“Is Teen Sex Bad?”

Why, yes. Yes it is.

The Washington Post poses the question quoted above in what I found to be a disappointingly superficial special issue of its health section. It isn’t so much what is in the issue that bothers me. It’s what isn’t.

Reporter Elizabeth Agnvall surveys the public health data, she compares attitudes toward teen sexuality in several deveoped nations, and she provides decent tips for parents. She righfully points out that American teens receive mixed messages about sex: “No, no, no,” from many churches. “Yes, yes, yes,” or at least “Wink, wink, nudge, nudge,” from the culture at large. And she suggests, perhaps plausibly, that the resulting confusion may have something to do with the fact that while “levels of teen sexual activity look remarkably similar here and abroad,” the U. S. has among the highest rates of “teen pregnancy, childbirth, abortion and sexually transmitted diseases” among industrialized nations.

So far, so good. But there is little discussion about the emotional impact of teen sexual activity, nothing said about the effect of such activity on one’s attitudes towards one’s self, one’s partner or one’s future partners. There is no discussion of whether one can diminish or damage the gift of one’s sexuality through precocious experience. There’s also nothing that deals with moral issues of when, with whom and under what circumstances the profound, complex act of mutual self-giving –with all its generative and destructive potential–should take place.

These are not strictly health section issues, but the headline asks “Is Teen Sex Bad?” not “Is Teen Sex Healthy?” I hope the Post takes another pass at this issue, perhaps on its religion pages where the conversation might have greater depth.

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