Thursday, May 5, 2011

Virginity and the Prom

 This article was published yesterday in my quarterly newsletter but by popular demand I am posting on my website today so that anyone who is not signed up for my newsletter can read it.  Thanks for all the interesting reactions to this story from patients and parents alike.    And here's to a happy, memorable prom for all those we care about: 

If you are a prom-goer, the parent of one, or maybe one of the chaperones -- listen up. After you think and talk about a date, a dress, whether to wear a cummerbund, which friends to share a limo with, which after-party to attend, and what to do about alcohol, remember to think and talk about sex, too.

I once read that 1 in 5 seventeen-year olds plans to have sex for the first time on prom night. Hmmm. Stated another way, twenty percent of prom-goers will lose their virginity on prom night. If we consider that half of US teens do not use condoms at the time of their first intercourse, we are looking at lots of unprotected intercourse. Might as well slip the "morning after pill"  into the OJ at the after-prom breakfast. Just kidding.

Most of us know that sex education at home ought to take place over many years and in many different conversations. But maybe prom deserves yet another chat. What are the important messages to share during this conversation?

For a lot of reasons, "loss of virginity" should be a "planned" thing. Not a spontaneous, swept-up-in-the-moment sort of event. Planning actually prevents regret, disease, embarrassment, and unwanted commitments, like pregnancy and babies.

Virginity is not a gift to give away. Nor is it a reward for being asked to the prom. You never "owe" anyone sex or sexual favors. A conversation ahead of time, in the calm of a cool sober moment can set the boundaries before there is a misunderstanding.

What is virginity anyway? It is not an anatomic reality; it is a concept. Teens experiment plenty with fondling, touching, hooking up, playing the bases, "outercourse" or whatever you want to call it before they have intercourse. They incur plenty of risk of herpes, HPV, other STDs and even pregnancy from these activities alone. The physical reality of intercourse is on a continuum with all these other ways of being sexual. Nevertheless, few would argue that intercourse ratchets up the risk - emotional, physical, and psychological.

If you decide that prom night is the night, and you are confident that the person you have chosen is someone you can trust with your body, your emotions and your reputation, then ask yourself one other question: How can I make this experience the best it can be, one that I will not regret for as long as I live?
  1. Buy condoms, whether it's for you or for your partner.
  2. For Girls: buy or ask your doctor for a prescription for Plan B. (Plan B is the morning after pill, available over the counter for anyone over 17 with ID.)  If the condom "malfunctions" this is imperative as back-up. If you aren't sure how to use it check here.
  3. Drinking is illegal, of course. If you choose to drink anyway, do not consume more than one drink per hour. Intoxication will take away from the experience in ways you won't even realize. Make the first time a good time, and one to remember, literally. Don't find yourself asking the next day: "Did I really say and do that?"  
  4. Take your time with your lover. Don't rush. Enjoy the touch, the pleasure, the joy of being sexual with someone who matters to you. Being a good lover takes practice. Don't be too tough on yourselves if it doesn't seem like the movies.
If you choose abstinence, have you thought through how you will do that? Abstinence may take more advanced planning than sex! What will I say and when? What if he/she/I get carried away? Will "No" mean "No"? Can I withstand the pressure? What if I lose my relationship for refusing? What if someone forces me? Try this:  Stand in front of your mirror and try saying "No, I don't want to have sex tonight" or "That's as far as I want to go."  Then wipe that smile off your face and practice saying "No" like you really mean it.

Even if you have had intercourse already with this person or someone else, it is perfectly fine to decide that on this particular occasion, you will be abstinent. The choices are yours and belong to no-one else.

To reinforce your choice about abstinence, you should choose not to drink alcohol. Alcohol will lower your inhibitions of course, but it might be putting you at risk of changing your mind, getting swept up in the craziness or making regrettable decisions.

There are other options to consider. If you cannot have "the" conversation with your potential date, then consider going with a friend or a group rather than a "date". Once the party starts large groups of kids who are not looking for sex can have great fun being together.

Let your parents know where you will be and when. Be sure you have an escape plan if things are dangerous or dangerously dull. Always have your cell phone and cab money handy

Remember to put your own feelings first when it comes to sex. Be proud of whatever decision you have made and trust your sober judgment.

PS: It's not just adolescent medicine doctors who think about this stuff. If you don't believe me, check out what the limo drivers have to say here:

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