Make libraries, not unsafe lovin’

Girls Inc. just released important data about girls’ sexual behavior and attitudes based on a comprehensive study conducted in conjunction with Mathematica Policy Research, Inc.
The demographic surveyed included 79% girls of color, 63% of whom received free or reduced-price school lunches, so it’s apt for cross-ethnic, cross-class comparisons. For example, Girls Inc. reports:

There is no difference between the rate of early sexual activity among girls considered “at risk” and the general population of girls. In the study, 28 percent of girls in ninth grade reported having engaged in sexual intercourse. This finding is very similar to that of the Youth Risk Behavior survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which found that 29 percent of ninth grade girls had engaged in sexual intercourse.

In other words, the media-hyped narrative that girls from working class and/or working poor backgrounds, and girls of color, are more “promiscuous” is just that, hype. It reminds me why, though I loved Precious as a work of art, I (and so many others) worried how it might be read in the larger cultural context–one that is so often ignores the truth of black or poor experience in favor of sympathy-inducing caricatures.
Another fascinating finding of the study:

Two factors play critical roles in protecting girls-regardless of their socioeconomic status and household structure-against early sexual activity: (1) the quality of their relationship with their mothers and (2) achievement in school, specifically their reading proficiency.

Listen up, conservatives: if you build better libraries, your tweens won’t do the nasty so early. Kidding. Sort of. I don’t find either of these findings all that surprising. After all, my intro sociology course taught me that when teenagers have a “compelling project,” they tend to stay on course for a healthier, more actualized adulthood, regardless of what that project is (playing in the marching band, dunking on the court, or helping out in church). Academic achievement is a form of a “compelling project”–one I certainly ascribed to.
It wasn’t that being “a smart girl” meant I wasn’t going to have sex, but it did mean that I devoted more of my energy to keeping my grades up, doing my homework, and focusing on my classes. And with the prospect of college on the horizon, I sure as hell didn’t want to tie my future to any one dude at my high school. (Of course, the college thing also takes economic and cultural resources, not just saying no to the quarterback of the football team.)
And, yeah, moms are awesome. They make everything better. I’m not even going to publicly out my mom for what she told me when I confided in her that I was thinking about having sex for the first time, but you can bet that it was decidedly feminist. She used to store a giant paper bag of condoms in the hallway closet of the house I grew up in. She pretended that they were there because she used them in some sort of educational consulting she was doing, but we all knew it was her subtle way of keeping the whole neighborhood of hornballs safe. Mom, you’re the best.

Join the Conversation

  • Tiffany

    My daughter is in 9th grade, and I have a condom drawer in my room that I keep well stocked so that she knows I won’t be able to tell if she or her friends take a few. It has the added benefit of letting her know that I myself use condoms without an awkward convo about mom’s sex life.

  • Comrade Kevin

    I think part of this stereotype that regards women who are from a lower socio-economic status more promiscuous also comes from literature.
    The motif of much literature I read and have read shows the contrast between the prim, repressed, restrained middle class to upper class woman and the lusty, unapologetic, unrestrained working class woman who serves as a sexual outlet to a frustrated man of means.

  • EndersGames

    Sample sample sample. It’s all about sample.
    The study used 5 affiliate sites of the Girls Inc. program. This is not even close to a representative group. Also, that stats only reported on age at first sex, not number of sexual partner, condom use, etc.
    Studies pretty consistently find that black girls on average (age 15) have sex earlier than white and hispanic girls (age 16.5), who have sex earlier than asian girls (age 18). Often, however, these differences sharply diminish when controlling for other factors (SES, family structure). Just because this study with an odd sample reports otherwise, I don’t think we should dismiss that there are certain groups of girls who are at greater risk for having unprotected sex at young ages.

  • Toongrrl

    I love the library! I still haven’t had sex (age 20), so you are right about the delay of sex Courtney ( I hope I’ll lose it like you Courtney). Maybe Conservatives should stop cutting money from the libraries!!! They raised the prices of checking out CDs and films in the Kern County Library Branch. Also Courtney, your mom is the most awesome!!!! She is like that mom in the neigborhood with the supply of sodas and punch to goe with the chips and other junk food!!!! Expect that she keeps condoms for those that will have penis sex.

  • Phenicks

    *head desk*
    Ok, where to start… the idea of promiscuity being linked to socioeconomic class has to do with the pregnancy and STD rates in socioeconomic classes.
    HOWEVER those rates only tell you about those who had sex that had biological consequences, not the number of partners they’ve had, how many times they’ve had sex etc etc etc.
    I find the whole “smart girls wait longer” implication here to be complete and utter BULLSHIT. How can we say that sex is natural and sexuality is ok yada yada yada then spout that “the way to protect girls from having sex early is..” as if that’s something your daughters need protection from CHOOSING to have sex?

  • adag87

    I think you can be sex positive and still encourage your children to wait. I *thought* I was ready to have sex at 15. And I’m not saying I suffered from any dire consequences, but at 22, knowing what I know now, I wish I had waited a little longer. I don’t think sex has to be treated as something dirty or awful, just that waiting, in some cases, might be beneficial. And I don’t mean waiting as in “until you’re married”, but making absolutely sure you’re ready and smart and safe.
    Also, and I am not 100% sure about this, but I believe there are some links between incidences of cervical cancer and having intercourse at a younger than average age. That might be reason enough to wait a little while.

  • Brianna G

    Why do you assume they are choosing it?
    Every girl I’ve known who had sex while still in high school frell into one of two camps– either she had low self-esteem and later (or at the time) thought of herself as pressured into it, or she had overall poor judgment (ie, had sex, but also would use drugs, joyride in her parents’ car, etc etc). Now, that’s not a representative sample. But the thing to remember is that a LOT of young women later wish they’d waited to have sex, even if they are sex-positive or even promiscuous later, and the brain’s judgment center doesn’t develop until somewhere around age 20.
    Children have insufficient judgment due to their lack of brain development. They need protection from negative consequences of their bad decisions (hence why we go easier on underage criminal offenders and why it’s so important to get maternity care or abortion services for teens), and guidance and education to prevent them from making decisions they can’t take back (hence why they cannot sign contracts or drop out of school).
    Well-educated girls wait longer because they tend to have supportive home environments that encourage self-esteem and parents or teachers who help them understand consequences of their actions.

  • Suzann

    What is wrong with considering that very youthful sexual activity ( much like very youthful driving activity or very youthful credit card activity) can in SOME cases lead to difficulties? All, as in my examples, because the young can lack both experience ( information gained by experience) and judgement ( mental processes developed by age).
    This is not to say that all youthful sexual decisions will lead to misfortune ( any more than all youthful driving experiences will lead to automotive accidents) but it is to support research so we can understand what factors -be it age alone or education or economics or social situation – can lead to positive or negative outcomes.
    I can not see a single situation in life where knowing LESS is to anyone’s advantage.

  • Hershele Ostropoler

    Based on nothing but stereotypes, I would think an upper-middle or above girl is more likely to have her own bedroom, access to contraception not mediated by her parents, and time with no adults around.
    If I hadn’t pulled all that out my ass I’d be surprised girls from poorer backgrounds ever got laid.

  • Phenicks

    Where is the line between encouraging your child to wait and coercing them into abstinence until “mommy and daddy are comfortable with the idea of you having sex/think its ok for you to be having sex?”
    You *thought* you were ready to have sex when you were 15 and at 22 you had an epiphany that for whatever reason, it would have been had you waited. Hindsight is 20/20. Why do you think that would apply to your daughter(s) as well just because that was your experience?

  • adag87

    I don’t think that line has to be so thin. Just make sure your children are educated, and make waiting an attractive choice. This is maybe easier said than done, and you obviously can’t lock them in their rooms and say “OMG NO MAH BABIIEEEEES NOOOOO! NO SEX!” I don’t think anyone here is suggesting that kind of melodrama though.
    nor would I ever say “wait until I’M comfortable”. or make it seem that way. I would just present my child with the facts. Hopefully, that would be enough. If not, then oh well.
    also, i’m not saying that if my possible future daughters had sex early that they *would* regret it, necessarily. I’m just saying that I now recognize the benefits of waiting, and would want to let my daughters know that there are benefits to waiting that perhaps they might not have thought of.