Prom, Intercourse, of Course?
by Dr. Ann L. Engelland
(April 17, 2008) Just in case you are a prom-goer
or the parent of one, let’s think about how to approach
the ever tricky subject of teen sex. After you think and talk
about a date, a dress, whether to wear a cummerbund, which
friends to share a limo with, which after-party to attend,
and what to do about alcohol, remember to think and talk about
I recently read that 1 in 5 seventeen-year olds plans to
have sex for the first time on prom night. Hmmm. Stated another
way, twenty percent of prom-goers will lose their virginity
on prom night. If we consider that half of US teens do
not use condoms at the time of their first intercourse,
we are looking at a lot of unprotected intercourse. Might
as well slip the “morning after pill into the OJ at
the after-prom breakfast. Just kidding.
Combine this information with another piece of news (recently
published but based on ten-year-old data. I offer it because
I am not sure it has changed too much in the last decade):
Only half of teens report discussing contraception
or sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) with a partner prior
to having sexual intercourse for the first time.
Most of us know that sex education at home takes place over
many years and in many different conversations. But maybe
prom deserves another chat. What are the important messages
to share during this conversation?
“Loss of virginity” should be a “planned”
thing. Not a spontaneous, swept-up-in-the-moment sort of event.
Planning prevents regret, disease, embarrassment, and unwanted
commitments, like pregnancy.
Virginity is not a gift to give away. Nor is it a reward
for being asked to the prom. You never “owe” anyone
sex or sexual favors. A conversation ahead of time, in the
calm of a cool sober moment can set the boundaries before
there is a misunderstanding.
What is virginity anyway? It is not an anatomic reality;
it is a concept. Teens experiment plenty with fondling, touching,
hooking up, playing the bases, or whatever you want to call
it before they have intercourse. They incur plenty of risk
of herpes, HPV, other STDs and even pregnancy from these activities
alone. The physical reality of intercourse is on a continuum
with all these other ways of being sexual. Nevertheless, few
would argue that intercourse ratchets up the risk - emotional,
physical, and psychological.
How do you know if you’re ready anyway? In her 2005
book, The Real Truth about Teens and Sex,
Sabrina Weill, a former Seventeen editor, numerates
five questions to ask to test readiness.
1. Are you ready to talk honestly and openly with your
partner about birth control and STD prevention?
2. Are you ready to go to the doctor to be tested periodically
for STDs, to have a gyn exam, and to talk about your sexuality?
3. What are your plans to prevent STDs and pregnancy? Do
you know beyond the shadow of a doubt how to use a condom?
4. Are you interested in sex because you are ready or because
other people want you to?
5. Are you most interested in sex when alcohol is around?
Do you need to lose your inhibitions in order to have the
courage or spontaneity to think of having sex?
If you decide that prom night is the night,
and you are confident that the person you have chosen is someone
you can trust, then ask yourself one other question: How can
I make this experience the best it can be, one that I will
not regret for as long as I live?
1. Buy condoms, whether it’s for you or for your
2. For girls: buy or ask your doctor for a prescription
for Plan B. (Plan B is the morning after pill, available
over the counter for anyone over 18 with ID. Most doctors
will call in a prescription for anyone younger. It is safe
and effective and once you decide to have sex, you should
keep some in your top drawer.) If the condom “malfunctions”
this is imperative as back-up.
3. Drinking is illegal, of course. If you choose to
drink anyway, do not consume more than one drink per
hour. Intoxication will take away from the experience in
ways you won’t even realize. Make the first time a
good time, and one to remember.
4. Take your time with your lover. Don’t rush. Enjoy
the touch, the pleasure, the joy of sex and being sexual
with someone who matters to you. Being a good lover takes
practice. Don’t be too tough on yourselves if it doesn’t
seem to go like the movies.
If you choose abstinence, have you thought
through how you will do that? Abstinence may take more advanced
planning than sex! What will I say and when? What if he/she/I
get carried away? Will “No” mean “No”?
Can I withstand the pressure? What if I lose my relationship
for refusing? What if someone forces me?
Even if you have had intercourse already, it is perfectly
fine to decide that on this particular occasion, you will
be abstinent. Or that you will be abstinent for a long time
to come. The choices are yours and belong to no-one else.
To reinforce your choice about sex, you should choose not
to drink alcohol. Alcohol will lower your inhibitions, putting
you at risk of changing your mind, getting swept up in the
craziness or making regrettable decisions.
There are other options to consider. If you cannot have “the”
conversation with your potential date, then consider going
with a friend or a group rather than a “date”.
This is more “acceptable” in some communities
than others. However, once the partying starts, lines blur,
and large groups of kids who are not looking for sex can have
great fun being together.
Let your parents know where you will be and when. Be sure
you have an escape plan if things are dangerous or dangerously
Remember to put your own feelings first when it comes to
sex. Be proud of whatever decision you have made and trust
Dr. Engelland has a practice in Mamaroneck devoted
to Adolescent Primary Care. She now accepts Aetna and
Hudson Health Plan. Dr. Engelland can be reached at