With 'Friends' Like These
welcomes NBC's sudden focus on teen sex,
challenges media to respond by responsibly reducing
“Friends with benefits” may sound like
the name of a new TV sitcom, but for young people today it describes
a scenario that has few laugh lines and rarely a happy ending. The phrase
refers to a practice whereby young people use “friends”
solely for sex, with no commitment, sense of intimacy or permanency.
It’s sex simply for the pleasure of the moment, in which both
guy and girl agree to use one another. In the world of many young people,
this form of “hooking up” is what “friends”
do for one another.
The practice was highlighted recently by Katie Couric on the “Today”
show, which reported the results of a national survey by NBC and People
Magazine of the sexual practices of young teens, aged 13-16. The survey
found that 27 percent of young teens have been “sexually active,”
with 13 percent having engaged in intercourse and 12 percent in oral
sex. In addition, 8 percent of the young teens report having had a “casual
sexual relationship,” such as “friends with benefits.”
Healthy Respect welcomes the sudden spotlight on teen
sex. We respectfully ask: Where has the media been till now? As New
Yorkers serving New York’s young people, we have been dealing
with the issue for a long time, offering teens healthy alternatives
and positive, life-affirming choices. We call on the media that has
trumpeted these statistics to follow through and reduce the amount of
explicit sexual content. We also ask that abstinence be portrayed
in a more positive manner.
‘Friends With Benefits’
The media could start with taking a closer look at the “Friends
with Benefits” practice. We at Healthy Respect
have encountered this “hooking up” mindset among some students
in the classroom. Through a curriculum that reaches young people with
a positive message they can relate to, Healthy Respect
challenges the “hooking up” mentality while instilling self-esteem
and self-respect. As one Healthy Respect classroom instructor
noted, “While the idea of ‘friends with benefits’
is popular, it doesn’t take a long discussion with young people
to find that no one really knows anyone who walked away from the experience
We at Healthy Respect know that sex, talk about sex and
thoughts about sex have been a part of teen life forever. Yet the “friends
with benefits” phenomenon marks a change in attitude because it
lacks the structure, expectation and safeguards that usually go with
traditional dating. Breaking up after a period of dating has always
been hard on young hearts; but “hooking up” with multiple
partners without any commitment can erode emotional health altogether.
In addition, there are the increased dangers of picking up sexually
transmitted diseases (STDs), when a “friend with benefits”
has been “hooking up” with an unknown number of other “friends.”
You don’t see the fact mentioned often in the mainstream media,
but the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) used the words “multiple
epidemics” in a year 2000 report on sexually transmitted diseases.
Yet a lengthy New York Times Magazine article last year that
glorified the “friends with benefits” culture, mentioned
STDs only in passing in one paragraph. The reader had to be alert to
find the hastily listed statistics the Times couldn’t hide:
“Female adolescents ages 15 to 19 have the highest incidence of
both gonorrhea and chlamydia, and according to the latest C.D.C. figures,
48 percent of new STD cases reported in 2000 occurred among 15- to 24-year-olds.”
The Times failed to give the proper context to the percentages
though. Our Healthy Respect staff easily found that the
CDC reports 15 million new cases of STDs each year – which
means that some 7 million young people are newly infected each year.
In all age groups nationwide, there are more than 75 million individuals
infected with an STD.
This is an epidemic, indeed. But where are the governmental alarms and
front-page headlines? The New York Department of Health reports that
about 43 percent of high school and middle school students in New York
City had sex in 2003.
The Centers for Disease Control reports: “Despite the fact that
STDs are extremely widespread, have severe and sometimes deadly consequences,
and add billions of dollars to the nation’s health care costs
each year, most people in the United States remain unaware of the risks
and consequences of all but the most prominent STDs,” such as
HIV/AIDS. The report concludes: there is “not one single STD epidemic
but multiple epidemics.”
Clearly, a lot of young lives are at risk. Yet the best that most schools
offer is “safer sex,” consisting of outdated sex education
that seemed adequate to many people before the onset of this epidemic,
and access to condoms that are far from flawless in protecting against
sexually transmitted diseases.
‘Abstinence in the City’
Healthy Respect is honest with young people about sexuality,
and young people appreciate the honesty. The fact is that a young person
who may not want commitment while “hooking up” still runs
the risk of acquiring an unwanted lifetime companion in the form of
incurable diseases from AIDS to chlamydia to human papilloma virus (HPV).
HPV is a leading cause of cervical cancer in women.
At Healthy Respect, we talk about STDs not as a scare
tactic, but as a reality check. We teach ‘Abstinence in the City’
because it is the best protection for young bodies and tender hearts.
We talk about a lot of other things too: self-respect, respect for others,
healthy choices and lifestyles, setting and achieving reasonable goals,
and academic achievement.
We know that New York’s Kids Deserve Respect – Healthy