A fascinating foray into the often tumultuous sex lives of American teens.
Based on her extensive psychiatric work with adolescents and their parents, Ponton (Psychiatry/Univ. of California) reveals and analyzes the intimate thoughts and actions of dozens of adolescents. Today's teenagers, the author contends, are confronted with conflicting messages about sex. While the media inundate them with explicit images of sexuality, suggesting that all healthy people are sexually active, it does not sensitize them to the consequences of sex. And parents or teachers often fail to fill that void. Too many feel pressured to have sex before they are ready. In addition, the old double standard still prevails—resurgent, argues Ponton, in the 1990s. While girls fear being labeled sluts by their peers, guys relish being marked as studs. Moreover, today's adolescents confront the threat of AIDS and have access to cyber come-ons in Internet chatrooms. They are also pressured to conform to "strongly defined" gender roles that inhibit them from developing traits and abilities perceived as masculine (for girls) or feminine (for boys). Using two distinct case studies, Ponton portrays the difficulties faced by many gay youths who struggle to understand "their own complex feelings that have already existed for a long time." The book reveals that many who are deeply depressed have been victims of homosexual or heterosexual abuse. Perhaps Ponton's most pained young client had been raped by a trusted priest. The sexually abused, she reports, are more likely to engage in a variety of self-destructive behaviors, ranging from drunk driving and having unprotected sex to actual suicide attempts. While the sexual abuse of boys has serious consequences, Ponton maintains that is seriously underreported.
With an appendix of accessible tips for children and their parents, this book makes important reading for teachers and counselors, as well.