Dr. Robert Wm. Blum was online with the Washington Post on Tuesday, May 16, at 11 a.m. ET to field questions and comments about risk and protective factors associated with sexually active teenagers. You can read the whole column here: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/discussion/2006/05/12/DI2006051201149.html One of the questions and answers is:

Cambridge, Mass.: Why is it generally assumed that it is bad for adolescents to have sex? Of course, there is the risk of STDs; but this risk can be managed, and doesn’t seem to be what really bothers people about adolescent sexuality. There is also the argument that adolescents are something like too “emotionally immature” for sexual relations; but this is a mushy argument that doesn’t explain why emotional maturity is needed, what it is, and whether or not adolescents generally, or can ever, have it. So if we leave aside the specter of STDs and avoid mushy generalities: should adolescents ever be sexually active, and, if so, under what conditions?

Dr. Robert Wm. Blum: The question is complicated since “adolescence” spans an 8 to 10 year period depending on how you define it and there is a lot of development that occurs during that time. The issues: when there is a wide difference in age between 2 adolescents (often defined as more than 3 years) it may very well be an unequal power relationship; 2. developmentally, some young adolescents may not really understand what they are consenting to when they have consensual sex. There is little data, however, that shows that young people who willingly engage in mutually consenting, non-abusive sexual relations are harmed by it.

When my younger daughter decided to “go all the way”, as we had agreed she would, she talked to me about it first. I was fixing breakfast (I can still see the setting very clearly although it was many years ago) and she walked up and said “You know how we agreed I’d tell you if I was going to have sex? Well, I’m going to.” I could not even speak, I could not even breath, I CERTAINLY could not imagine (for a moment) why I had suggested I wanted this information. We (most adults, certainly most parents of teens) have so much trouble believing teens can make responsible, healthy sexual decisions and engage in responsible, healthy sexual behavior. Why is this? How do we decide when it is okay for our kids to become fully sexual beings? I don’t know – what do you think?