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by Lynn E. Ponton
Review by Christian Perring, Ph.D. on Feb 13th 2002
The rather sensationalist title of
this book might mislead potential readers; this is not an exposé of all the
shocking sex acts that teens perform at ever-decreasing ages, or a blow-by-blow
account of what goes on at debauched parties.
Instead, it is a collection of cases by a child psychiatrist, dealing
with the emotional issues teenagers face concerning sexuality. Lynn Ponton, also author of The
Romance of Risk: Why Teenagers Do The Things They Do, discusses her
experience in helping teens work through a wide range of issues, including
reputations, menstruation, fantasies, masturbation, pornography, the decision
to have sex, sexual orientation, pregnancy, HIV, rape, and their parents sex
Ponton practices in San Francisco,
and her attitudes are liberal. She is
non-judgmental about the sexual choices of teens in the sense that she does not
automatically condemn young teens having sex, homosexuality, or the frank
discussion of sex. But she is
judgmental in the sense that she thinks that there are productive and
unproductive ways to deal with sexuality and make important choices, and her
aim is to help teens and their parents to sort through issues. As one would hope, she gives the impression
of being a wise and caring therapist.
She manages to connect with the young people and parents who come into
her office individually and in groups, and she helps them through getting them
to express their feelings and talk openly with each other. Ponton does not ally herself with any
particular theory of psychotherapy; most of her cases seem to depend largely on
clearing up misconceptions about sex and sexuality, ending miscommunication
between family members, and helping people deal with the stigma attached by
society to their choices or mistakes.
Much of this should be common sense, but unfortunately emotions run very
high when it comes to sex, and parents often find themselves wanting to control
their children, yet unable to do so. In
many of these cases, Ponton has to help parents learn to trust their children
and be available to help rather then judge them.
The Sex Lives of Teenagers
could be helpful to both teenagers and parents if they have emotional problems
connected with sexuality. This is not a
self-help manual, and so there are no instructions about how to sort out sex
problems, but it is likely that most readers will be able to find someone to identify
with in one or more of the cases collected here. Seeing how the teens in these stories come to terms with their
troubles and sort through them can be helpful to readers grappling with their
own problems. Even though it may seem
obvious that family members need to talk with each other if they are going to
make progress, and that ignoring problems does not make them go away, most of
us need constant reminder of this when it comes to our own lives, especially
when we are embarrassed by the very personal issues of sexual feelings and
Those who are looking for a deeper
analysis of the social issues of trends in teenage sexual behavior may find
Pontons discussion on the light side; she does not address how other
therapists might try different ways of dealing with similar problems, and she
does not say much about social policy.
But Ponton writes well, filling her cases with conversations between
herself and her clients, and the book is an easy read. I would recommend it to parents, teens, and
anyone interested in the ways that we deal with sexuality in society today.
© 2002 Christian Perring. First Serial Rights.
Ph.D., is Chair of the Philosophy Department at Dowling College,
Long Island. He is editor of Metapsychology Online Review.
His main research is on philosophical issues in psychiatry.
He is especially interested in exploring how philosophers can
play a greater role in public life, and he is keen to help foster
communication between philosophers, mental health professionals,
and the general public.