you also feel like you’re
behind the curve in having them as compared to your peers. Not having
sexual or romantic partnership you want can feel lonely, and feeling
left behind can make you feel even more alone.
What I’d like to inject into this, in the hopes of supporting you
with wherever you’re at with all of this, and also to do a little
mythbusting, is to make clear that romantic or sexual partnership
doesn’t always mean we feel less lonely.
Sex and romance resulting in feeling included and connected really have more to do with quality
than quantity: in other words, just having a boyfriend, or having some
kind of sex, all by itself isn’t what results in feeling less isolated.
It’s having good, mutually supportive and healthy relationships, and
having a sex life that is really about mutuality and reciprocity that
tend to leave us feeling connected. A whole lot of teens who have
boyfriends or girlfriends, or who have been or are sexually active,
don’t have romantic or sexual lives with those components and don’t
find those relationships or experiences do make them feel less lonely
or less isolated. Some find that they feel even more lonely or
isolated with a boyfriend or with an active sex life. The wrong partner
for us, or a given kind of relationship at the wrong time, can feel
really lonely. Sex where everyone involved isn’t being respected, isn’t
seen or treated as a whole person, or isn’t really about both people
sharing something, not just one wanting something for themselves can be
one of the loneliest feelings in the world. It’s not just about having
these things, it’s about what a person really has in them.
Like I’ve said, I’d not say that on average, most 15-year-old girls
have had a lot of sexual experience right now. But even if they did
or do, that wouldn’t necessarily mean that you doing what others are
doing would be right for you or be best for you. People are all so, so
very different when it comes to sex and sexual partnership that the
choices any one person who is like us in so many ways — our same age,
our same gender, our same race or nationality, our same social class,
our same sexual orientation, our same level of life experience, our
same degree of sexual development — makes and which they find right
for them may be totally wrong for us, or vice-versa. The only sound
standard to base our sexual choices on is our own standards, based on
our own unique wants, needs and circumstances.
Here’s the most important thing I want you to take away from my answer: whatever
it is, when it comes to sex and romance, that feels most right for you
as an individual at this time in your life; that is most physically and
emotionally healthy for you, that leaves you feeling — no matter what
the deal is with your friends — best about yourself, sexually and
otherwise, and would leave you feeling that way even if every friend you had disapproved of your choices, is what counts.
If you were making choices that were crap for you but all your friends
thought were the right ones, that approval or fitting in alone probably
would not offer you much, in the short or long-term.
Sometimes, it takes people a long time to realize that, and
sometimes, people make a lot of choices they feel bad about, during or
after, or which impact them negatively, before they figure it out. If
you or anyone else can be spared learning that the hard way, it’s a
Mind, sometimes your peers also may not have the maturity to know or
recognize that sexual choices tend not to be made best, or have the
best chance of resulting in the really good stuff, when they’re made
under any feelings of pressure or conformity. If you can get ahead of
the curve on that? Then no matter what kinds of sex or
relationships you do or do not have at any age, you can rest assured
that you’re better set to have a sex and love life that’s a great one
— after all, having a lousy one isn’t what anyone really wants — than
I’m leaving you with a few links I hope will give you some extra information, comfort and insight:
- 10 of the Best Things You Can Do for Your Sexual Self (at Any Age)
- Ready or Not? The Scarleteen Sex Readiness Checklist
- Safer Sex…for Your Heart
- Potholes & Dead Ends: Relationship Roadblocks to Look Out For
- don’t feel ready for sex at all: should I?
- Pressure from friends and worries about pain during intercourse
- We fool around, but then I feel bad. What should I do?