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The Bogus Teen Orgy Trend

Take a deep breath. Despite the headlines this week, there is no need to panic about kids having group sex.

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The upshot to all of the survey’s findings, as anyone who bothers to read to the end of the nine-page study will find, is that only 24 of the young women who participated in the survey reported having a “multiple-sexual partner” experience of any sort. Of that two-dozen, 43 percent “reported ever being threatened or forced” (which is to say that many of those 24 cases of “teen group sex” might actually be cases of “teen gang rape”). The researchers recognize the limitations of their survey and even warn readers, “our findings are not representative of adolescent females in the U.S.A.” and “should be considered exploratory” — but no matter, they had my colleagues at “teen group sex.”

Dr. Petra Boynton, a sex researcher and educator who is an outspoken critic of the media’s misreporting on teen sex, tells me that the unfortunate result is that it will “worry parents, mislead teachers and healthcare professionals, and probably lead to slut shaming of young women, as this kind of coverage invariably does,” she says. “All the while ignoring the role of boys at best, or presenting them as gang rapists at worst. None of which is directly helpful to the needs of young people.” That’s the thing: These sorts of stories about teen sex trends are very rarely helpful to young people, even though that is purportedly why they exist, and why we read them.

In many cases, the tendency to engage in handwringing over teen sex comes from a good place: Adults recognize the vulnerability of teens and realize how tremendously powerful sex can be — in fact, many of us are still terrified of it ourselves, on some level. This may sound odd, but when stories like this arise, I sometimes imagine those safety diagrams that you find on airplanes of the mother adjusting her own oxygen mask before putting one on her child — because even in the realm of sex, adults are better able to protect their kids once they take care of themselves. Instead of hyperventilating over the slightest suggestion of a rainbow party, jelly bracelet or group sex trend among teens, maybe we should take a moment to direct all that concern inward.

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