FastTalk

In spite of my very liberal social views, when my daughter first started dating at 15, I was concerned about her sleeping with some guy. When the event actually occurred, she came to her mother for assistance in getting birth control pills, and I had to examine what my concerns were. Would she protect herself from disease? Would she keep from becoming a teenage mother? Would she get in a position where someone would emotionally abuse her? On the plus side, I remembered the delicious rapture of teenage love, an emotion I would never again experience, as I would never again be so blissfully ignorant of the responsibilities that come with relationships.

In retrospect, I was deluding myself that I could exercise any real control over my daughter's love life. My wife and I have raised three independent, self-reliant young women, and there is no way to confine those attributes to education, housework, sports, and a job.

Denying them access to birth control will only increase the odds that I'll be a grandparent at an early age. The notion that the availability of birth control contributes to teenage sexuality is rubbish. I got my first condom from a friend when I was 13, but it was not the deciding factor in when I started having sex (which didn't occur for another three years).

One part of effective parenting consists of giving your child more and more autonomy as the child matures. Too often the autonomy is gained in one large chunk when the child either rebels against overly strict rules or leaves for college, where there are no parents around to supervise.

Dan Pengra
dpengra@falcon.sr.hp.com

Your characterization of this as a right/left issue is narrow-minded and shallow. We should not let teens be the battleground for the shaping of our new morality. The issues of sexual freedom are crucial to adults, but merely confusing to teens.

Edward Hartnett
ejh@larry.gsfc.nasa.gov

It's ironic that the very people who yell and scream about how sex should be taught at home are the most likely to say nothing at all about it to their kids.

Peter Chapin
pchapin@twilight.vtc.vsc.edu

Progressives increase the choices given to teens, while conservatives limit their information. The whole problem is a product of trying to please all the different moralities despite their conflicting natures.

Charles Ofria
charles@krl.caltech.edu

As a young agnostic feminist I rebelled against the idea of having to stay chaste until marriage in order to be a worthy woman. But at the same time there wasn't really much cultural support, outside of a conservatively religious context, for me to decide not to have sex.

What progressives have failed to address, I think, is the fact that whether or not someone has sex, and how often s/he has sex, has been very closely tied to self-worth in our culture. We need to take virginity or the lack thereof out of that context and make it socially acceptable to say yes--or no--based on one's own values, readiness for sex, and ability to cope with possible physical and emotional consequences.

Parents should be the ones to talk to their kids about sexual relationships, but a lot of them are not. This is another case where the right assumes that every family is an idyll of love and communication, or can be with properly applied social pressure.

Leslie Devlin
cappucino@mail.utexas.edu

I'm 21, and I've come of age watching the consequences of the loosening of the social restraints that used to govern sex. When my parents were growing up, both boys and girls would be ashamed to admit that they had had premarital sex. Now, though, it's all changed. People who choose to wait until they are married are treated like time travelers from the 19th century. I have a friend who, devastated that at 23 he had never so much as kissed a girl, tried to hang himself.

Patrick Crotty
prc@physics.physics.wm.edu

I survived adolescence with my virginity intact for one basic reason. My father discussed these issues with me and did what he could to impart his moral fiber to me. It worked. While that makes me unusual and a possible outcast with my peers, I don't care. It is who I am.

Brian Gansle
banzai@netcom.com

Many teens have neither the family nor the church. They desperately need not just information, but also access to quality, affordable, completely confidential reproductive health care. Sex is natural; it is not deviant behavior. Teens have sex to have sex, not to reproduce. Let's give them the same tools that adults have to keep the two separate.

Teresa L. Gergen
teresa@ariel.ccit.arizona.edu

I learned very little about sexuality from school, home, or church. I had to go and seek information in the various media. Sex is more than a physical act, and it should be explained in a holistic context where the feelings and implications of such actions are also explored.

Benjamin L. Combee
combee@prism.gatech.edu

In Scandinavia, teenage pregnancies are very rare. I definitely believe it is because our teenagers are better informed about the various aspects of sexual life. A large portion of this information comes through school.

Still, I sometimes wonder: Although it is good that teenagers be responsible enough to protect themselves, is it psychologically good for them to have to take that much responsibility for their own lives at that early an age?

Kenneth Holmqvist
kenneth.holmqvist@fil.lu.se