I'm tempted to put a "Men Only" label on this column. Or, maybe, "Fathers of Teen-Age Boys Only."
Colleague Dianne Klein devoted her Sunday column to comments from high school girls who have been sexually active. One girl sounded pressured; another sounded blase; another sounded exploited. One 17-year-old, already sexually experienced, was unhappy that her 15-year-old sister was no longer a virgin. It was a revealing and poignant column, not because of what the girls took from their sexual experience but from what they didn't take.
No bliss, no excitement, no sense of personal discovery or meaningful shared experience. They made sex sound about as fulfilling as feeding the goldfish and just about as obligatory.
The column left me muttering, initially about the girls' loss of physical and psychological innocence, but mostly about the roles of the phantoms who performed the other half of the sexual tango with them. As with a lot of things, the more I thought about it, the madder I got.
I know this isn't exactly the Age of Chivalry, but who are these boys who so routinely alter these girls' lives? What personal code of conduct are they following that leads them to have sex with 14- and 15-year-olds and then behave as if the act has no consequences?
Part of the frustration comes from knowing that these are rhetorical questions. To an extent, they're just maddened exasperated shouts into the ozone that will come back unanswered.
Why focus on the boys, you say? Consider the attendance at a local seminar held earlier this month for both boy and girl teen-agers who are either pregnant or already parents. Girls: 425. Boys: 20. The other 405 boys involved with the girls had better things to do that day.
My question is this: Fathers, what are you telling your sons about sex? Are you telling them that they just can't toy with other people's lives? Do you tell them about the personal responsibility that goes along with having sex, or are you telling them that because it feels great they ought to "go for it"?
What I really wonder is whether fathers even talk about sex anymore with their sons. Maybe the subject seems so daunting, with such overwhelming pressure on their kids to have sex, that fathers don't even address the rightness or wrongness of it. Maybe the only relevant question nowadays is whether to use a condom.
Another reason I'm laying the burden on the boys and their fathers is that I know the pressure for sex comes mostly from the boys. That isn't to absolve the girls from responsibility for their actions, nor to overlook that for many of them, sex may be the substitute for love they aren't getting at home. But I can't escape the notion that if boys acted more responsibly, the teen sex problem would become much more manageable.
And so I get back to my question which, believe me, is really a question and not an indictment: \o7 Fathers, what are you telling your sons about sex?\f7
How did we get to a point where boys so cavalierly use young girls as experiments, utterly mindless or uncaring about the consequences? Is it simply impossible for a father to explain to his son that while he'll no doubt enjoy sex, there's also a human and emotional component to it that he should consider?
Part of the answer to this is self-evident and something we can't do anything about: namely, that many of the boys don't have fathers. But not all these situations involve fatherless homes--witness the infamous "Spur Posse" revelations in which some parents refused to condemn their sons' actions and instead talked about consensual sex between a 17-year-old and a 14-year-old as as if it were the same as between adults.
I know my diatribe today is directed at the boys and that they're only part of the equation. I know many of the girls are willing partners, for varied reasons.
So, yes, I'm a little angry at my half of the species, and I'll be the first to admit this isn't a well-balanced column.
But it should bother the dads out there that too many of our teen-age boys are messing with young girls' lives in ways that will have far worse consequences for the girls than it will for the boys. Our sons aren't the ones getting disillusioned about sex; our sons aren't the ones getting pregnant and having their lives turned upside down while they're in high school.
It's time fathers started teaching the boys something about being men--lessons that don't start and end with their sexual prowess or desires, but instead talk about the value of other people's lives.