How To Stop Teens From Having Sex

It's weird reading the back and forth sparked by old colleague Ross's column on sex education and abstinence. Leaving aside what is effective and what isn't, I date back to my time as a high schooler. It's very difficult for me to imagine what an adult could have told me that would have made me not want to have sex. People tried, but it was like someone saying to me, "You really should only eat once a day and use the bathroom once a week."

Condoms were a bit different. Two of my best friends' fathers--among others I knew--died of AIDS, and by my senior year every one of my classes had a girl who either was pregnant, or already had a kid. Plus I'd been told how they treated gonorrhea, and didn't want any part. Eff the dumb shit, I was gonna strap up.  We plan to have condoms available in our home, once the boy starts smelling himself. If I had a daughter, we'd have done the same and had a conversation about birth control. That's me, I make no prescriptions for your kids and your home.

Beyond that, when I think about the girls who got pregnant back in high school, and the dudes that got them pregnant, in the main, I don't think about them needing tools for impulse control, so much as I think about them not understanding the beautiful bigness of the world, and how teen pregnancy shrinks that world. To say that they had low expectations for themselves doesn't get at it, more like, they didn't really know what was possible.

A few years back I did a talk at a college in the mountains, and I remember thinking, "Wow, I didn't know you could go to college in the mountains." It's a small thing, and I don't really know how class and wealth play into this. I do know, that when compared to people of my social class, I was much more exposed to the broader world. I think I might have had a better sense of what there was to lose, because I had a better sense of what could be gained.

I don't know about tools to encourage safe sex. Again, I suspect we're talking about something much broader.

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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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