USA Today (08.07.03) - Monday, August 11, 2003
Looking back on the first time they had intercourse, 85
percent of sexually active teens viewed their relationship as
a "romantic" involvement rather than a casual fling, says a
study from Child Trends, a group that researches children and
families. The project is intended to help parents and
educators understand the dynamics of teen relationships and
not just focus on statistics.
The study hopes to put adults "in a better position to help
teenagers make more responsible decisions about sex," says the
report, "The First Times: Characteristics of Teens' First
The study analyzed data on 1,909 sexually active teens in
grades seven through 12 tracked in the National Longitudinal
Study of Adolescent Health, partially funded by the federal
government. While the teens were interviewed in the mid-1990s,
the findings are the most recent data available, said study
coauthor Suzanne Ryan.
More than half (61 percent) of those who said they had a
romantic relationship had intercourse within three months.
"The important message to parents is these romantic
relationships transition to sex early on, and they have a
small window of opportunity" to influence teens' behavior,
said Ryan. Some teens will choose abstinence, but others will
not. Parents can talk with them about delaying sex or using
contraception, the report says.
About 25 percent of the teens experienced some form of abuse
in their first relationship. Verbal abuse included name-
calling and insults; physical abuse included throwing objects,
pushing and shoving. Hispanics were the most likely to
experience physical abuse.
Such findings "show parents and educators need to talk about
what a relationship is, what intimacy is," said Tamara Kreinin
of the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the US.
She said the research is "hugely helpful" to those planning
programs for teens.