05 August 2008

The Simplest Explanation

Late last week, I heard a followup to an earlier story, commenting on the big flap caused when a reporter revealed a trend among teenagers, namely that forgoing condoms during sex is considered a step on the commitment ladder. Adults were appalled and outraged and let NPR know. Meanwhile, the reporter said she had not expected such a sharp reaction. Now, part of me says "Come on, get real teenagers + sex = angry, angry parents and you must know that" but the other part of me can see exactly where she is coming from. I was reminded of this story again today by Feministing (includes link to original story), which offered up an odd, half-hearted explanation/endorsement "I do think this is one of those work arounds to heteronormativity."

I think both Feministing and the angry parents are missing the simple point that the NPR reporter probably got (thus her surprise). These teenagers are simply modeling adult behavior. After all, how many serious adult couples do you know that use condoms? Hormonal birth control or a vasectomy are far more effective, so the condom's only role at that point is disease prevention. And, one of the hopes in a committed, long-term relationship is that there is no outside sexual activity, so no new infections.

Don't you remember when you were a swoony teenager and thought you were with The One? Or, really, think about college. Many couples were engaged before or just after graduation, so the idea that you had found your life partner seemed even more realistic. While we can all look back now and realize that each of these relationships was just a temporary step along our road of growth and development, they didn't feel that way at the time. In fact, having been through few or no serious break-ups, don't you recall having a much stronger faith in the permanence of those early couplings?

Of course, I would warn any 15 year old I know against this plan because I know from experience that there's a high probability this relationship will end and/or someone will be unfaithful along the way. Also, teenagers have much less access to alternative forms of birth control and are fairly unlikely to be getting a full STD test battery at the start of each new relationship. But I think if we take the simple step of looking at it from their perspective, it becomes a much more manageable situation.