Saturday, February 10, 2007

Adolescent Sex, Drugs and Depression: Which Leads to Which?

Which came first, the chicken or the egg? Which one led to the other? That is the type of question plaguing many confused individuals regarding the association between adolescent sexual activity, drug use, and depression, shown below. Numerous articles have opposing opinions on this matter. For example, some articles state that there is no doubt that risky behaviors such as sex, drug use, and alcohol lead to depression, and others contradict arguing that depression leads to these risky behaviors. Despite these conflicting views, it is at least clear that there is an association between risky behavior and depression. This much we do know. In response to two blogs which emphasize the position that sex and other high-risk behaviors leads to depression, I have commented that this prediction cannot be regarded as a factual, straightforward cause-and-effect relationship. I think that people may easily be confused by the link between sex and depression and whether or not there is a cause-and-effect relationship between the two, and therefore that is why I have commented on these entries. In addition, I address the issue in one blog regarding its support for abstinence only education. I believe in educating teens to the best ability possible, and that entails utilizing all information available. If interested, the comments just mentioned regarding the two blogs can be read in their entirety below.

In response to the entry by Janice Crouse, it must be noted that the data for The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill study, which claims that “sex and drug behavior predicted an increased likelihood of depression, but depression did not predict behavior,” came from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health. Longitudinal studies are correlational research studies, which indicate that no causal relationships can be detected because it is not a controlled experiment; it is merely observation. Therefore, there is not “solid evidence” claiming those who engage in risky behaviors like sex and drugs will become depressed. In contradiction to Crouse, the message is certainly not clear. Are teens who engage in risky behavior at risk for depression, as Crouse claims? Possibly. But isn’t it also possible that depressed teens are at risk for engaging in risky behavior? The relationship between the two is in fact, quite fuzzy. In addition, it is not sensible to state that it is a myth that teens are going to ‘do it anyway,’ referring to sex, because some teens most certainly will. Even if only a few teens ‘do it anyway,’ isn’t it vital that these teens know about safe-sex practices? It is true that contraceptive methods and the prevention of disease transmission is not entirely effective, however it is still important that teens be educated on theses issues in case they decide to buy into this so-called ‘myth.’ I agree that “we ought to be telling adolescents the truth…and make them aware of the possible consequences and risks that they are taking,” but part of this truth involves providing them with “condoms and teach[ing] them safe-sex practices,” which Crouse undermines. Adolescents will only be denied the truth if they are not given all resources and information regarding sex, the consequences that come of it, and safe-sex practices. Providing abstinence-only programs not only misguides adolescents to believe that abstinence is the only option, but by limiting sex education and “protection,” teens or even adults who do become sexually active may be uninformed and thus perpetuate the spread of disease and cause harm to others.

It is quite confident of Shimla Pooja to use such strong language about how teens “spoil themselves with dicey behaviors, like sex and drugs,” making them more vulnerable to depression, without providing any explanation for how this is done. I find it interesting that such bold statements are made in reference to teens engaging in risky behaviors, leading them towards an increased risk at depression, however no evidence is provided to back up this strong claim. For example, it states that new research contradicts the widely-held belief that unsafe or dangerous activities like alcohol, sex, and drugs is used to alleviate the already-existing depressed symptoms, and that it is in fact the other way around, however no research is actually sited or specified. While the entry states that sex and drug behavior predicted an increased likelihood of depression, it is impossible to state that one thing predicted another based on correlational data. Pooja states that increased rates in depression and suicide are “only the result of causal sexual intimacy.” Just because sex and drug use predates depression does not prove that one causes the other. Quite frequently in fact, depressed teens seek out drugs, alcohol, and even sex to escape from their depression and pain, and instead consume themselves with these troubles. It is important that one does not get caught up with what may seem like ‘new and improved’ research and disregard other possible explanations because both explanations are viable. It is valid, as stated, that teens must be familiar with and knowledgeable about the potentially dangerous consequences of these behaviors, and that is why education about sex and drugs will be more effective in delaying these experiences than a lack of such education.

1 comment:

DEH said...

I absolutely support your stance on the dangers of abstinence-only education in schools today. During my experience at an inner-city public middle school and high school, I realized that students (predominantly minority students) lacking any sexual education background were shockingly na├»ve about the risks of teen pregnancy and sexual diseases. The demographics of my school (which will go unnamed) were roughly 80% Hispanic, 15% African American and 5% Anglo American. As the majority of these Spanish-speaking students struggled with the fundamental math, reading and writing skills that were necessary to pass the standardized tests that permitted graduation, sexual education was largely overlooked and deemed “unimportant”. As a result, teen pregnancies comprised a large percentage of the total dropouts--my freshman class originated with approximately 500 students and we graduated with 273 exactly. I became most aware of this dangerous ignorance after overhearing one fellow student ask another, “Can your girlfriend get pregnant if she doesn’t orgasm?” Clearly, abstinence-only methods are just as inadequate as ignoring the issue altogether. Some radical change must be enacted in our nation's public school systems to ensure that teens are getting the information necessary to make mature decisions