Tuesday 6 December 2016

Teenage sex: the myths, the facts, the problems and the solutions

Teenagers: what makes them tick? 'People try to put us down, talkin' about my generation' said The Who back in 1965, and things haven't changed. Parents worry constantly about teenagers and wonder what they get up to. This week, Mary O'Conor introduces them to sex, psychotherapist Joanna Fortune and mothers of teenagers Aine O'Connor and Dr Ciara Kelly look at influences on teenagers, including social media, drink, friends, romance and porn; Donal Lynch talks to teenagers, and 20-year-old Louis Furney explains just how easy it is for them to get drugs

Mary O'Connor

Published 22/08/2016 | 02:30

Illustration: Tom Halliday
Illustration: Tom Halliday

When I was growing up there was quite a sense of shame around the whole subject of sex.

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During our annual school  retreat  - our school was  run by nuns -  we had a sermon every day of the school week on the Commandments, but the one that ensured that all the nuns were in attendance was the Thursday lecture.  This  was always on the Sixth and Ninth Commandments which were to do with purity.  

The Sixth - Thou Shalt not Commit Adultery -  referred to things we shouldn't do, and the Ninth - Thou Shalt not Covet Thy Neighbour's Wife -  to things we shouldn't think. At that time, information about sex was difficult to get and it was all very secret. This was pre-contraceptive pill, so there was a very real danger of pregnancy for anybody who 'did the bold thing' and that itself added to the sense of shame and guilt. But we were teenagers and found the prospect of having sex very exciting in spite of everything.  We also envied our non-Catholic counterparts because they didn't seem to be bound by the same rules as we were!

For today's teenagers, the scene is quite different but it brings its own problems. Because of a ready access to the internet, teens are bombarded with sexual imagery, sexual information, and, unfortunately, pornography, with the result that they have a somewhat misguided idea of what it is all about, and also an expectation that it is all wonderful. The glorification of sex! But teenagers still suffer with lack of confidence, have body issues, and very little experience with the opposite sex. Many years ago, a young boy, having had a sex education class at school, said to me, "OK, so we know now how it's done and what the results can be, but who makes the first move?". This can still ring true for today's teenagers - how to appear to know it all without any previous experience.

So here are some thoughts on sex in general but particularly as it applies to early teens. I'm talking to teenagers directly here so it may be helpful to get your teenagers to read this.

n Take your time. There is a lot to learn and it should be pleasurable. Enjoy the kissing and the stroking and the butterflies in the tummy when you find that you really fancy somebody and the feeling is mutual. Don't be in a rush to get to intercourse, or you may be disappointed.

n Masturbation is something that most people discover by accident and at a fairly young age. Stimulation of the genital area produces lots of good sensations often leading to ejaculation in the young man and orgasm for the young woman. It is a very good way of getting to know your body and discovering what you like sexually.

n While it is easy for the guy to know if he has ejaculated, girls sometimes wonder if they have ever had an orgasm, because it varies greatly from girl to girl. It can be quite an intense feeling or more gentle, but it is always followed by a feeling of relaxation and wellbeing.

n Sexual intercourse can hurt the girl the first time she has it, especially if she has not used tampons. This is because the hymen - a thin membrane which is situated just inside the entrance to the vagina - is often still intact and is broken by the penis entering the vagina. Obviously, the more relaxed she is the less chance there is of it hurting, and if the girl is tense and worried about getting pregnant then she will not be relaxed. n Some guys who have not been circumcised find that when they try to have intercourse for the first time it hurts them and they get very upset. This is usually because their foreskin is not retracting properly and they will need to visit their GP in order to check if they need a circumcision or just some exercises to loosen the foreskin. n Condoms are a fact of life and very necessary to avoid not alone pregnancy but also to help avoid sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). You may not realise just how dangerous any STD can be - for instance, Pelvic Inflammatory Disease may be the reason a woman cannot get pregnant later in life when she wants to. There are lots of nasty things associated with STDs, such as syphilis and gonorrhea, and they can be contracted even without having actual intercourse. Just Google genital warts to get some idea of what this very common STD looks like, and ask yourself if you really want to risk getting something like this, particularly as there is no cure for genital warts. So a condom is necessary when being sexual; try to view them as your friend. Also, the earlier you have sex and the higher the number of partners the higher the risk of STDs. n It is a myth that you cannot get pregnant when having sex for the first time. It is also untrue that if the guy pulls out of the vagina before he ejaculates the girl cannot get pregnant. She definitely can! She can also get pregnant during her period. n Try not to let alcohol play a part in your first fully sexual experience. n Don't give in to peer pressure - go at the pace that feels right for you. Very often those who boast about their conquests and what they have done already should not be believed. n Birth control is something that should be decided on before you have sex. This means using something like the contraceptive pill to avoid pregnancy together with a condom to prevent STDs. n It's a good idea for a guy to practise using a condom before having sex for the first time. You are going to be a bit nervous anyway so no point in fumbling with the condom and losing the erection. n Beware of the dangers of sexting. What you have sent may come back to haunt you. Don't ever send or post on social media anything that you would not want a future employer to see. n Your parents are a great source of information. Try to remember - however unlikely it may seem - that they have travelled this road ahead of you.

There are so many negatives in what I have written that it seems to take away from the totally pleasurable experience that having sex with somebody who means an awful lot to you should be. People have sex because they enjoy it hugely and so should you. Just be responsible, think before you do anything that could have long-term consequences, be respectful to yourself and others, and have lots of fun.

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