With this ring, you'll have sex

Karol Collymore

I had a friend on my high school volleyball team who after the summer between our junior and senior year, came to practice with a silver band on her left ring finger. We'll call her Monica. I asked Monica if she had a new boyfriend or something else juicy that I had missed in the time I hadn't seen her. No, she said. Monica's dad had given her this ring. The ring meant she would save her virginity for her husband and they had a whole ceremony. I was kind of creeped out that she had even discussed virginity with her dad, much less accepted his strange non-wedding wedding band. Why did Monica need a ring, I thought? All she needed was comprehensive sex education; mine specifically.

In Catholic school, I saw all manner of sexually transmitted disease, pregnancies, births and other things a 12 year old's eyes shouldn't have seen via slide show. That scarred me for life - I'm not kidding. Ask me about it, I'll share my permanent damage. My teacher - a former nun - talked to us about sex and at the same time made it clear we would burn in H-E-double hockey sticks if we tried it. Heck, we'd burn if we even thought it. In an ironic twist, two of her three daughters got pregnant in high school; the Catholic high school.

In 9th grade, I received the complete sex education course including information on the Pill, condoms and other strange - at the time - forms of birth control. Between the two tactics the fear of God, pregancy and crabs were firmly instilled in my young brain.

So imagine my surprise when the country got a huge newflash this morning: teens who take abstinence pledges still have sex and even more surprising, don't usually use protection! From the Washington Post:

The new analysis of data from a large federal survey found that more than half of youths became sexually active before marriage regardless of whether they had taken a "virginity pledge," but that the percentage who took precautions against pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases was 10 points lower for pledgers than for non-pledgers.

"Taking a pledge doesn't seem to make any difference at all in any sexual behavior," said Janet E. Rosenbaum of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, whose report appears in the January issue of the journal Pediatrics. "But it does seem to make a difference in condom use and other forms of birth control that is quite striking."

I survived my teen years without any gifts that keep on giving. I don't know if Monica made it to her wedding day a virgin, but she didn't get pregnant before graduation. All the other kids I noticed with "the rings" got married about five seconds after they turned about 20.

I'm grateful for the education I got in school, but I am nervous for the kids who've grown up under abstinence-only training. Not only are they breaking their pledge (surprise!) but they have no idea how to protect themselves when it comes time for the main event. I'm glad President-elect Obama has committed to bringing back comprehensive sex education. In the meantime, skip the rings and talk to your kids. It's better than being "Grandpa" at 45.

Comments

  • mp97303 (unverified)
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    Great post. My sex education was when HIV/AIDS was just hitting the MSM. It went something like this: have sex.........and DIE. Worked pretty good for awhile.

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    How about Grandma at 44 like Sarah Palin became today? yeah. Just three years older than me -- an out of control youth who nonetheless got comprehensive sex education and has two young children, in wedlock, all nice and tidy, settled down and focused on her children's happiness, health, education and such forth. The way of the devil, I know, I know. Blame it on the comprehensive sex education.

  • Bill R. (unverified)
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    H-E - Double Hockey Sticks... Love it, Karol! I'm a product of Catholic School and seminary from another era, 50s and 60s). Heck, back then it was H-E- Double Hockey Sticks for masturbation even...... didn't work then either.....

    Reminds me of a good Catholic joke we used to tell in former times... a young man goes to confession and tells the priest, " I had impure thoughts... five hundred times.." The priest says, "Did you entertain them?" The young man says.. " No, they entertained me!"

    ( In case you don't get the joke, having sexual thoughts is not sinful unless you deliberately entertain them, that is, willfully indulge in them. A mortal sin, I might add, worthy of eternal damnation. In other words, don't have sex, with others, with yourself, don't even think about having sex, or you are toast!)

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    It's no surprise that those who take the pledge have higher levels of disease, not using protection, etc. More often than not, these kids are taught nothing about sex ed other than abstinence. Studies have shown that they know little to nothing about protection (many have only been told they don't work), so they end up not using it or using it incorrectly.

    My school district had one of the highest per capita pregnancy rates in the state of Texas - and that doesn't include any of the staff. We had kids in Intermediate School (5th and 6th grade) having to go to the high school for parenting classes. The parenting class had children whose parents were students in school.

    When I was in junior high, our district went to an abstinence-only policy, and the state followed quickly thereafter.

    My parents taught me all about sex ed. So when I got engaged, I quickly made the trip to Planned Parenthood so I'd be prepared. I wish I could say the same about all my friends from school - most had multiple partners by the time we finished out high school and had numerous pregnancy scares and other problems.

    It was pretty funny how many people were surprised that no baby came after I got married - they were so used to young people get married because of pregnancies, not because they actually wanted to get married.

    I think encouraging abstinence is great. I'll definitely encourage it of Abby (and any other kids we end up having). But we'll also be sure to educate her all about how to protect herself once she does make the decision to have sex.

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    MP, the fear of HIV scared me so much that I thought I had it because I kissed a guy after practice one day. I knew it wasn't possible, but I was paranoid. It wore of eventually but it took YEARS.

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    Studies have shown that they know little to nothing about protection (many have only been told they don't work), so they end up not using it or using it incorrectly.

    Not only that, but they don't carry protection or even where to get it -- they've taken a pledge, after all, so why would they? And then, hormones take over and they wind up pregnant and/or diseased.

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    Kari- Exactly.

    Back home they did a study on students who had gone through school with abstinence only programs. They didn't know where to buy a condom, how to use one, where to get the pill, etc.

    Pretty much every single one of them said that condoms were completely ineffective and useless.

    When given one along with a banana, they had no concept of how to use one. They typically did get it on, but incorrectly so that you'd end up with slippage or breakage.

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    The New Yorker had an excellent piece on a similar theme in November. Essentially, the article delves into how and why conservative, evangelical teens have sex at far younger ages--and use birth control less--than their urban, more liberal counterparts.

  • murphy (unverified)
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    I’m not sure precisely what it is, but there’s something creepy about fathers giving their daughters rings and then getting them to promise not to have sex until that ring is replaced by another ring. Beyond that, I assume “sex” in this case means intercourse, and does that mean everything else is, well, negotiable? Obviously some of this skepticism this is due to a dearth of mothers giving rings to their sons and making the same demands.

    Beyond the lack of success convincing little Suzy to lay off the boys, this seems to be just one more attempt to assure that women’s sexuality belongs to men, in this case fathers, to regulate and control. This is a distance relative of the dominance, albeit at a smaller scale and infinitely less toxic, that fundamentalist Islam attempts with the Burqa.

    There is nothing at all wrong with pointing our the benefits of abstinence, as long as it’s part of a completely comprehensive program (including birth control) of reproductive health, but that’s not the goal here. The aim of this program is to teach young women that their sexuality is not their own -- it is the property of men.

  • rw (unverified)
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    That's a good one, Murphy. Subtle, right on.

    Of course it is no mystery as to why these kids use no protections. At least one reason is that if it "just happened", then one can deny to oneself precogitation of the act. Likewise, if one does not carry around or possess any of the requisite items to lessen the impact of passion, one can claim to simply have suddenly, and without forethought or awareness, "snapped"...

    In this way remaining aligned with the orthodoxy under which you live as well as avoiding the really important task, taking responsibility for your choices, discerning or not. And learning from them as part of that process.

  • LeLo (unverified)
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    And then there's the whole Chastity Ball thing with fathers and daughters: super super creepy. Eeewww.

    I like to say that my Catholic high school education made me the feminist I am today: our sex education consisted of lies ("everytime you have sex you will get pregnant"). The Catholic church is incredibly out of touch with reality and truth and is now doing more harm than good, in my opinion. Let's see, this last week the pope said saving heterosexuality was the equivalent to saving the rainforests. Nice. I'm now picturing a bunch of homos stomping through the rainforests like godzilla.

  • Jason (unverified)
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    As someone who follows God (I hate using the term Christian; too many negative connotations), I agree with the "comprehensive" approach to sex education. I truly believe there is a place to teach kids the benefits of waiting (abstinence) until they're married. Having one monogamous partner helps prevent STD's, allows pregnancy to be planned, and you don't have to deal with the emotional baggage that many couples carry with them into relationships because they jumped into the sack with whomever, whenever. (I've had numerous friends who have dealt with this.)

    At the same time, I think it's naive for any parent (especially those who rear their children upon religious principles) to think their children will never have sex, especially before marriage. They are teenagers with hormones and out-of-control urges. Teenagers often don't know how to think rationally, especially if no one teaches them.

    My wife and I have two children. When they get older, we will teach them the importance and benefits of waiting. We will also tell them about the dangers of unprotected sex and the consequences they could face. While our hope would be that they wait, we realize they may choose otherwise. If, at the very least, we can give them the resources so they don't become another statistic, then great. If they choose to wait, great!

    Personally, I think abstinence only programs - with no education about condoms, STD's, pregnancy, etc. - is more of an "ungodly" approach. When religious ideas/tradition trump reality, that's when we (and our kids) get into trouble.

  • Rachel (unverified)
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    Part of the problem now days is that the public schools aren't allowed to teach about contraception. In the seventh grade when I had sex education, a girl in my class asked if we where going to talk about it and the teacher say no I'm not allowed to tell you about any kind of contraception. We have a abstinence only program. We all thought it was ass backwards, they can tell us about STD's, pregnancy, and HIV but not about a freaking condom!

    Being "45" and a grandparent is kind of normal in my family, but that's because we have hereditary problems, most can't conceive after 24-25 years old. I'm 23 and have a 4 month old, my mom is 43. I learned about sex long before my friends did, thanks to my folks, and was the one to fill in the holes for them.

  • Napolean Dynamite (unverified)
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    I don't quite understand this pledging abstinence thing.

    Don't most teenage boys already practice involuntary abstinence?

  • George Anonymuncule Seldes (unverified)
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    "Abstinence-only" is to sex-ed what leaving fractions and decimals out would be to math education.

  • ElGordo (unverified)
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    Are there statistics available on divorce rates for people who have taken this pledge? It seems to me that there is much greater pressure to rush into marriage if that's the only way you're ever going to get laid. This may lead to some serious compatibility issues that couples may not realize during an abbreviated, rushed courtship. Like Karol, I have a number of high school friends who got married at a very young age, and many of their relationships aren't exactly thriving. But that's just anecdotal evidence. Anyone know of any studies?

  • Marshall Collins (unverified)
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    I just read something similar from the Bradly Hasbro Children’s Research Foundation. This is a bit graphic… Apparently as a result of abstinence only education more and more heterosexual teens are having anal sex as a way to “preserve their virginity, avoid pregnanacy, and avoid disease”. Even more shocking is that many teens thought that you could not get STD’s from the “big A” and were for the most part doing it unprotected and adding to the rising number of teenagers who have or have had an STD. The same report also found that since homosexuality is completely eliminated from the program (when I was in highschool they at least did their pesentation in a gender neutral way) they are not only sending the gay kids out there under informed but also further alienated from thiere students. This along with a myriad of other factors leads to gay kids having hetero sex under mental and emtional duress. Doing because you want to be “normal”. It’s extremely common for gay kids (Iwas one of them and I have very few friends that haven’t had het-sex). Not only is sex under duress more likely to lead to having riskier sex but coupled with a piss poor education prgram over the last 5 years there has been a huge spike in gay teen pregnancy. How F’ed up is that?! A policy so terrible that it has straight kids catching diseases from anal sex and gay kids becoming teen parents.

  • Bill R. (unverified)
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    The "creepy" thing that people refer to here is about the role of the father as guardian of the daughter's virginity. But this is classic patriarchy. In patriarchy the father owns the bodies of the females in the family. The father is the one who must give approval to a marriage, and therefore to intercourse. The father is the one who "gives away" the bride. We've been slowly getting away from that in Western societies but it's slow to die. And in the fundamentalist Christian and Mormon family structure there is a conscious attempt to return to patriarchy.

    Admittedly as a father who raised a daughter who is now a married 33 year old adult, I saw myself as a protector of my daughter when she was growing up from any boy who had sexual designs on her, and that is appropriate. I knew at a certain age it would be her own judgment and choices that would prevail. And at her wedding both her parents accompanied her down the aisle.

    As for boys our culture continues to expect them to act irresponsibly and congratulates them for predatory behavior.

  • Zarathustra (unverified)
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    The Catholic Church knows the harm it is causing. That's why they do it. Conform to our behavioral dictates or suffer. They want to be able to say, "see she had sex and look at the carnage in her life". "The wages of sin are death". There is no random event. HIV/Aids cannot be a random. They believe that every instance is a verdict from God. When you use a condom, you deflect God's will.

    I remember an Irish priest in a small rural parish. His sister was the principal at the grade school, and he was best friends with the bishop (and a monsignor), so he was pretty much a law unto himself. He had two major talks he would give, one to high school freshman, the other to their parents. He would tell the freshman about a couple, very loving, that had decided that to have sex, as they would no doubt get married. After their first time, they were coming home, and, through no fault of their own, were hit by a drunk driver, running a light. The girl was killed outright, and the monsignor related that the boy just sat there sobbing for hours, exclaiming, "I sent her to hell". "And he did. No reprieve.", he would add, with all those Irish, smug, "hmrumpfs" and long pauses with eye contact added for emphasis.

    He would point out to the parents that it was a rural area and that he had gout. If they were near death, he would have to boogie to make sure he got to their death bed promptly for extreme unction (sacrament of the sick; forgives all sins). Thing is, he would remember their level of tithing and how their kids are with sex and, well, that might affect the speed at which he showed up.

    When the child abuse scandal broke my main thought was that if you allow conscious abuse I described, and regard it as a mainstream, acceptable religion, you should not be surprised to find out the rest. That said, it's worth noting that you will find these behaviors much less prevalent in the Orders. An old bachelor living alone does not have the social controls that happen naturally when you are living in a community of peers. Anyone that gets too full of himself in a Franciscan friary gets cut down to size directly, unlike a rural monsignor.

    ---end of relevance, another Catholic joke (long) to follow (relevant to post, though and how often...)----

    So the confirmation class is being trained by their teacher, a nun. For those that don't know, Confirmation is a sacrament conferred by the bishop of a diocese on "of age" Catholics to formally accept their infant baptismal vows. A favorite line afterwards- you're usually like 8- is "now you're ready to die for your faith". Anyway, the bishop typically asks questions to see if they've been prepared. It's a song and dance. Still, the nuns want to look good. So this class' teacher talked to a friend in another parish and found out that the bishop always asked the same three questions. Good, she thought, I'll teach to the test.

    The bishop always asked, "what's the hat the bishop wears called, what's the staff he carries called, and what's the cross he wears called". For weeks she drilled them, "mitre, crosier and pectoral cross, respectively". Finally, the big day came. First question, "what's the pointed hat on my head called"? Eager hands shot up and of course the lucky child got to respond that it was a mitre. Same with the crosier, and the bishop was getting suspicious. Finally, he asked his last question, "what is a monsignor"? He called on an eager respondent. "I know", said the kid, "that's the big cross around the bishop's neck"!

    They're a pain on everyone's neck, along with the other "honorary titles", cardinal and Pope. While I certainly agree with all the comments about the ring thing being creepy and grotesque, maybe one glimmer of hope is that it signals a beginning to the end of the fetishiziing of childhood innocence that started with the Victorians.

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    Why don't we just tell the kids "DON'T LOOK AT THE ELEPHANT" and be done with it? I'm sure they won't look at the elephant.

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    Another piece of this is the parental responsiblity. My parents weren't ragingly open about sex. My mom gave me a book when I was five and we never, ever, ever discussed the subject again. Even when she noticed a precription for the Pill on my fridge when I was 23, she raised an eyebrow and that was it. Her mouth never moved.

    I may just have been saved by the former nun and the 9th grade teacher. The Catholic damage is fixable I hope, but pregnancy or STDs would have been a terrible fate.

  • rw (unverified)
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    I feel really sorry for Catholic folks, especially the Recovering kind. It must be harder than the stupid scattershot mis-messaging the rest of us get. Yuck.

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    I grew up in the 50's and got the "sex will lead to disease so don't do it" lectures at school. This was pre-AIDs, but syphillis still had a pretty bad rap. "Your manhood will rot and fall off". So this was a version of the abstinence only approach except that all the boys knew about condoms since we saw them used and discarded at "lover's lane" locations and certain girls in high school disappeared for a semester.

    It was in the army that they recognized that this didn't work and we got lots of training on the need to use condoms. The army even organized R&R's in locations that were essentially sex vacations. Not that they didn't try to scare you out of sex however. In Vietnam the big scare stories were the Viet Cong hookers who would somehow use razor blades to cut up the tools of horny GI's. The goal of course was to limit the syphillis infection rate of the soldiers. If our friend, Mr. Bush, had made it to Vietnam, or at least served on active duty, he might have received a little more training on the need for protection and been a little less rigid on the abstinence only, which of course he didn't practice.

  • Bill R. (unverified)
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    I would like to add that Roman Catholics are not a monolith, even if their institutional structure is. The Catholic laity is quite polarized along conservative and progressive lines, with many, polling suggests a majority, of lay Catholics believing in healthy sex education, legalized abortion, contraception, and acceptance of homosexuality. Progressive Catholics are on the front lines of the struggle for peace and justice, and that includes attitudes towards a healthy and safe sexuality.

  • rw (unverified)
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    Bill R, I suspected as much. However, we typically only hear from the injured. On the reservations, people were literally herded into one church or the other. Literally. They had to choose - Babdist-type or Catholic. And they were outlawed from practicing their Indian religions until the seventies.

  • mamabigdog (unverified)
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    My kids have been subjected to the abstinence-only "education" programs that are taught in public schools. The kids are supposed to get both the abstinence and the normal sex-ed back to back, but that was not the case in our school. the abstinence program was so focused on the morality play- sex is bad, sex will defile you, having sex before marriage will make you unacceptable to decent partners in the future. I could not believe the stuff my kids came home with from those "lessons". It was appalling.

    I have always been open with my kids about sex-ed. Plus, we had some very in-depth conversations about the morality of sex after those abstinence lessons. If they're old enough to ask the question, they're old enough to get a straight, age appropriate answer. I'm not stupid enough to think my teens aren't considering having sex, and I know the world won't come to an end if they do. They are protected, and know that the responsibility for their future lies in their choices today. I trust them to make the right decisions. Call me naive, but it's worked for us.

  • dld (unverified)
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    I’m not sure precisely what it is, but there’s something creepy about fathers giving their daughters rings and then getting them to promise

    Today when most parents think about acquiring a child they seem to care nothing for the individual, but what new possesion the parent has. I would bet my last thin dime that 50% of parents spend more time on the picking the child's name than on discussing sex ed. The less something means in this culture the more high-falutin' a name you have to give it. "Carrie" should be remade taking place at a Chastity Ball. Good example that there's as many dragon lady mothers as fathers that should have kept it in their pants and will be 70, giving sex ed. advice to a teen-aged girl.

    A lot is just how many moves you can think ahead. The people promoting this are just stupid. They can't see that it is counter productive, because they NEVER see anything but what is right in front of their face and if it makes them feel good. There was a video done in German about 1930 of a little girl and boy trying to sit down on the rock. It was supposed to show the ifference in the way a 5 year old and 7 year old thought. The 5 year old kept trying to climb up it but couldn't. The 7 year old realized that you have to face away from the rock to sit on it.

    It's another variation on everyone's spin game. Every word, every gesture, every second, has to seem to approach the goal or it is anti-goal. That's where they spend all their energy. Then, out of sight, out of mind. This is why gen X generation has decided to simply look you in the eye and lie. It works on stupid parents. All those parents see is they got the response they wanted, move on.

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    I think the reasoning is the old "good girls make mistakes; whores carry condoms" thinking. The "sin" isn't as bad if you don't plan it. It's the planning that makes it premeditated and therefore makes you a bad person. (If I had a dollar for every girl I know who came home pregnant from a revival meeting, I tell you...)

    I'm not so freaked out by the prospect of unexpectedly becoming a grandparent as am I by the thought of one of my kids dying, becoming sterile from VD or just being damned to a life with herpes because I was too squeamish to have frank talks with them.

    Talk to your children because kids are already talking to each other and most of them are pretty poorly informed. Great post, Karol.

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    Jamais Vu I have a confession to make. Even though I made it through those years, even though I worked at NARAL, even though I'm a reasonably smart 30 year old, I'm still a little afraid to buy condoms lest I look like a whore. That shit doesn't go away. A few years ago I bought some and brought them home. I had only lived here about 7 months and thought it was about time. The boy I started dating noticed them and recoiled. He said he wasn't going to be with me if I was sleeping around. He didn't get that I bought them for him. Girl with condoms; clearly sleeping around. Boy with condoms; smart and prepared.

  • Rose Wilde (unverified)
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    Oregon still funds "abstinence only" education. It is passed through Title V abstinence only education federal money, passed through DHS to school districts to implement Students Today Aren't Ready for Sex (STARS). In spite of Oregon's comprehensive sex education law, schools can only get funds to pay for he abstinence bit, and must improvise the rest.

    State level advocacy, so far, has failed to persuade Oregon legislators to pass on the abstinence only dollars, or to supplement them with funds to cover comprehensive se ed, which still teaches young people skills to refuse sex until they are ready, but includes harm reduction techniques and condom/STD prevention education.

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    Karol:

    What's even funnier is when you buy them and you have a wedding ring on. The cashier gives me a look like I'm going to be cheating on my husband. As if married couples don't want to prevent pregnancies as well.

    I've gotten to the point where I buy them online and I don't have to deal with the attitude from the cashiers.

    I can't imagine, though, buying them and having your partner not realize they're for him. Then again, the only person I've ever bought them for was for Andy, so my experience there is pretty limited.

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    I just want to say a couple of words in defense of 45-year-old grandparents.

    I'm the eldest child of two eldest children. My parents were born when their parents were in their early 20s, and my folks married and had me while they were in college, so my grandmothers were both 43 when I showed up. While my grandfathers died young, both of my grandmothers lived into their 80s, so I got to know them over the course of nearly forty years.

    And that's not such a bad thing.

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    I gave both my boys a copy of Changing Bodies, Changing Lives when they turned 13. Great book. I know I was a lot better off as a teenager with Our Bodies, Ourselves, and this book is by the same people. Nonjudgemental with, as my son put it "more than you'd ever want to know."

    A book doesn't replace frank discussions, but there are some things kids just don't want to ask about or won't talk about.

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    Yea, I had Abby the day after my mom's 46th birthday. She was the third grandchild, born almost 10 years after the first grandchild. There's a six year age gap between my sister and I, and my mom had Jessica when she was a teen.

    My mom enjoyed being a young grandma, as it meant she had a lot of energy to chase little ones around. It's also meant that the three niece/nephews on my side and Abby not only have grandparents alive, but also great-grandparents. She has all four of her grandparents as well as all four great-grandparents on my side. Recently, they had four generations on my mom's side at the house.

    It's nice to have that many generations still alive in the family.

    Fallon and Dustin (the eldest niece and nephew on my side) were even lucky enough to have a great-great grandparent alive when they were young. I have some great memories of visiting them (my great grandparents) when I was young. My great-grandfather died when I was about 12 and my great-grandmother shortly before Abby was born.

    While having children in your teens is something to be avoided, it's still plenty easy to became a grandparent in your mid 40s - many people still have their first children in their early 20s.

  • Sid Leader (unverified)
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    Well, FINALLY, a new topic of conversation at the St. Mary's Academy Father-Daughter dinner dance!

    Let's face it, the school needs a new motto.

    How about: No Glove, No Love!

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