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Elizabeth Cooney is a health reporter for the Worcester Telegram & Gazette.
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Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Sex makes young people feel good. So?

Young people feel better after sex.

Not earth-shattering news, you say?

Children's Hospital Boston researcher Dr. Lydia A. Shrier, lead author of a study that reached that conclusion, understands why you'd react that way, but hear her out. She says that until we know what adolescents really think about sex, anyone trying to help them have safer sex -- or no sex -- might be wasting their time.

"If we don't understand exactly how they feel around the time of sex, we're going to miss the boat with our risk reduction or abstinence messages," said Shrier, whose study appears in the Journal of Adolescent Health. "We all know that feelings are very much connected to how we behave."

To assess young people's emotions, Shrier's team gave hand-held computers to 67 adolescents and young adults, 15 to 21 years old, and randomly beeped them at least every three waking hours for a week. A message would then pop up on the participants' PDAs asking them how they were feeling and whether they had had sex since the previous page. To be in the study, the young people had to say they were sexually active.

That's different from asking people what they think about sex or to remember later what they felt like at the time, Shrier emphasized. This nearly real-time report of how they felt makes the study different from previous work, including her own, she said.

"We examined real events in these kids' lives as they were happening. We didn't ask them to recall things or to select out a particular thing," she said. "We asked them to monitor themselves with computers and respond to signals, so we were getting what was actually going on."

The study also stands apart from surveys that asked adolescents their feelings about their first sexual experiences, which tended to be more negative than what the researchers found this time.

Policy makers need to pay attention, Shrier said.

"Without taking a political stance, I'd just say we all want people to ultimately be sexually healthy adults, whatever our beliefs are," she said. "And whether we want kids to reduce sexual risk or be abstinent, we have to understand the feelings of the young people having sex."

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 05:12 PM
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