June 4, 2003
A controversial new study links teen sexual intercourse with depression and suicide attempts, and the findings are particularly true for young girls. Sponsored by the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, the study found that about 25 percent of sexually active girls say they are depressed all, most or a lot of the time, compared with 8 percent of sexually inactive girls.
The Heritage researchers used the government-funded National Longitudinal Survey of Adolescent Health to review data on 2,800 students ages 14 to 17. The teens rated their own "general state of continuing unhappiness" and were not diagnosed as clinically depressed. Though Heritage researchers say a causal link between unhappiness and sexual activity in kids "is really impossible to prove," Robert Rector, a senior researcher with Heritage, said the findings highlight the difference between unhappy teens and the image portrayed in popular culture, where "all forms of non-marital sexual activity are wonderful and glorious, particularly the younger [teen] the better."
The study comes amid several new reports on the sexual activity of teenagers. Such research has fueled the growing debate on sex education in schools.
While acknowledging that depression among teenagers needs to be taken seriously, Tamara Kreinin of the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States said it is a "disservice" to blame sexual activity and ignore "divorce, domestic violence, sexual abuse, substance abuse, lack of parental and community support and questions about sexual orientation." The council supports school sex programs that provide information on birth control and abstinence.
06.04.03; Karen S. Peterson