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Restless Virgins

Good morning, I'm Bob Oakes. A note to listeners, our next story contains explicit language about adolescent sexuality.

Teens are watching it on TV, seeing it on the internet, and they hear it in the music they listen to.

Sex is everywhere. But when it was revealed that a 15 year-old Massachusetts prep school student had sexual relations with as many as five of her classmates...alarm bells sounded. The 2005 sex scandal at Milton Academy opened many people's eyes to the reality of adolescent sexual behavior.

The story of that incident and others like it is told in the new book "Restless Virgins: Love, Sex, and Survival at a New England Prep School." Milton Academy graduates Abigail Jones and Marissa Miley's book takes a look at the social and sexual pressures of seven high school seniors...pressures that author Abigail Jones says teens across America face.

JONES: we looked at each other and we said, do you remember this going on in high school? And neither of us did, the extreme nature of sex acts, and we weren't even a decade out of school. So we thought to ourselves what is it really like to be in high school today and what has really changed and why.

OAKES: What the authors found was that kids were engaging in much more casual sex than they'd imagined. Through over a hundred interviews with 25 Milton students, Marissa Miley says they came to learn more about why students were engaging in such acts.

MILEY: Guys wanted not only experience, but story to brag about. Girls were seeking validation and companionship but acts spoke otherwise. Willing to compromise parts of themselves for guys.

OAKES: Perhaps not surprisingly "Restless Virgins" has ruffled feathers on the Milton Academy campus. Marguerite Weisman, one of the characters portrayed in the book, says she's unhappy about the book's focus on sex.

WEISMAN: The only reason I divulged so much information is because I thought I had nothing to hide. It never occurred to me that anything I said would be so warped and sensationalized.

OAKES: Milton Academy has issued several statements about the book, saying that only a fraction of their students were interviewed and that the school tries to teach students about teen sex and expects that parents will do so as well.

The authors Jones and Miley defend the veracity of their work and say "Restless Virgins" is not just about kids at Milton Academy. It's a story common to all teens.

According to Jeffrey Jensen Arnett, psychology professor at Clark University, research from the Centers for Disease Control shows that is simply not true.

JENSEN ARNETTE: The thing that's most misleading about it is the implication that this is a trend that's growing worse and more pervasive. That's actually the opposite of the truth. Teens have become much more conservative in their sexual behavior in the last 20 years. They are more likely to use condoms. There's higher percentage of them that are abstinent through high school.

OAKES: The improvement in birth control may lead young women to indeed engage in sexual behavior, says Doctor Estherann Grace, head of clinical adolescent medicine at Children's Hospital in Boston. She's one of the people involved in teaching sexual education at Milton Academy.

GRACE: I think there has been a willingness of many young women because of the ability to control pregnancy and hopefully disease prevention by the use of condoms to engage in sexual activity where in the past they may have out of fear of pregnancy restrained.

OAKES: Another change is the profusion of sex in the media. Grace says it impacts all of us, but particularly adolescents. Grace says trusted adults need to help adolescents understand the confusing messages that constantly bombard them.

GRACE: I cannot stress enough how important it is to have conversations that are difficult about sexuality, there's so much more to sexuality than putting one body part into another. That is actually the smallest part of it.

OAKES: But author Abigail Jones says she found those conversations may not be happening.

JONES: After interviewing, what we've found is there's not just a gap, but there is a generational chasm between what adults think is happening in teens' lives and what is actually happening.

OAKES: Author Marissa Miley says the very reason they wrote the book was to get parents and kids talking.

MILEY: We found many had talked with parents about school, sports, but very rarely about relationships, sexual experience. These students may have had sex ed, they know how to put condom on cucumber, they know about STD's, but they wished they'd talked with parents about the emotional consequences of sexual behavior.

OAKES: Marissa Miley and Abigail Jones co-wrote the new book "Restless Virgins." The book is being released today. Our story was produced by WBUR's Sarah Bush.

This program aired on August 28, 2007. The audio for this program is not available.

Bob Oakes Twitter Host, Morning Edition
Bob Oakes has been WBUR's Morning Edition anchor since 1992.

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