The Politics of Teen Sex


I’m not much of a fiction reader — I should read it more.

It’s a great escape from reality and I’m way too mired in reality — but I did pick up a new book from the library called Not My Daughter, by Barbara Delinsky. It’s no great piece of writing — in fact it’s awful — but the subject matter caught my eye. It’s about three high school seniors who make a pact to get pregnant — and are successful. It’s supposed to be a “timely” book, what with all the talk of teenage pregnancy going on. However, it’s also telling about the nature of the American family. Because it’s one thing to accidentally get pregnant like Bristol Palin — this can happen to even the nicest of girls — but to purposefully get pregnant means something has gone terribly wrong.

I’ve seen a lot in the past 20 years. I have two children — 7 and 10 — and I spent my twenties with the young people of America. As a middle school teacher, you learn a lot about kids and sex — and this much I can tell you: Barbara Delinsky could have done a lot with this subject in terms of educating people about where we’ve gone wrong in this country. I don’t know what the author’s politics are, but her characters are decidedly progressive in their lifestyles and approach to teen sex — and this is not an attitude we need to perpetuate.

I’ve taken some heat for writing about teen sex because I don’t take the standard, politically correct approach to the issue. (No surprise there.) Safe sex is touted in the media as the best approach to teen sex, while abstinence programs are dismissed as wishful thinking by a bunch of clueless conservatives. The thinking of progressives goes something like this: Kids are going to be kids; and if parents try to tell them what to do, they’ll do the opposite. So you might as well hand your sons a condom and make sure your daughters are on birth control.

This comes through Delinsky’s book loud and clear. Not only is the mother of the main character a single mom — which is representative of reality since girls without fathers are more likely to become sexually active — in a conversation with a friend in which she’s trying to figure out how this could have happened, she says, “I taught Lily all the right things.”

And therein lies the debate. Just what are the right things to teach our teens when it comes to sex? Like countless other misguided parents in America, the mother in this book taught her daughter (ironically, which underscores the theme of the book) how to be sexually responsible. She provides birth control; she fights the school board to open a clinic at the school where she’s a principal so kids can get what they need without consulting their parents; and she lauds safe sex as the answer. She essentially teaches her daughter about sex the way parents in America are supposed to: by telling their children that their bodies are theirs to do as they see fit — but just to be careful.

Of course our children’s bodies are theirs; that isn’t the point. The point is that most children this age — and yes, they’re still children, even though they look like young adults — do not have the necessary tools that are needed for sex. Dr. Miriam Grossman — author of Unprotected and You’re Teaching My Child What?, two must-read books if you’re a parent — is the only politically incorrect author on this subject to date.

“We have a wealth of new science that’s omitted from sex ed. In the past decade our understanding of the teen brain, and how it reasons and makes decisions during moments of high stimulation has grown tremendously. We didn’t know until recently that the brain area that is responsible for making rational decisions, the area that considers the pros and cons and consequences of decisions, is immature in teens. The circuits aren’t complete; the wiring is unfinished. Sex educators insist that, like adults, teens are capable of making responsible decisions, they just lack information about sexuality and access to contraceptives.We have a wealth of new science that’s omitted from sex ed.”

In addition, Grossman points out — and I can vouch for this — that children are not helpless in the face of human desire. They are capable of saying no, but when you hand them birth control you send a mixed message. You’re telling them that you expect them to “mess up,” so to speak. It’s like saying to someone, “I don’t want you to kill this person, but in case you do here’s a gun.”

The fact is, teens will listen to their parents’ advice if the relationship is a strong one, if parents are physically and emotionally available. Teens don’t want their parents to hand them a loaded gun; they want their parents to expect them not to engage in casual sex. This doesn’t mean that if parents take this approach their children will necessarily comply — though most will — but that’s no reason to lower the bar.

Suzanne Venker is an author, blogger, and former teacher. You can read more of her work at No Bull Mom and Right Pundits.