Sex, science and statistics

Published on boingboing, by Maggie Koerth-Baker, December 23, 2009.

(Read in Google docs: Casual Sex and Psychological Health Among Young Adults: Is Having “Friends With Benefits” Emotionally Damaging? By Marla E. Eisenberg et al, in Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health).

A couple of weeks ago, I ran across yet another news story about how young people no longer date—they just have friends with benefits—and how those hookups are liable to lead to emotional and psychological damage. But recent research suggests that picture may be wrong. Published in the December issue of Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health, the new research was based on surveys answered by a diverse group of more than 1300 Minnesotans in their late teens and early 20s. Not only were the majority of these people having sex within a relationship, but whether they were or not had no bearing on their mental health. The casual-sex havers were every bit as happy and healthy as the kids who were only doing it with a committed partner. 

So who’s right? To find out, I turned to a couple of experts in teen sex and sex education. At the heart of this apparent discrepancy, they told me, are big differences between the way scientists study sexual behavior and the way that information gets presented to the general public … //

… Again, the problem is that media seldom make distinctions between situations that represent cause-and-effect and those that are simply correlated. The result is that we, as a society, aren’t addressing the things older teenagers and young adults really need to know, Dr. Santelli said. Americans start having sex at 17 and get married around 27, he said, but abstinence-based programs are presented as though getting married right out of high school is still the norm.

We aren’t providing realistic social models to young people. We need a healthy cohabitation program in America. And healthy relationship education,” Dr. Santelli said. “We just say how wonderful marriage is. Abstinence programs are aimed toward getting you married at 20, not supporting you and helping you make healthy and smart choices as a single 20-something. We don’t really support long-term, non-married monogamy. Which is a pretty good choice for many young people. (full text).

Also on boingboing: Online posting of women’s abortion information challenged in Oklahoma, by Wayne Drash, CNN, December 19, 2009.

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