To figure out what teens are up to when their parents aren’t watching, we gave 53 boys and 47 girls from four Manhattan high schools (Dalton, La Guardia, Beacon, and MLK) a “purity test,” a series of 37 questions designed to tease out exactly how far they go. Then we went after 100 parents—not the parents of the kids we polled, but parents with kids in the same teen demographic. (We would have liked to administer a take-home purity test, but alas.) We found them—54 moms and 46 dads—in midtown, and put them to the test, with one difference: We asked them to guess their own teens’ answers. As you’ll see, the high schoolers and the parents live on fairly different planets.
Have you ever… Students
say: Parents think their own teen has: …kissed someone?
…gone on a date?
…gotten or given a hickey?
…told someone that you loved him or her?
…watched an X-rated movie?
…dated someone on a regular basis?
…received oral sex?
…had sexual intercourse?
…gone on a date that lasted past 1 a.m.?
…performed oral sex?
…dry-humped (had clothes on)?
…experienced sexual activity while in bed with someone?
…watched an X-rated movie with a member of the opposite sex?
…had sex with a virgin?
…been masturbated to climax by someone else?
Have you ever… Students say: Parents think their own teen has: …purchased contraceptives?
…kissed for more than two hours continuously?
…had sexual intercourse without a condom?
…taken a shower with someone in the nude?
…had sexual conversations with a stranger on the Internet?
…had sex with someone younger than 16?
…had sex while on drugs or alcohol?
…been told to slow down when making the moves on someone?
…watched others having sex?
…had sex on your parents’ bed?
…taken pictures during sex or sexual activity?
…masturbated while someone watched?
…had sex in a public place?
…had sex with a member of the same sex?
…had anal sex?
…told someone you loved him or her for sexual gain?
…had someone watch while you and your partner had sex?
What the kids are saying about …
“It’s up in the air right now. I don’t think at this age it’s set in stone.”
Why they haven’t had sex
“I don’t want to be an animal.”
“I’m not waiting. I just haven’t had the right moment.”
“Lack of a partner.”
Teen sex overall
“It’s gross. To think about all these kids having sex makes me want to vomit.”
“You should have sex only when you’re ready, because it’s overrated.”
“People are always discussing it, so not having it makes you feel lonely.”
“It’s awesome, but wait until you’re 16.”
“I don’t think you should have sex in ninth grade. Probably tenth.”
Regrettable sexual experiences
“When I lost my virginity. I did it for the wrong reasons. I thought I could get him back that way.”
“Fingering. That really wasn’t very fun.”
“Having sex with a girl during her period.”
Feeling guilty after a sexual experience
“I feel a little bit tainted, especially if it’s a random hookup. I feel slutty.”
Teen sex parties
“They happen in the suburbs. I would never go to one.”
Talking to their parents about sex
“My mom talks as if it’s ‘going to happen’ instead of ‘has happened,’ which makes it really hard.”
“All they said was, ‘Keep your pecker in your pants.’ ”
“My father tells me stories about his youth and scolds me for not having as much sex as he did.”
Boy, 18More answers from teens
What the parents are saying about …
“My son is definitely straight. We have a gay relative and he doesn’t like him.”
mother of a 15-year-old boy
Why their teen hasn’t had sex
“Religion, community, and parenting.”
father of a 17-year-old girl
“I think it’s insecurity.”
father of a 15-year-old girl
Teen sex overall
“Stay tight to wear white.”
father of a 13-year-old girl
“I don’t think it should happen, but I’m being a hypocrite there.”
father of an 18-year-old boy
“It depends on the person. I know men over 40 who still shouldn’t be having sex.”
father of a 17-year-old boy
“As long as it’s consensual, beyond 16, have fun!”
mother of an 18-year-old boy
What is appropriate
“First base. The other bases lead to a home run.”
mother of a 17-year-old girl
What isn’t appropriate
“Sex isn’t appropriate. Oral, anal, it’s all sex.”
father of a 16-year-old girl
“Sex with prostitutes.”
mother of a 16-year-old boy
“You should not indulge in sex unless you have a job to support buying condoms or birth control.”
mother of a 16-year-old girl
Talking to their kids about sex
“The last time I did I was sweating because he started asking too many personal questions.”
mother of a 13-year-old boy
“I talk about disease. Never talk about pleasure: It encourages them.”
mother of an 18-year-old girl
“I often tell him to wait because his hormones are controlling him.”
mother of a 17-year-old boy
“I gave my son pointers on flirting.”
father of a 15-year-old boy
“Yes, because going to college is difficult if you’re pregnant.”
father of a 14-year-old girl
Whether their kids are open with them about sex
“My wife handles that.”
father of a 16-year-old girl
“They never are.”
father of a
“Completely. We’re best friends.”
mother of a 16-year-old girlMore answers from parents
Additional reporting by Mary Burke, Katie Charles, Renee DeFranco, Daniel Grushkin, Stirling Kelso, Nichole Marks, Suzanne Mozes, Elise Shin, and Bree Sposato.