By VALERIE BANNER
SEX IS EVERYWHERE. IT'S IN music, where pop stars sing about sexual encounters or desired sexual partners. It's in TV shows: The main characters can be seen fumbling with buttons and zippers, hastily undressing each other before being shown lying contentedly under the covers.
And it's in teen movies, the "American Pie" movies being among the most hyped. They portray teenagers determined to do one thing: have sex.
So how does this sexually charged popular culture affect those it's marketed to?
Glen, 16, of Youngstown, said he doesn't think seeing a movie or hearing a song influences him.
"I never thought like, 'Oh yeah, let's have sex' after I saw the movie," he said.
But Shannon, 17, of Youngstown, said she thinks the effects might be subtler. She said, "Some people do kinda just accept it, since it is everywhere."
And Becky Robison, an educator for Mahoning Valley Planned Parenthood, said that when she goes to speak to teens in schools, she talks to them about the messages that are being sent by music videos and lyrics, TV, movies. "How many of them show the negative effects of sex?" she asks.
What teens want
A few pop stars, such as singer Jessica Simpson, have spoken out about being a virgin and pledging to stay that way until marriage. Simpson's message, however, may be countered by fellow pop princess Britney Spears, who whispers "get nasty" in her newest song, "Boys." But Spears has also said she's a virgin. (See Justin Timberlake's version of their relationship on D4.)
Robison said in her experience, she's seen that what teens really want are honest answers, accurate information and choices.
"They want to hear that it's OK to say no," she said, "but they also want to know that if they reach the point that [abstinence is] not for them, where do you go for birth control or condoms?"
Though some teens say they know where to get condoms or other birth control, others admit that they wouldn't have any idea. They say that they have been taught at least a little about sex and contraceptives at school.
Shannon, who goes to a Youngstown high school, said they have a class called "Parenting," in which the students get Baby-Think-It-Over dolls and are taught about the responsibilities of parenthood.
She said they also talk about contraceptives, "not in depth, but they do."
Although schools do have some form of sex education, usually built into a health class, teens say they're most likely to have learned about sex from their friends.
And to be pressured by their friends to have sex.
Dave, 17, from Austintown, said, "If you are in a relationship, there can be [pressure to have sex] from the guy's friends."
He said teens who are not in a relationship have less pressure to have sex, but guys often try to outdo one another. They're "not really contests, but a lot [of guys] try to sleep with as many as possible."
"I met this girl on Monday; took her for a drink on Tuesday. We were making love by Wednesday." -- Craig David, "One Week"
However, Glen said there are contests.
"Guys have competitions among each other on how many they can lay in a week or the highest number wins," he said.
He said girls are often coerced into thinking that the guy really cares about her.
"I feel bad for the girls of today. They're so pressured by boys [who] threaten to break up with them or spread rumors. ... The sad thing is it works, and they give in," he said.
Shannon said she's also seen girls give in to pressure from someone they are dating.
"A lot of people have regrets about it," she said. "They feel like they should have waited and that it wasn't worth it after the damage is already done. ... They wish they had waited."
Shannon, who's a virgin, said she's been pressured to have sex by a guy, but was able to get out of the situation.
"I told him I wasn't doing nothing with him," she said.
She said she thinks she'll know when the time is right for her.
And she said if she felt ready to have sex with someone, she would definitely ask him about his past sexual partners and would want him to be tested for sexually transmitted diseases.
"I wanna know all before anything," she said.
Glen said he feels the same way.
"I'd even pay for her tests," he said.
Glen, who is also a virgin, said he thinks sex is OK "after marriage or when the two parties think they are old enough and mature enough and weigh the pros and cons."
In his heart
He said he thinks he'd just know when he's ready.
"Oh you would know. You'd feel it in your heart and not in your pants," he said. "That's my philosophy, and I truly believe that."
"I love the way you look at me. I love the way you smack my a--. I love the dirty things you do. I have control of you." -- Puddle of Mud, "Control"
But Greg, 20, said it wasn't as simple for him to know when he was ready.
Greg is gay and said it can lead to new questions about when sex is appropriate.
"There's more of an internalized pressure to experiment sexually, to figure yourself out -- find out if your feelings are for real," he said.
He said he's asked a partner to get tested, but not always.
"It depends on how well you know them. It doesn't always come up."
He said he makes sure to use protection if he hasn't talked to the person about it.
Dave said he wouldn't ask someone to get tested and wouldn't appreciate someone asking him.
"If they didn't trust me, then I wouldn't be having sex with them," he said.
Robison, said although teens may think about STDs and sex, they often don't associate it with oral sex.
She said the attitude is often, "'Oral sex is OK.' They're thinking it's not an intimate act, it's just a way to relieve stress," she said.
Shannon said she knows kids are having oral sex, but they don't talk about it to anyone other than their closest friends. "They just keep it quiet, 'cause it's kinda embarrassing," she said. "They're kinda scared about the reputation that they'll get if others find out that they have oral sex."
But Dave said teens do view oral sex casually. "Nobody really sees it as sex," he said. Even if they did, though, it might not change the careless attitude toward it.
He said guys don't even take intercourse seriously. "I'd say all guys do it just for fun."