When kids get to be a certain age, their parents start to wonder whether they—well, you know. Parents also start to talk to one another about whether their kids have—oh, you know. Some parents are very, very certain their kids haven’t, because if they had, the parents would, you know, know.
It’s impossible to overestimate the human ability to self-delude.
Maybe parents think they’ll be able to tell because they’ve read too many books and seen too many movies in which the loss of virginity results in a sort of Snow White bunnies-and-birdies-and-flowers-all-dancing-together glow. Or they may think they’ll be able to tell because they’re thisclose to their kids. Um, Shakespeare? “It is a wise father that knows his own child.” I’ve heard earnest parents say things like, “Oh, Marc and Judy went on a month-long backpacking tour of Europe together, but Judy told me nothing happened!” Yeah, right.
Now, a study in the January edition of the journal Pediatrics of 14,000-plus young people provides good reason to call Judy’s bluff. Researchers at Emory University examined whether kids’ self-reported sexual activity—or lack thereof—correlated with their incidence of sexually transmitted disease. And guess what? It didn’t! A full 10 percent of kids who claimed they’d been abstinent had STDs.
Why this would surprise anyone who’s ever been a young person is beyond me.
Self-reporting has been the foundation of sex research since the Kinseys, and there have always been complaints about its reliability. But 25 percent of boys and 26 percent of girls at least say they’ve had sexual intercourse by age 15. That’s right—by age 15. We can probably figure that when 14-to-17-year-old boys self-report that they wore a condom for eight of their last 10 incidents of vaginal intercourse, they’re erring on the high side—especially since girls the same age report that their guys only used condoms six out of the last 10 times.
Damned statistics. I guess the only thing we can be sure of is that kids are having unprotected sex way more than we want to think they are, and even more than they want to think they are. The Emory researchers don’t believe in taking chances. They suggest that all young people be tested for STDs, whether they say they’re sexually active or not.