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No One?

Good article, featuring a very strange incidental claim: "while no one wants teenagers engaging in sexual activity, only the pre-boomer group would deny birth control to sexually active teens." No one wants teenagers engaging in sexual activity? Then how did we wind up with all these sexually active teens? Some kind of big accident?

Not being seventeen anymore, I know longer have the sort of strong views on the desirability of seventeen year-olds having sex (at the time, IIRC, I was strongly in favor) but it does occur to me that "teenager" is a uniquely ill-conceived unit of analysis for these purposes. Thirteen and eighteen are just five years apart, but for the topic under discussion it's a pretty damn important five years.

November 26, 2004 | Permalink

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Comments

For most cultures through most of human history (including most of western, and most of Christian history), the onset of puberty was seen as more or less God's way of telling people to go have sex.

The "adolescent" is a recent western cultural fiction, created in the waning decades of the nineteenth century (largely) by educational reforms that extended the duration of basic education well into the teens, and pushed the age of marriage to eighteen and beyond. These reforms were pushed largely by industrialists who wanted good, obedient workers and consumers, and socialists who believed that further education would turn the country into a secular, socialist republic.

I'm inclined to think the industrialists got more of what they wanted than their situational allies on the left.

Americans are often surprised to learn of thirteen and fourteen year olds in the first century of the Republic getting married, starting families, exploring the country, writing books, teaching school, etc.

In any event, it is unnatural and historically unusual to expect teenagers to be celibate, and one suspects that that expectation will go the way of many stupid ideas of the later nineteenth and twentieth century.

Posted by: Robert | Nov 26, 2004 4:15:30 PM

yeah, lemme have it

Posted by: ak | Nov 26, 2004 4:17:28 PM

700 Clubish Red Staters should realize teens are going to have relations anywars so Why not just give them rubbers to prevent AIDS and pre marital births. Trying to legislate morality will just make the students rebel more

Posted by: jr | Nov 26, 2004 4:35:25 PM

Nobody wants to be on record as being in favor of teenagers having sex. And yes, "teenager" is a pretty broad group. The person who is a day away from his 20th birthday is more than 50% older than a new 13-year old.

Teenagers have been having sex, well, forever.

Posted by: Rick | Nov 26, 2004 4:37:42 PM

Rick,
I sure didn't when I was a teenager! But that wasn't by choice...
Fortunately my twenties have been more prolific.
Heh.

More substantively, modern society is so hyper-technical that fifteen-year-old uneducated parents can't really find work that supports themselves, let alone children. So unless you want to erase all the discoveries of Max Planck and Neils Bohr and so forth, teenage sex will probably continue to be a bad idea.

Unless you give kids condoms for their 13th birthdays...

Posted by: next big thing | Nov 26, 2004 4:48:43 PM

"So unless you want to erase all the discoveries of Max Planck and Neils Bohr and so forth, teenage sex will probably continue to be a bad idea."

Perhaps teenagers could be made to learn from gays. Frottage, oral, onanism, anal, salad tossing, bukkake, baseball parties etc. If only teenage breeders had sex like gays do, Planck and Bohr could remain with us. Would that be an agreeable compromise?

Perhaps we could look at the rates of teenage pregnancy by comparing states, regions ( Bible Belt versus New England ) and decades. What result does that give? Let's compare 1954 Alabama to 2004 Mass and see which society produces the least teenage pregnancies.

Posted by: WeSaferThemHealthier | Nov 26, 2004 6:02:21 PM

The Humanist magazine has an article in their current issue by one Sally Feldman titled "Why I'm Glad my daughter had underage sex" Say it on the newstand. But as the good folks at the humanist helped launch my journalistic career, thought i'd give them a plug here.

http://www.thehumanist.org/

Posted by: mark goldberg | Nov 26, 2004 6:15:58 PM

next big thing:

So unless you want to erase all the discoveries of Max Planck and Neils Bohr

I had sex as a teen and with teens. I highly recommend it, for people of a certain age. I recall the earth moving, but I didn't know it was because the foundations of Quantum Electrodynamics were being shake.

If education dictates the postponement of sex, then I guess it would be ok for future blue collar workers.

Posted by: epistemology | Nov 26, 2004 6:30:27 PM

Well, I think they meant that no one desires to have young people screwing at young ages and, while I too am young, I agree with them. Teenagers shouldn't be screwing. Babies shouldn't be having babies.

But shouldn't and don't aren't the same thing, of course. I've never met someone who thinks we should encourage teenagers to have sex. Though it would help relieve stress.

I don't disagree with the gist of the article you linked to, that the day of the Grouchy Old Pessimist (bless Adlai Stevenson) has nearly reached its last sunrise, and I don't really think teenagers want to have sex all over the place.

I think it just happens. Hormones. We're all animals, at our core. It's not something we should encourage but teenage sex is inevitable.

I won't claim to know too much on biology and human culture, as I haven't gotten too deep into it (I'm fifteen, myself) so I'll stop now.

Aside from that point that I wanted to make, I desired to ask you if you could link to my Blog on your Blogroll? I'd appreciate it muchly.

Posted by: Gregory Pratt | Nov 26, 2004 7:18:05 PM

"Nobody wants to be on record as being in favor of teenagers having sex."
I want to officially go on record here as stating that I am in favor of teenagers having sex. So there.

Posted by: John Mason | Nov 26, 2004 7:19:13 PM

Eh, I'm inclined to think that high school kids (and younger kids, needless to say) probably shouldn't be having sex, mostly because the social & emotional ramifications are a bit complicated for people whose range of nonsexual experience has been somewhat limited. Like the Chef said on South Park, "there's a time & place for everything, and that's college!"

FTR, I realize that emotional maturity isn't something that can be quantified or assumed, but my anecdotal (yes, I know) experience indicates that people who were between around 17 & 22 when they first had sex usually manage to put it in perspective pretty well, while those who were much younger or older than that seem to have the most issues later on. IMO, it's a matter of being in sync with one's peer group, because like it or not, sexual activity is inextricably linked with social interactions.

Posted by: latts | Nov 26, 2004 7:30:50 PM

"Nobody wants to be on record as being in favor of teenagers having sex."

Except the teens, of course. But then, some of my straight teenage male friends wanted to have sex with ME! I was actually more prudish than they were and would only acquiesce after relentless seduction. My own hormones were raging too, you know. Then I would fall madly in love with them while they only thought of me as a sex object. It was fun anyway. And at least they remained friends and didn't murder me. And nobody got pregnant. Hmmm...could gay sex be the answer to the teenage pregnancy problem? Straight dudes get over their experimentation phase soon enough and remain strictly heterosexual after that. And the poor gay kids, bullied and ridiculed, end up having more sex than anyone else. Good for them!

Posted by: Gabriel | Nov 26, 2004 8:43:26 PM

> For most cultures through most of human
> history (including most of western, and most
> of Christian history), the onset of puberty
> was seen as more or less God's way of
> telling people to go have sex.

Well, yes, but they were also expected to earn their own living at that point, or at least contribute substantially to their parent's living (e.g. 12 hours/day or so on the farm).

Cranky

Posted by: Cranky Observer | Nov 26, 2004 10:10:19 PM

minor point: if you read books like albion's seed you will note that average age of marriage could be pushed back as far as as 26 in new england during the pre-revolutionary days. combined with harsh laws against bastardy this might suggest that if teenagers did have sexual contact back then it was of the "non-procreative" kind.

Posted by: razib | Nov 26, 2004 11:03:48 PM

As I remember the worst thing about having sex at 13, 14 & even more so at 15 was the time between times - sometimes two or three weeks went by - that was a long long time ago but I would not want to have went thru those years without that experience -

Posted by: RAZ | Nov 26, 2004 11:29:25 PM

Well, yes, but they were also expected to earn their own living at that point, or at least contribute substantially to their parent's living (e.g. 12 hours/day or so on the farm).

Ah yes, but we also have the technology to prevent the vast majority of the pregnancies.

Teenagers are going to have sex. There is absolutely no way to stop that (at least, not within the confines of a free society). The smart parents prepare their kids for it, and make a case for why the want to wait. But ultimately, it is the choice of the teenager, and many (most) of them are not going to wait. The irony is that the ostrich approach of just pretending teenage sex is just too horrible to contemplate results in the worst possible outcome: 15 year old pregnant girls, boyfriend long gone, high school over, job prospects grim.

Playing the "nobody wants teenagers having sex" game is just a way to avoid reality. Nobody wants people getting cancer, either. Guess what? Our wishes on the matter are totally fucking irrelevant. Teenage sex happens. Our attempts at curbing it have failed. Our "let's tell the kids it is horrible" approach hasn't done anything.

So I am kind of tired of the status quo. Let's prepare the damn teenagers for the sex they are going to have any way. Let's make sure they don't get pregnant or sick.

Posted by: Timothy Klein | Nov 27, 2004 2:12:12 AM

"modern society is so hypertechnical that uneducated 15 year old parents can't find work that supports themselves, let alone children."-next big thing

so they aren't allowed to fuck because we don't want to educate them or pay them.

Posted by: Olaf glad and big | Nov 27, 2004 5:44:13 AM

US sex education is fucked up. I'm actually quite grateful for the very thorough "book learning" on the subject which I got from school here in heathen scandinavia, and comparing statistics is very enlightening. Western european style sexual education, which has a very heavy emphasis on issues like consent, condoms, the importance of foreplay, the pill, honesty in realtionships, condoms, the erogenous zones of the human male and female*, and CONDOMS. has far superior results to what the US is doing. Belgian teens for example have an average age of sexual debut two years higher than the US, 1/19 the rate of teenage preganancy per 1000 people, and 2/7 the rate of abortions per thousand people.
Yes, my friends, eliminating "abstinence only" could potentially reduce the number of US abortions to less than a third of what it is today.

*I realise this sounds a lot like they issued us the "karma sutra" as a textbook. It was a bit dryer than that, but still, it was very useful information.

Posted by: Thomas | Nov 27, 2004 5:57:17 AM

"uniquely ill-conceived..."

Nice one!

Posted by: Doug | Nov 27, 2004 8:17:39 AM

The public schools that I attended in suburban New York had extensive sex education that was very useful -- we were taught about all forms of contraception, how it occurred, myths were debunked. This was pre AIDS, so the condom was not elevated above all other contraceptive methods. It seems crazy to leave out this important component of the human body in any scientific education even if you're not doing it for public health purposes.

I won't send my children to a school that does not provide a comparable education.

Posted by: pj | Nov 27, 2004 10:02:55 AM

Kids, once they hit puberty, are biologically motivated to have sex. Period. Yeah, people talk about "self-control", but under the same banner, how much self-control do older people have when the urge hits them to pop out just one more spawn? Not much.


Posted by: Karmakin | Nov 27, 2004 11:27:59 AM

IMO, it's a matter of being in sync with one's peer group, because like it or not, sexual activity is inextricably linked with social interactions.


I *KNEW* there was some kind of a connection between my being an unpopular loner in high school and my still being a virgin at 31.

Posted by: Chet | Nov 27, 2004 2:49:30 PM

We might have an opportunity to do some attitude change here.

Make it the rule that whenever an unmarried teenage girl gets pregnant the doctor or police or whoever has to report it to the local newspaper to be published.

Then if she succeeds in getting an abortion publish that.

And every time, you can write a letter to the editor claiming that better sex education would have likely prevented it.

Nobody likes the guy who says I Told You So but eventually they might get tired enough of hearing it to be slightly less stupid.

Posted by: J Thomas | Nov 27, 2004 2:58:50 PM

What public good can come from teens having sex? There are few if any benefits to society I can think of and lots of costs (STDs, pregnancy, mental issues, suicide, abortion). Its not just a moral issue.

Also, the abstinence approach is having real benefits in reducing teen sex and pregnancy. If kids at least wait till they are out of high school, the problems for society are reduced substantially.

Posted by: Reg | Nov 27, 2004 3:16:49 PM

Reg --

"Also, the abstinence approach is having real benefits in reducing teen sex and pregnancy."

If you have any actual reliable evidence for this, I'd love to see it. Everything I've seen indicates that the opposite is true.

Ted

Posted by: Ted | Nov 27, 2004 3:55:48 PM

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