FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Sexual Practices of Young Americans

by DAVID ROSEN

America is in a state of flux, a new Gilded Age taking shape.  The “American Century” is over and capitalism is restructuring the U.S. from an analog manufacturing nation state to the digital financial global power.   This transformation is having a major impact on young people caught like the proverbial deer in the headlights.  This is especially evident in their sexual identity.

A recent Guttmacher Institute’s report found that the U.S. abortion rate dropped to its lowest level since the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision.  It found that the abortion rate fell 13 percent between 2008 and 2011.  In 2011, the rate was to 16.9 abortions per 1,000 women aged 15–44 in 2011, well below the 1981 peak of 29.3 per 1,000; in 1973 it was 16.3 per 1,000).

Virginity until marriage still matters in America, but to a declining number of people.  According to one estimate, only about 3 percent of American females and males now wait until marriage to have sex; a half-century ago, between 1954 and 1963, the number of virgin marriages was 11 percent.  Today, not surprising, among those with strong religious affiliations the number of virgin marriages jumps to 20 percent.

A good number of young people are holding off engaging in sexual intercourse; have they discovered other pleasures?  A sense of this trend was provided by a 2011 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) study that found that between 2002 and 2006-’08, those aged 15 to 24 years claiming not engaging in sexual contact increased to 29 percent of females and 27 percent of males from 22 percent (both sexes).  The unasked question: What else were they doing?

In a separate study, Guttmacker found that homoerotic experimentation among teenagers is not uncommon.  In the 2006–‘08 period, 3 percent of males and 8 percent of females aged 18–19 years reported their sexual orientation as homosexual or bisexual.  However, 12 percent of females reported same-sex behaviors (including oral sex) as did 4 percent of males (including oral or anal sex).

* * *

American teenagers and young adults are situated at the eye of a sexual storm. They are buffeted by the ceaseless allure of the marketplace, its invitation to sexualize themselves as social objects and to enjoy eroticized fun with others.  Yet, strong warnings urge them to hold off actual sexual intercourse until marriage, as much for moral reasons as to avoid a sexually transmitted disease (STD).

Unfortunately, the meaning of “sex,” “marriage” and “virginity” are not fixed, but rather terrains of social debate, struggle.  Their changing definitions shape postmodern youthful sexuality.

Young people are 21st century beings, wired for a postmodern selfhood and social life. An estimated 20 percent of young people have engaged in sexting, postmodern teen erotic display and flirting.

A series of recent research studies provide further insight into American young people’s changing sexuality.  A NIH research report defines “technical virgins” as those “who abstain from vaginal sex while engaging in these other forms of sexual activity [oral and anal sex].”  It estimates 10 percent of adolescent girls and 15 percent of adolescent boys are technical virgins.  Such “virginity” decreases rapidly as young people enter their late-10s and early-20s and engage in sexual intercourse; it found that only about 4 percent of 20–24-year-olds have had oral or anal sex but not vaginal sex.  It also notes that in the early-1980s, about 15 percent of adolescent girls and 25 percent of adolescent boys had engaged in oral sex but not vaginal intercourse.

A 2007 NIH study, “Defining Virginity and Abstinence,” sheds light onto teen sexual practices, particularly activities they considered preserving their technical virginity.  It reported that 75 percent of young people engaged in “wet kissing” and nearly two-thirds (61%) in manual stimulation of another person to orgasm.  More revealing, they considered these practices abstinent behavior.

It also found the following:

§  60% did not think that oral-genital contact constitutes having sex;

§  81% believed that penile-anal intercourse does count as having sex;

§  90% consider both anal sex and vaginal intercourse as “sex”;

§  less than 50% believed oral sex to be “sex.”

Pushing deeper, the study found:

§  83.5% reported participating in genital touching;

§  70.6% believed that girls and boys retain their virginity if they participate in oral sex;

§  16.1% believed that an adolescent was still a virgin if s/he engaged in anal sex;

§  5.8% indicated that one was still a virgin if he or she engaged in vaginal intercourse.

Looking at abstinence, it found:

§  24% indicated that anal intercourse was abstinent behavior;

§  37% considered oral intercourse abstinence;

§  10% regarded vaginal intercourse abstinence.

In yet another NIH study, researchers found that abstinence-only sex education programs were not effective.

* * *

Virginity has been, since the Puritans, a terrain of conflict.  During the first two centuries of the nation’s founding, marriage was less formal than it is today.  Much of the country was rural, made up of small villages, often isolated from one another.

During that period, there was a major battle over who had the authority to “marry” two people.  Quakers believed that no one other then the couple themselves could commit to a marriage.  The secular state government claimed civil authority over property relations while the various religious denominations that flourished throughout the country insisted that only their god could sanction a marriage.  Many couples believed that getting engaged, making a commitment without the legitimacy of either state or church, permitted them to have sex.

Over the last four decades, the U.S. marriage rate has steadily declined.  In 2011, the rate was 6.8 marriages per thousand; in 1970, it was 10.6.  Nevertheless, virginity still matters to some, a testament to physical and moral purity.  It signifies that someone – most often the female — hasn’t engaged in sexual intercourse before marriage.  Such virginity is represented by the female’s unbroken hymen.  (Hymen “reconstruction” surgery – “virginity repair” – takes place in the U.S., UK, India and other counties.)

Some sexual purists insist that the activities of those who consider themselves technically virgins are immoral; for them, sexually titillating activities, foreplay or mutual masturbation, let alone oral and anal sex, are forms of sexual immorality.

The battle over virginity remains a vestigial symptom of patriarchy, an example that young females are still considered property to be traded between clans or families to strengthen blood alliances.  In the 21st century, such traditional values persist in parts of “underdeveloped” countries like Pakistan, India and Iraq.

These values linger on in the “developed” world, expressing contradictory impulses.  One desire is to preserve traditionalist values, the authority of the father, masculine authority, whether biological or a god.  The other desire is to contest the marketplace’s ceaseless effort to sexualize ever-young consumers, especially girls.

For the last couple of decades, Christian conservatives promoted and, finally under Bush-II, imposed their moral belief in abstinence as national sex education policy.  It was a failure, failing to address the mounting teen sex crisis detailed in the NIH and other studies.  Given historical trends, the rate of sexual intimacy among “underage” people is likely to increases.  Amidst the social restructuring now remaking the nation, the crisis of teen sexuality is likely to only get more exacerbated.

David Rosen can be reached at drosennyc@verizon.net; check out www.DavidRosenWrites.com

David Rosen is the author of Sex, Sin & Subversion:  The Transformation of 1950s New York’s Forbidden into America’s New Normal (Skyhorse, 2015).  He can be reached at drosennyc@verizon.net; check out www.DavidRosenWrites.com.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

April 27, 2017
Darlene Dubuisson – Mark Schuller
“You Live Under Fear”: 50,000 Haitian People at Risk of Deportation
Karl Grossman
The Crash of Cassini and the Nuclearization of Space
Robert Hunziker
Venezuela Ablaze
John W. Whitehead
Trump’s America is a Constitution-Free Zone
Ron Jacobs
One Hundred Years That Shook the World
Judith Deutsch
Convenient Untruths About “Human Nature:” Can People Deal with Climate Change and Nuclear Weapons?
Don Fitz
Is Pope Francis the World’s Most Powerful Advocate for Climate Stability?
Thomas Mountain
Africa’s War Lord Queen: The Bloodstained Career of Liberia’s Eleanor Sirleaf Johnson
Binoy Kampmark
Short Choices: the French Presidential Elections
Paul C. Bermanzohn
Monetizing My Mouth
Michael Barker
Of Union Dreams and Nightmares: Cesar Chavez and Why Funding Matters
Elier Ramirez Cañedo
“Let Venezuela give me a way of serving her, she has in me a son.”
Paul Mobbs
Cellphones, WIFI and Cancer: Will Trump’s Budget Cuts Kill ‘Electrosmog’ Research?
Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee
The Closing of Rikers: a Survival Strategy of the Carceral State
April 26, 2017
Richard Moser
Empire Abroad, Empire At Home
Stan Cox
For Climate Justice, It’s the 33 Percent Who’ll Have to Pick Up the Tab
Paul Craig Roberts
The Looting Machine Called Capitalism
Lawrence Davidson
The Dilemma for Intelligence Agencies
Christy Rodgers
Remaining Animal
Joseph Natoli
Facts, Opinions, Tweets, Words
Mel Gurtov
No Exit? The NY Times and North Korea
Alexandra Isfahani-Hammond
Women on the Move: Can Three Women and a Truck Quell the Tide of Sexual Violence and Domestic Abuse?
Michael J. Sainato
Trump’s Wikileaks Flip-Flop
Manuel E. Yepe
North Korea’s Antidote to the US
Kim C. Domenico
‘Courting Failure:’ the Key to Resistance is Ending Animacide
Barbara Nimri Aziz
The Legacy of Lynne Stewart, the People’s Lawyer
Andrew Stewart
The People vs. Bernie Sanders
Daniel Warner
“Vive La France, Vive La République” vs. “God Bless America”
April 25, 2017
Russell Mokhiber
It’s Impossible to Support Single-Payer and Defend Obamacare
Nozomi Hayase
Prosecution of Assange is Persecution of Free Speech
Robert Fisk
The Madder Trump Gets, the More Seriously the World Takes Him
Giles Longley-Cook
Trump the Gardener
Bill Quigley
Major Challenges of New Orleans Charter Schools Exposed at NAACP Hearing
Jack Random
Little Fingers and Big Egos
Stanley L. Cohen
Dissent on the Lower East Side: the Post-Political Condition
Stephen Cooper
Conscientious Justice-Loving Alabamians, Speak Up!
Michael J. Sainato
Did the NRA Play a Role in the Forcing the Resignation of Surgeon General?
David Swanson
The F-35 and the Incinerating Ski Slope
Binoy Kampmark
Mike Pence in Oz
Peter Paul Catterall
Green Nationalism? How the Far Right Could Learn to Love the Environment
George Wuerthner
Range Riders: Making Tom Sawyer Proud
Clancy Sigal
It’s the Pits: the Miner’s Blues
Robert K. Tan
Abe is Taking Japan Back to the Bad Old Fascism
April 24, 2017
Mike Whitney
Is Mad Dog Planning to Invade East Syria?    
John Steppling
Puritan Jackals
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail