A study came out today, stating that the HPV vaccine does not encourage promiscuous behavior among female teens.

What constitutes promiscuity? Well, the study examined whether girls who received the shot at the recommended age, around 11-12, sought advice for birth control, STD or pregnancy tests, or became pregnant within the next 3 years. There was no significant difference between girls who did and did not get the shot. (Whether or not seeking reproductive health advice or becoming pregnant is accurately labeled as “promiscuity” is up for debate in my book.)

Some teens have sex. Sex can cause problems. Many parents hope that their teens will wait to have sex until a certain milestone is reached. It might be an age, it might be a type of relationship, or it might be marriage, or it might be a combination of factors. We know that some teens do wait for these situations, and some do not. The theme of teens having sex when they are not supposed to is nothing new. You can’t keep your teen from having sex if they really, really want to, short of keeping them locked in a room and/ or under surveillance (I’m not suggesting this.)

So what does influence this decision? Why do teens decide to go ahead and become sexually active, or wait?

I found a study from 2000 that, while it’s a bit older, I think gives a realistic view of why teens are- or are not- deciding to be sexually active.

Included in the main reasons for avoiding sexual activity among teens 15-17 are fear of pregnancy or STDs, family values, a conscious decision to wait, religious influences, or feeling they are too young.

All of these are good reasons, and all of these are reasons you can talk to your teen about. Pregnancy and STDs are a risk when one is sexually active, even when you do everything you are “supposed to.” On the other hand, research shows scare tactics don’t work well on teens. If you tell them that they will get a terrible disease and die if they have sex, all they have to do is look at one peer who is sexually active and disease-free to know this isn’t the whole story. Be honest. Discuss the risks and how to prevent them.

As for family values, decisions to wait, religious influences, or feeling they are too young, these are all good topics to discuss too. Do they know the family values on this? What do they think are good reasons to wait? Do they have religious views on sex? How young do they think is too young for sex? If you don’t know the answers to these questions, find out. (By asking, not telling.)

The study goes on to state that for teens in this age group who have had sex, the top reason was that they “met the right person.”

This subject is a great opportunity for an in-depth conversation with your teen. What does it mean to “meet the right person” to have a first sexual encounter with? What qualities would that right person possess? What would the relationship be like? How do two people make this decision? Everyone’s answers are different, but this is a chance to talk to your teen about their views, and share yours.

The second most common reason is that “the other person wanted to.” Both young men and women are going to find themselves in situations where their partner wants to become physical when they may have reservations. First off, your teen needs to know that they can say no, and if their partner pressures them to change their mind, that is not a partner they want to stay with. (This can be particularly hard for teen boys, who are taught to “take any opportunity” to be sexually active. Talk about how stupid this societal expectation is.)

Do you think there are reasons why teens become sexually active that aren’t covered here?