Teenagers all over Australia are experimenting with sex at an alarmingly younger age, but what does this mean for our community?
23 Oct 2013
By PENNI PAPPAS
Mass media, the internet, social media and smart phones have created a new sexual revolution for our teenagers, resulting in them having sex and experimenting in sexual behaviours at an earlier age. Add to that substance abuse – such as drugs and alcohol – and peer pressure from fellow students, young adolescents are being, in a way, forced to experiment and participate in sexual behaviours, in some cases, earlier than they ordinarily would.
And while this is causing a moral panic in our community – and the wider Australian community – Dr Helen Kalaboukas, consulting psychologist, says “this is the reality” – teenagers are having sex. Shocking and alarming to generations before, who weren’t exposed to graphic pornographic images and scenes that are now commonplace thanks to the internet, they are searching for ways to protect their young from engaging in sexual behaviours before they have the mental and emotional maturity to deal with them.
“You need to be very close to your children, to keep talking about how much and how strong peer pressure can be,” Dr Kalaboukas tells Neos Kosmos.
She says the advantage a young adolescent has growing up in a Greek Australian family is that a parent has the opportunity to talk about family and cultural values and to instil those values in their children and allow them to realise and understand the importance of self-respect and respect for their bodies, both personally and religiously as well.
“They realise and understand the importance of our values,” she says, “so if children are close to their parents they are going to follow their values.
“I’d like to believe in our community that things are better because children have more support, and our families are closer and more supportive, even though our kids may be more confused and torn between our culture and what our religion says, and what’s common practice in the school right now.”
Dr Kalaboukas adds that if a child acts in “an extreme manner” sexually or by partaking in substance abuse – that may lead them to engage in sexual behaviours earlier than expected – it’s almost always because “they want attention from their parents and want to be closer to their parents”.
“They really need their parents’ support – but they don’t get it all the time.”
A good way for a parent to instil cultural values and beliefs around sexual experimentation is to be close to their children, and to be their friend by listening and having open dialogue around sex, but to remain their parent and find a healthy balance between the two.
“Parents need to remain close to their children and speak with them and make sure they have the same principles and ideas – especially for the first years of high school.”
According to a report released by La Trobe University entitled Secondary Students and Sexual Health 2008, one in three students in year 10 have lost their virginity, rising to up to 60 per cent by year 12 with an overwhelming 78 per cent surveyed saying that they have experienced some form of sexual activity, with the rates of male students higher in sexual activity then their female counterparts. And nearly half of Australian high school students over the age of 15 have participated in – either by giving or receiving – oral sex.
Although a health professional, Dr Kalaboukas admits that these figures are “shocking” for her because of her generation.
“[Teenagers] are very open to all kinds of sexual behaviours – and unusual sexual behaviours – that we previously weren’t exposed to,” she says, adding that the difference for students today is due to exposure to the internet, mass media and what pop stars are promoting through their behaviours and images.
Around half of Australian teenagers now own a smart phone, meaning they have access to highly sexualised images and porn literally at their fingertips.
“When you put a smart phone in the hands of a teen or tween, you’re basically giving them access to online porn,” Liz Walker, national director of Get a Grip Teenz education program told Sunday Life. “A huge percentage of people who watch porn then want to try it.”
These images are providing our youth with a one-sided view of sex. Graphic images, in some cases violent sexual acts, and unrealistic body images are ultimately creating a whole new dilemma and pressure for our teenagers. Many teenagers are turning to porn to receive their sexual education and looking at images of hardcore sex as the ‘norm’.
But smart phones and social media create yet another issue for our teenagers – the ability to engage in sexual activity in the privacy of their bedroom without their parents’ knowledge. According to a Victorian parliamentary inquiry, one in five 10-15 year olds have either sent or received a ‘sext’ – a highly sexualised image or message.
“Younger kids at the age of ten would take rude pictures of themselves, so mobiles and computers are creating alarming cases of younger children taking photos of themselves,” says Dr Kalaboukas.
With their smart phones, teenagers have access to Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and the latest craze Snapchat, which allows users to send an image that self-destructs in a matter of seconds. But even though they use this, it could have a detrimental affect if the recipient takes a screen shot of the image creating a new form of bullying for students. But also in some cases, the sexual advances from other teenagers is unwelcome, with students sending unwarranted graphic images to others.
Teenagers are being bullied for having sex and, in some cases, for not partaking in sexual behaviours.
“There are some horrible cases – like in all girls schools – of bitchiness and bullying; kids think they should act and do certain things in the school community,” says Dr Kalaboukas.
This peer pressure and feeling like ‘they should’ partake is having a detrimental affect on their psychological well-being, says Dr Kalaboukas.
“It’s not healthy for them and their development as they are still very young – they are not prepared.
“They lose their innocence, they miss out on their childhood and early adolescence, they don’t even live that part of their lives, as it’s all about sexual behaviour, so it’s very concerning,” she says adding, “it doesn’t allow them to be kids for a normal period of time, or what we consider normal.”
She says the teenagers are “not prepared mentally” to deal with sexual behaviour, but are also ill prepared to deal with their emotions following said sexual encounters. Put simply, “they don’t have the capability to handle it”.
As a consulting psychologist, Dr Kalaboukas has been exposed to the mental and emotional impact it has on adults who have participated in sexual activities at a younger age. She says women in their 20s, who were involved in sexual encounters in their teens have “regretted it later in life”, especially more so if their encounters were due to alcohol or drug abuse.
“It’s scary how young kids are exposed to this kind of substance abuse and sexual behaviour,” she says, “and it harms them in many ways later on.” She says sometimes the detrimental effects of these behaviours are exposed much later in life, when the psychological impact is revealed.
Being a high school student at times is pressure enough, without having to deal with sex. Teenagers are at a critical point in their lives with their education so in some ways Dr Kalaboukas says “this behaviour is a way of escaping the pressure from school” but says more often that not, it’s due to peer pressure.
“They are forced to do it,” says Dr Kalaboukas. “If the other girls are doing it, they have to do it as well so they can be popular and ‘fit in’.”
She says in high school, kids are feeling the pressure to mature and act older quickly – lamenting a time when kids could be kids.