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.