Thursday, April 23, 2009

Just say no. (But if you say yes, here's your pill.)

The new FDA ruling that allows 17-year-olds to avail themselves of the morning-after pillknown colloquially (and with perhaps a touch of gallows humor) as "Plan B"gives rise to another one of those chicken-or-the-egg discussions of morality, social policy and related themes. On the one hand, we don't want 17-year-olds getting pregnant. The U.S. already leads the free world (and much of the un-free world) in teenage pregnancy, despite some encouraging recent trend-lines. So we need to do something. On the other hand, one could make the same argument here that's often made by Christian types about contraception, sex education, Gardasil injections, et cetera: that the more we accommodate the sticky "contingencies" of sexual activity, the more we give teenagers license to keep right on doing what they're doing, and more.

Let's face it: Consequences matter. Wasn't it AIDS, after all, that changed the way gays arranged their social calendars? Didn't it take AIDS to shutter the bath houses and tamp down on promiscuous gay sex in general? There is no judgment implied in either of those remarks; I'm just stating fact. (As the late Randy Shilts told us in his hypnotic and chilling book, And the Band Played On, right before AIDS came along, promiscuity was seen in gay communities as a symbol of "empowerment," as a collective celebration of the gay life.) And even though over the past few decades AIDS has caused gay men everywhere to rethink their approach to relationships and commitment and life itself, if and when a foolproof cure for that scourge is found, wouldn't you expect a natural resurgence in sexual activity in the gay community in particular? People respond to strong incentives and strong disincentives. The riskier something is, the less most of us are inclined to try it. Give people a get-out-of-jail-free card, they worry less about going to jail. To argue otherwise is just plain silly.

The difference is that teenagers aren't "people." They don't tend to think about risk and consequences nearly as much as they ought to. Even when AIDS first came along and no one quite knew what it was or whom it targeted, there is evidence that teenagers forged right ahead and had sex anyway, just like always. Teenagers think they're invincible. Which is why, though you try to "raise them right," you also have to look out for them; watch their backs.

Which is also why, as regular readers might almost predict, this is one of those topics that keeps me going 'round and 'round in perpetuity till I want to tear out my five remaining hairs. I honestly don't know how I feel here. The experts tell us all the time that abstinence-only education doesn't work
but I'm not sure that "fact" can be looked at in isolation. One has to take into account the cultural context. I suspect that abstinence-only approaches work much better in places like, say, Taliban-controlled Afghanistan or certain other Muslim nations, where sex can cause people to lose their heads in the quite-literal sense. That kind of "reinforcement" is not available in the U.S. Clearly it isn't easy to sell the abstinence model amid the cultural backdrop we have here, with Britney (and sis Jamie Lynn) and Lindsay and Paris and the typical fare we get from Hollywood and television. I'm sure that anti-drug advertising doesn't work as well, either, for listeners who are standing in the middle of a poppy field.
So maybe, if we're really serious about trying to keep teens out of each others' pants, we need to work on the cultural backdrop, too?

Anyway, those are my thoughts to this point, to the extent I have time for them on this frenzied morning.

49 comments:

Rational Thinking said...

The world is massively over-populated as it is, so this seems like a practical measure to me. What's the problem?

Steve Salerno said...

Well, I guess you're right, RT. Drunk driving is also a serious problem, so I suppose we need to issue personal air-bags and full body armor to all drivers and pedestrians.

roger o'keefe said...

This column hints at the problem we have throughout society. Instead of implementing standards of behavior and insisting people meet them, we put in place all these safeguards and safety nets that catch us when we fall. Then we wonder why we can't get people to behave the way we hope they will.

There is no mystery here. Make rules and insist that people follow them. I know that teens are a worrisome group and there are going to be mishaps. That doesn't mean we throw the rules out the window to make it easier for them.

Rational Thinking said...

Steve - how is drunk driving in any way comparable? Don't follow you.

Roger - "Make rules and insist that people follow them"

Kind of like Sharia law? Well it's the insisting bit that's the problem. How, in a civilised society, are you going to enforce your standards of behaviour on others?

Steve Salerno said...

RT: The point of the drunk driving analogy was... Well, maybe it's better if I just ask a question, and I think it's the same question Roger is asking, though I don't presume to speak for him: Do we tell people "there are certain things you just can't do, period" (e.g. like have sex or drive drunk) and insist on it? Or do we just assume that people are going to "slip" and build all sorts of safety nets into the system to catch them when they fall? Because I think some folks would argue that by providing safety nets, you're encouraging the behavior.

Let's start from a simple premise: If we executed people--summarily, in the field, pow! a shot right to the head from a cop's 9mm--for driving drunk, there'd be fewer DUIs. Do you agree? Now, we probably don't want to do that...but how far do we go in discouraging behaviors that, society agrees, we want to curtail?

RevRon's Rants said...

I'd agree that we need to work on the cultural backdrop, but reject the notion of attempting to legislate that milieu. Lawmakers have proven their inability and/or unwillingness to draft legislation that is not rooted in political posturing and the quest for more votes and campaign contributions. Why would we expect them to be any more objective in their efforts to draft legislation that attempts to regulate individual moral imperatives?

Bottom line: Whom do you trust to dictate laws governing personal attitudes?

Steve Salerno said...

Rev: Your bottom line is my question in a nutshell. Not just whom we trust, but how far we want to go down that road.

RevRon's Rants said...

"how far do we go in discouraging behaviors that, society agrees, we want to curtail?"

Perhaps if we took a logical - rather than an ideological - approach to regulating human behavior, we could actually change that behavior. But so long as we fill our prisons with invented criminals, who pose no danger to society beyond their participation in profit-driven enterprises created by ideological legislation, we'll have an ever-increasing criminal class, and the ensuing skyrocketing costs.

Capping drunk drivers on the spot would be beyond the pale, even in a Sharia-based legal system (They at least have sham trials). Eliminating a drunk driver's ability to ever drive again, however, would be appropriate, if unworkable (Perhaps a large "Drunk Driver" tattoo on their foreheads? Catch them behind the wheel, and they get sent up for life?).

But getting kids to stop having sex? Perhaps some professional kitten-herder could tell us how to accomplish that, short of neutering them before they reach puberty, or doing what the LDS folks do, and marrying them off when they're 11.

roger o'keefe said...

Alright, Ron, I'll bite. So what do we do then? Throw our hands up and accept the reality of teenage promiscuity and parenthood? Say "oh well, kids will be kids"? Somebody has to step up to the plate and take a stand for what we all know is right, but we're too wimpy to enforce. For two generations now parents have abdicated their role as teachers and rule makers. The situation we've allowed to develop in this society by looking the other way is appalling.

sassy sasha said...

chill people! it'[s not like teen sex is a totally new development! some of you act like you think sex was just invented, i don't see why my generation should be banned from enjoying somethign you folks do all the time both in and out of marriage or whenever you feel like it. it's not like you "adults" have set such a wonderful example for us you know! :-P

Rational Thinking said...

Thanks for the clarification Steve. So far as DUI is concerned, well it happens - so we try to deal with it. People make mistakes - sometimes very stupid and tragic ones. Personally I'd support legislation applying a lifetime driving ban to anyone convicted of DUI. That might cut those prepared to risk it. But teenage sex? How are you going to stop that? Hormones are a powerful force of nature.

Society says you can't "do" drunk driving - yet people do. We say you can't have sex under the age of consent - yet it happens. Advice is given about the necessity for safe sex - but girls are still getting pregnant. We may not like it, but I think we have to deal with the reality, hence I have no problem with the morning after pill. The idea that kids shouldn't "do what they do" seems hopelessly unrealistic. Sorry!

RevRon's Rants said...

"So what do we do then? Throw our hands up and accept the reality of teenage promiscuity and parenthood?"

In truth, that would be every bit as effective as posturing while cloaked in the mantle of moral outrage. While I agree that many parents have abdicated their traditional roles, I can't help but wonder whom you would elect to enforce the definition - much less the re-assimilation - of those roles. Whom should we crown as the ultimate arbiter of appropriate behavior? Those who cling to the fairy-tale notion that abstinence-only education will somehow eliminate teenage sex?

For that matter, why not just "throw our hands up," and acknowledge that teenagers are going to have sex? Rather than placing such unrealistic limits upon the kids, how about if we educate them, provide them with the knowledge and tools with which to avoid disease and pregnancy, and quit trying to convince them that we were and are better than they are (which, I believe, is the real bottom line in much of the posturing)?

Much of the civilized world laughs at Americans' puritanical attitudes, and for good reason. We puffed up and decried a president who had sex with a young intern, yet stood resolutely behind one who initiated an unnecessary war that has cost, conservatively, a quarter of a million lives. If someone says the F-word on television, they face a huge fine, yet use of the word "eviscerate" - or the graphic representation of it - doesn't raise an eyebrow. How sick is that?

Perhaps it's time that we concern ourselves more with setting examples than with making examples out of others. In the end, we are the only ones who can control our own thoughts and behaviors, and any attempt to usurp that control inevitably gives rise to greater problems than it could ever solve.

roger o'keefe said...

You set up false dichotomies, Ron. this is a common tactic of yours. I'm not even going to get into the issue of the war in Iraq with you because then I'm playing your game, and we're bringing political ideology into it that doesn't belong there and only muddies the waters. So even if I buy the idea that "U.S. imperialism is wrong", that has nothing to do with the fact that teen sex is wrong too. In many ways the sexual climate in this country is more damaging to the social fabric than any of the other straw men you site. And just so you know, the quibbles many of us had with Bill Clinton had to do with a lot more than just his sexual appetites and his tastes in women. To be blunt about it, the man was a liar and a conniver from start to finish, whether he was getting head from his interns or not!

RevRon's Rants said...

"we're bringing political ideology into it that doesn't belong there and only muddies the waters."

That's exactly my point, Roger... and it's not a game. Your entire argument is based in your own ideology, and an objective observation of current trends clearly shows that an ideological approach to our problems is both ineffective and disingenuous. Better to be realistic in our assessment of the circumstances we face, and to address the real problems, rather than turn circumstances that we find personally distasteful into global catastrophes. Telling kids that having sex is wrong won't curtail their sexual activities. It will only cement their "wrongness" in our eyes, and alienate them further. And if you think that teenage sex is more damaging to the fabric of our society than the exploitation and alienation of the rest of the world, there probably isn't much in the way of common ground between us.

I've got to admit, I had to chuckle at your characterization of Clinton as a liar and a conniver, which I would surmise, differentiates him from Bush in your eyes. I can only suggest that you look objectively at the cost, in human lives, in misery, in the erosion of respect for this country, and in dollars, of each man's deceptions. *Then* make your comparison.

roger o'keefe said...

My entire argument is based in ideology? No, my argument is based in the statistics on teen pregnancy which are troubling and morally NOT POLITICALLY appalling. Things don't "have to" be this way as you imply, and how do I know that? Because they're *not* this way in any other industrialized nation. That's not my ideology showing, as you imply. It's a simple fact. We are doing something wrong, Ron. The question becomes how to deal with it. You and others who take a socially liberal position (which I'm sure you regard as "enlightened") want to deal with it by enabling teens to continue on their merry way of hooking up or whatever the latest euphemism is for squalid random meaningless sex. You defend the status quo and even try to make it sound honorable by saying things like "well it's not as bad as killing innocent civilians in George Bush's fake war". Stick to the issue, please. It's pretty damn bad in its own right. And we should take our heads out of the sand and stand up for something for once in our shallow self-indulgent lives. Why won't you at least admit that much?

By the way, verif word: amanlyho

Anonymous said...

I was reading a psychological assesment contrasting green berets and anti war preotesters during the vietnam era.
Part of it was a comarison of sexual mores.

The teenagers who went on to become green berets were more promiscuous, began sexual life earlier, attatched less or no importance to emotional connection with sexual partners and suffered little or no guilt. This continued into the guilt free use of prostitutes servicing them overseas.

The peaceniks tended to see sex as part of a deeper more meaningful way of elating, had fewer partners, masturbated more and had a greater tendency towards long term relationships.

I suppose the promiscuous make excellent tools of empire, in every way.

Elizabeth said...

Hm. Wasn't Mary, Jesus' mom, an unwed teen? I guess she didn't follow the rules... Or were the rules different then? ;)

RevRon's Rants said...

Roger, please read what you have written. "Morally appalling" is not an objective description of a statistical trend, but rather a highly subjective, ideologically-based categorization. Teen sexuality simply *is,* and it's not going to go away simply because some people like to posture and preach against it. Given that fact, it would seem that the most logical course of action would be for "adults" to 1) set an example by their own behavior, rather than paying lip service to dogma, 2) to provide the kids with the insight we have supposedly gained by way of our own years (and mistakes), and 3) to provide the tools by which the kids can prevent disease and pregnancy.

You are right about one thing - other developed nations don't face the same level of problems we do, but the reason they don't is that few, if any, share our moralistic approach to sex. Having gotten past the juvenile obsession that so dominates American culture, most have adopted a more pragmatic attitude toward human sexuality. They educate their kids, rather than preach at them. While I realize that this is contrary to the approach of those who like to call themselves conservatives in this country, it does seem to work. Perhaps if results were to rate as high a priority as appearances, we'd try the same approach, and see some real progress.

You ask that I stick to the issue. Well, as I see it, the real issue is that we've replaced real values with "positions," and are more interested in regulating what everyone else is doing than in improving our own behavior or resolving real problems. The same sense of moral imperative and entitlement that inspires some to want to regulate others' attitudes and private behaviors also justifies the exploitation and abuse of other cultures.

By the way... I *am* standing up for something: the application of common sense over pompous dogmatism.

roger o'keefe said...

Elizabeth: I'm sorry, that's a ridiculous argument. To drag the Virgin Mother into the current discussion as if she's just your average teenager who got knocked up and leave out all the religious context and the miraculous nature of the whole thing is even more unfair and simplistic than those Hippies who used to point out that "Jesus had long hair, man".

Ron: I'd like to see the evidence that your more "pragmatic" approach to sex "works". It seems to me instead that our problems began when this more "pragmatic" approach to sex kicked in. Prior to that (prior to the 1960s, say) teen sex and pregnancy were stigmatized and girls were supposed to be "good girls" who were virgins when they got married. Even though the compliance rate was far from 100%, the morals we then had succeeded at keeping most girls in-line and the facts say we had far less unwed motherhood. Don't make it sound like this has always been with us and we're just now recognizing it and being "pragmatic" about it because that's just not true. You're twisting the facts around to support your preconceived argument. No pun intended on the word preconceived.

RevRon's Rants said...

Yeah, let's return to a time when kids knew to keep quiet about being abused sexually, because nobody would believe them, anyway. Nostalgia for those "simpler, more moral" times is an illusion, Roger. There were, indeed, fewer teen pregnancies. There were also far more illegal - and too often, fatal - abortions.

Children mature physically at an earlier age now than they did back then. As a result, they have sex at a younger age, as well. When we were little, we experimented, at least to the extent that our knowledge and physical development allowed.

As to whether you'll ever see evidence that a more pragmatic approach works, that would depend as much upon your own willingness to open your eyes as to the viability of the evidence itself. I'm hopeful, if not overly optimistic.

While I recognize that Hollywood is, in the eyes of many who call themselves "conservatives," a modern day Gomorrah, I'd suggest that you watch a movie titled "Pleasantville." It shines a pretty clear light on the ludicrous longing for those "simpler" times.

Bottom line is that the kids are gonna be okay. They're making their mistakes, just as we made ours. But they'll be a lot better off if the "adults" in our society would lay off the preaching and start thinking instead.

Anonymous said...

I don't see how permissiveness ever made anything in our culture better, if that's what you mean by being pragmatic. We all know that teenagers want to screw, so what? As parents we don't have to just stand by and encourage it. If you want to see examples of permissive parenting and what happens as a result, look at the girls mentioned in the blog. It's not coincidence that kids raised with privilege turn out that way, it's just what happens when parents let the kids raise themselves or give them everything they want. Somebody has to set limits.

Steve Salerno said...

(Just to interject something here: I realize that I used a handful of young women as examples, and now other readers seem to have picked up that ball and run with it. Doesn't anybody see the young guys as being responsible, too? Are we going to place the entire burden on the backs of the young women, whom we expect to remain chaste and virginal regardless of circumstances, peer pressure, etc?)

RevRon's Rants said...

"it's just what happens when parents let the kids raise themselves or give them everything they want. Somebody has to set limits."

Bingo! The disagreement really lies, I believe, in the who and the how of limit-setting. Legislating morality is ineffective, unless the punishment for even minor transgressions is beyond draconian. Modifying behavior with fear is (questionably) effective only with small children. Even then, the child will be prone to revert to the unacceptable behavior once the fear factor is removed, as will the adult sociopath.

The only viable method of guiding behavior is by example, combined with clearly defined and understood limits. Parents and parent-figures are best qualified to provide such guidance. Unfortunately, too many parents have abdicated this role in favor of their own narcissistic pursuits, and revert to the moralistic "somebody needs to..." in order to compensate for their own failures.

I really have a tough time seeing how pragmatism and permissiveness became synonymous... at least, outside the realm of ideologically-based posturing. I was always pretty straightforward with my own kids, and was clear about the limits I imposed, as well as the repercussions for transgressions. Didn't preach at them, nor did I adopt the standard whine of every generation, about how "Something has to be done about these damn kids..." They - like all children - deserved better.

Anonymous said...

If you trust wikipedia some stats are here...

http://tinyurl.com/ccntqd

It says,
"Across 13 nations in the European Union, women who gave birth as teenagers are twice as likely to be living in poverty, in comparison to those who wait until they are over 20."

Is it the same in the States?

Elizabeth said...

To drag the Virgin Mother into the current discussion as if she's just your average teenager who got knocked up and leave out all the religious context and the miraculous nature of the whole thing is (..) unfair and simplisticNow, that just opens a new line of questions, Roger.

First of all: Seriously?

And second, taking the miraculous aspect of Mary's pregnancy at face value (since you insist), what message did God send to humanity by miraculously and purposefully impregnating a (very) young unwed teenager?

Don't have to answer it. Just something to think about in the context of this discussion.

Anonymous said...

'To drag the Virgin Mother into the current discussion as if she's just your average teenager who got knocked up and leave out all the religious context and the miraculous nature of the whole thing is (..'

Its been a standard claim for unwed pregnant women since antiquity that they were visited by a god. The Roman god Zeus was claimed as the father for countless figures where paternity was in doubt. Less of a miracle and more a convenient social fib?

Athol Kay said...

What on earth is all the fuss about? Anyone of the legal age of consent to have sex should be allowed access to birth control.

You don't license people to drive cars and then forbid them to use seatbelts "as a moral concern" in hope that it convinces them not to drive until they're older.

Anonymous said...

Zeus was, of course, originally a Greek god but his meme transferred into Roman mythology, in the way of these things, as Jupiter.

Zeus has an interesting entymology in that he appears also in Indo-European and Germanic/Norse mythology, with the same absent father profile, obviously a meme with universal appeal.

Anonymous said...

These pesky freudian slips. Entymology is the study of insects, while etymology is the history of words and language.
Zeus as an insect??--what would he be I wonder?

RevRon's Rants said...

"You don't license people to drive cars and then forbid them to use seatbelts "as a moral concern" in hope that it convinces them not to drive until they're older."

Following this analogy, what would we think of a parent whose teenage children were denied the use of seatbelts, and merely cautioned against driving recklessly? Would we praise a parent for his upstanding attitude after his children are killed in a wreck, or would we chastise him for not providing his child the tools to stay safe?

I realize that there is a moral component to having sex that is absent in driving a car, but both behaviors are and will continue to be prevalent, despite one's personal attitude toward them. It only seems sensible to reduce the risk in those behaviors as much as possible. It's not about allowing the kids to do anything they want, but neither is it about engaging in a futile effort to legislate the behaviors themselves away.

Allow me to digress into a different analogy that I think is pertinent: When my daughter was a toddler, she had a fascination with the woods across the road from our house, and would dash toward the street in an effort to explore, oblivious to the dangers that even a country road presented. The first few times, I would grab her arm to stop her, and issue a firm "No!" When she continued trying, I ultimately punctuated my admonition with a swat to her butt. And she quit running toward the road, not out of awareness of the danger, but out of fear that she would get another spanking.

I would take her across the road, holding her hand, and showing her how to look for cars, snakes, etc.. As she matured, she learned to cross carefully, and learned that the road wasn't something to be feared, and that Dad wasn't merely trying to deny her what she wanted so badly.

With maturity, she learned that the road, approached properly, could take her many places even more wondrous than the woods that had so fascinated her. The "wrongness" of approaching the road was replaced with a respect for what that road had to offer. It became a tool, rather than an enemy.

I view our religious/moral evolution in much the same way I viewed my daughter's interaction with the road. When we were ignorant and immature, we needed to have fear instilled in us to make us behave appropriately, and behaviors that posed a potential threat were "wrong." As we mature, we realize that the fear was merely an effective instrument, used to protect us until we could make appropriate decisions about our actions. "Thou shalt not" was replaced by "I know choose a better way."

Our responsibility to our children is to foster their growth and understanding, so that they can make appropriate choices. To continue to control their behavior through fear is to deny them the opportunity to grow, and ultimately, to deny them access to the wonders to which their "road" can take them. Whether that control is effected by a parent who dominates their maturing children or by a legislative surrogate, the effect is the same.

On that level, I concede that the pragmatism I recommend does represent a form of permissiveness, but only in that we "permit" our children to grow and learn, rather than shackle them with fear and shame. At some point, we have to accept that we have done all we can to protect them, short of locking them in a cage. Hopefully, we are sufficiently freed of our own fears to accept the fact that their road might be different from our own, and that the mistakes they will inevitably make will not be too painful for them, and allow them to make those mistakes, trusting that we have given them the tools they will need to survive and flourish. It's the toughest part of being a parent (or, I would project, a God), but is our greatest responsibility to them.

VW: suing :-)

Stever Robbins said...

What's wrong with simply educating teenagers about birth control? Why do you present "abstinence-only education" as the option you implicitly endorse? What's so horrible about teenagers having responsible sex? (Other than the oddly widespread irrational belief, unsupported by data, that it's somehow bad, despite having been the norm for 100,000 years (minus the last 100) of human history.)

And by the way, having lived through the AIDS crisis as part of the gay community, I find your analysis of the situation omits many, many factors. I wish I had time to write a really cogent article on my point of view, but alas, I simply don't have time right now. Suffice to say: promiscuity is alive and well among gay people and straight people alike. Visibility of promiscuity is a different matter, as is visibility of committed relationships.

I'm not sure I would conclude that AIDS caused a big drop in promiscuity, or an increase in committed relationships. I think Rock Hudson getting AIDS and Pedro Zamora's appearance on MTV's "Real World" started a societal trend that has led to more visibility of and acceptance of gay relationships, both within and without the gay community. I think AIDS affected some aspects of behavior, but I don't think it changed the fundamental dynamics. It just publicized certain aspects.

Stever Robbins said...

Anon 3:21 pm. I love you, guy (or gal). You "don't see how permissiveness ever made anything better." Yet you happily avail yourself of this forum's (and our country's) permissiveness in allowing you to express your opinion anonymously in a forum that can reach thousands of people.

I think permissiveness has made my life hugely better in millions of ways. I am incredibly glad I'm not living under Taliban rule, or in a society that prohibits free speech, or somewhere where not being part of the majority religion is a death sentence.

We all have our own permissiveness boundaries, and it's all different. I am personally appalled at the American attitude towards guns. The idea that a society will let anyone own a gun with less training and process than it takes to own a car boggles my mind. But I recognize that if I want people to honor the first amendment--which is a biggie for me--then I can't very well stand in the way of their desire to honor the second amendment. (Though both of us can argue the interpretation of those respective amendments in court, should we desire.)

Permissiveness RULES!!

Steve Salerno said...

Stever, now let's back up a bit here. Having never been part of the gay community, and thus having never had access to its singular rhythms, I would not presume to post MY feelings on what motivated gay sex or gay behavior as a whole. So the "analysis" of gay culture is not my own. It happens to be the analysis of one Randy Shilts, who was (a) not only gay--which doesn't mean anything in and of itself, necessarily, but also (b) widely acknowledged and acclaimed as the foremost chronicler of the gay community and its ethos at the dawn of AIDS. His book, "And the Band Played On," is cited not just as an enviable work of journalism, but as perhaps the most exhaustive social history of that turbulent period that exists anywhere. And I don't think I'm unfairly summarizing Shilts' take on gay life.

As for teens and "responsible sex," the problem, I think, is that the phrase in quotes may be an oxymoron. I'm not sure that teens can have responsible sex, just as I'm not sure that teens (males in particular) can drive responsibly. My stance isn't just some puritanical rant, either, but is motivated by questions about whether teenagers are emotionally ready for sex, and whether having sex when you're not emotionally ready taints one's appreciation of sex (and, more important, loving intimacy) forevermore. Do you not see any merit to those concerns?

RevRon's Rants said...

Stever, I can't take issue with anything you've said. I would, however offer a qualifier to your "Permissiveness RULES!!" statement. That permissiveness needs to be balanced by common sense (the pragmatism I mentioned earlier). Problem is, it is too often constrained by very subjective ideological mores, and common sense be damned. That's why an individual who gets drunk and kills someone with their car will frequently serve less time than an 18-year old who is caught with a couple ounces of marijuana or - God forbid - has sex with his 16-year old girlfriend (or even more shocking, his 16-year old boyfriend).

RevRon's Rants said...

"I'm not sure that teens can have responsible sex..."

Yet the insistence from some that teenage sex be regulated by government is a clear statement that those teens are incapable of acting responsibly. It is also an indictment of parents' abdication of their responsibility to instill responsible attitudes in their children. Having abdicated those responsibilities, parents' last resort is to insist that "somebody" impose control, a doomed effort from the get-go.

RevRon's Rants said...

"questions about whether teenagers are emotionally ready for sex, and whether having sex when you're not emotionally ready taints one's appreciation of sex ..."

Replacing the obsession with sex with a feeling of shame for having that obsession is hardly a recipe for healthy emotional development. It's superimposing one obsession upon another. Better, I would think, to guide gently but firmly, and to not make such a production out of the inevitable mistakes.

Leonard Cohen once said (and I'm paraphrasing) that "sex without God is pornography, and God without sex is piety." Somewhere in the gray area between these extremes is a healthy and joyful state. As always, balance...

SL said...

Hmm. Steve, are you conflating disincentivization with punishment? I don't believe there is necessarily a continuous spectrum from fines to executions.

Also, the thing with safety nets is that they are often justified as lowering assorted, affiliated costs, social and otherwise: eg. preventing a drunk driver from suffering serious injury in a crash saves hospitals' and emergency services' resources. Abortion prevents children being born to ill-equipped teen parents. Not saying I agree, but the safety net question is not simple.

Oh, and Ron, I love Leonard Cohen, thank you for the quote. I am so bummed that I missed the chance to by a ticket to his show in NYC.

Anonymous said...

I think you guys are missing something of importance on the teenage pregnancy discussion which is that most teenage mothers are born to teenage mothers and will give birth to teenage parents.

Its a vicious cycle that needs to be broken and it certainly won't be done by these particular parents. They are the ones who need social workers and governmental input which leads to policies etc

Londoner

Stever Robbins said...

Steve, Randy Shilts is from an older generation I, so his perspective may be different. I first became aware of gay culture in the early 80s (the year AIDS was discovered), so while I was present for the transition, I wasn't steeped in pre-transition levels of promiscuity, etc.

I find the whole phrase "responsible sex" to be utterly incomprehensible. I know many adults who engage in what I would consider irresponsible sex, and then spend twenty years as irresponsible parents.

If we inform kids about birth control, sexually transmitted diseases, and the emotional ramifications of sex and how sex can confuse emotions w/ physical desire, etc., then they will be able to have responsible sex.

Otherwise, like humans learning any new activity, they will have to learn how to do the activity through trial and error. Which will, by definition, start with lots of mistakes and look irresponsible from the outside.

I'm further concerned about who gets to define "responsible." I would define "responsible sex" as being related to one's ability to anticipate and choose the censequences thoughtfully.

By that definition, many adults wouldn't meet my criteria, either. A very shallow definition of responsibility like, "is over 18" or "is married" would make lots of (older) people happy, but if anyone wanted to convince me that such criteria constitute "responsibility," it would be an uphill argument.

acd said...

I like the idea of TNR. If you act like an animal, we'll treat you like one. :)

But on a more realistic note, many adults don't conduct themselves any better than teenagers. So what difference does age make? You hit a certain year, and suddenly you have a license to be promiscuous? The "do as I say, not as I do" tactic only comes across as hypocritical and asks for rebellion.

This is not so much an age issue as a maturity issue. The two do not go hand in hand. There are some 15-year-olds who are more mature and more deserving of a sex life than some 45-year-olds. Either their choices turn out to be a huge mistake and they change their ways, or it works for them and they continue their habits into adulthood. Restricting them as teens is not going to work if they're in the latter category. They will only wait until they're away from their parents to continue the behavior. (That's what college is for.) And having unwanted pregnancies and STDs and other repercussions aren't suddenly more fun when you hit 20 or 30.

It's not always the parents' fault if they raise a womanizer or a tramp. You hope, for the kid's sake, that they can discover the beauty and sanctity of the act and understand the advantages of restraint. You do the best you can, and if it doesn't work, then they're just not at that level where they can comprehend. Maybe it takes them 30 years to get there; maybe they never do. It can be like trying to teach astrophysics to someone with an IQ of 65. They just don't get it.

There is a spectrum of "humanness," that which separates us from the "lower" animals. It includes the ability to place value in things that other species do not and to grasp concepts that are beyond the basic biological functions of "eat, survive, and reproduce." Some people are able to do that to a higher degree than others. It is a function of genetics and environment, but certainly is independent of age.

Your PR Guy said...

I'm not sure where to stand on this issue. It would seem, by taking away the stigma of teen sex, promiscuity wouldn't be so, well, promiscuous.

The question is how do we change the culture? Plan B just doesn't seem to be a step in the right direction, but maybe commercializing "the pill" -- making it an OTC commodity in the guise of Benadryl, perhaps?

But that really doesn't change the culture, does it? Just that we'd have more acne-free, plump teen girls with a free ticked to hook-up.

Idol thought, that's all I give.

sassy sasha said...

acd, your comment is insightful and beautifully put. i just have to ask and i hope this doesn't make me the dumbest person in the room, what's "TNR"??? i went back over the blog and all the comments like 9 times and I'm going crazy trying to figure it out!!

Dimension Skipper said...

Sasha, I wondered the same thing about TNR and, being habitually clueless, it happens to me a lot with various acronyms. (I have a friend who often makes up his own.)

Anyway, I usually have to resort to looking'em up. Here are some acronym sites to try...

All AcronymsAcronym FinderThe Free Dictionary Acronyms pageThe first one doesn't appear to be as comprehensive as the last two, but I haven't done a lot of testing.

So... TNR? I'm guessing "The New Republic."

Dimension Skipper said...

Or TNR could be either "Trap, Neauter and Return" or "Trap, Neuter and Release" given the animal context acd referenced...

So I'm still not sure. In fact those now seem more likely to me to be the intended meaning.

Steve Salerno said...

Huh. I thought it was Taser, Numb and Ravage....

Dimension Skipper said...

I swear those three links to acronym lookerupper sites I provided were not all run together when I did the comment. I have no idea what happened except I noticed some similar minor oddness when commenting on another blog this morning. I wonder if blogger.com is having some HTML formatting translation issues...

Oh well. Despite the oddness of how they appear, it looks like the links should still work.

And yeah... taser, numb and ravage works too, Steve.

;-)

acd said...

Sorry to be obscure. I was referring to "trap, neuter, return," which is a commonly used technique to control feral cat populations.

Jenny said...

Something Stever said caught my attention today:

I would define "responsible sex" as being related to one's ability to anticipate and choose the censequences thoughtfully.That is an interesting way of putting it. I guess when we choose any action, we are also choosing the potential consequences of it. So, while we don't actually directly "choose" consequences but rather the action (or lack of action) that precedes them, indirectly we do choose the consequences, too.

Steve Salerno said...

Jenny: Thanks for weighing in.

The line of reasoning you cite is also, of course, the rationale behind drunk-driving laws: When you choose to have that extra drink, you're also, by definition, choosing to assume liability for any misfortune that happens as a result. At least in the eyes of the law. And interestingly enough, if you follow that logic to its end-point, it even means that you are assuming liability for any misfortune that may occur if you so much as choose to have anything to drink--especially if we assume the truth of that old cautionary aphorism, "First the man takes a drink, then the drink takes a drink, then the drink takes the man."

It applies equally to women, of course. :)