I encourage my readers to send me questions they want to know the answer to. First, because it provides me with an easy topic for the day. Second, because if you’re wondering something, the likelihood is that other people are too. With that in mind, here is a question from a regular reader:

Is it true that young people today are, as a group, taking a more casual view of the emotional aspect of sexual relations than young people of even ten years ago?

The short answer is: It’s more complicated than that.

The long answer is: It really depends on what you mean by “sexual relations.” It also really depends on who you ask and how they interpret the available information. Because the problem with answering this question is that we know a lot about WHAT teenagers are doing, but not much about WHY. So to give an approximate answer, I have to extrapolate from what sexual activities teenagers are actually doing, not how they actually feel or think about those activities.

It appears that teenagers are, in general, delaying sexual intercourse when compared to young people ten years ago. But not by much – something like three to six months. (This and reduced knowledge about pregnancy and STI prevention are apparently the sole legacies of abstinence-only sex education.) However, teenagers are engaging in oral (and perhaps anal) sex earlier than young people ten years ago.

So what do I think this means? We’ve done a pretty good job at tying together the cause and effect relationship of sexual intercourse and pregnancy/disease/emotional entanglements. Teenagers “get” that more than they used to. However, we have allowed anything except penile-vaginal intercourse to be classified as “not sex.” So teenagers aren’t associating oral sex (or maybe anal sex) with either disease spread or the emotional entanglements they generally ascribe to sexual intercourse.

Another short answer: In some ways yes, in some ways no.