About Me

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Australian philosopher, literary critic, legal scholar, and professional writer. Based in Newcastle, NSW. Author of FREEDOM OF RELIGION AND THE SECULAR STATE (2012), HUMANITY ENHANCED (2014), and THE MYSTERY OF MORAL AUTHORITY (2016).

Friday, May 28, 2010

Teenage births and abortions - responsibility is better than moralism

Citing a new study in The Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality, The Globe and Mail reports that Canada experienced a significant drop (36.9 per cent) in teenage births and abortions between 1996 and 2006. This is attributed to better access to contraception, better sex education, and changing social norms, but not to a decline in actual sex among teenagers. Rather, Canadian teenagers are now more likely to use condoms and/or the contraceptive pill than was the case in the mid-1990s.

I don't actually see anything terribly wrong - I mean morally wrong - with having a child when you're very young or with having an abortion. In neither case are you hurting someone else (leaving aside the very brief pain suffered by a fetus if the abortion is late enough in the pregnancy). However, having a child when you're still a teenager is highly imprudent (in modern societies where it takes so long to be qualified for most careers), and having an abortion is traumatic. It's better for teenage girls not to be confronted with the choice of either a career-stopping event or an abortion, so it's preferable if they are able to have active sex lives without getting pregnant. But for adults to insist that teenagers abstain from sex is unrealistic and in any event an outrageous demand - by what right do we tell young people who are biologically ready, and psychologically eager, for the extraordinary joys and pleasures of sex not to seek them? Why are we entitled to impose this burden on younger people with less power? (It's not as if the teenagers set things up so that early motherhood is such a career-stopper. Maybe we could do something about that.) When adults talk that way, demanding abstinence, it's pompous bullshit ... and it's no wonder that many teenagers regard it as such.

It's better and smarter if, as a society, we teach young people to have sex in ways that avoid pregnancy ... and to provide emotional and other support for those teenage girls who do nonetheless get pregnant. Moral condemnation and harsh treatment get us nowhere.

So, public policy should look kindly on teenage sex while encouraging teenagers to use the contraceptive pill, condoms, oral sex or mutual masturbation (as alternatives to vaginal sex), and whatever other practices are likely to make teenagers' sexual conduct safer and less likely to lead to pregnancy. In addition, public policy should make it easy for teenage girls to get tested for pregnancy and to obtain abortions if they so desire. We shouldn't be too solicitous of the "rights" of moralistic parents who make life hell for their children.

Above all, we should be frank about what we ask of teenagers, and should avoid loading them with moral guilt about behaviour that is very natural to them.

It seems that many people leap from the (perfectly plausible) idea that we'd like, as a society, to reduce teenage pregnancies to the (dangerous) idea that teenage sex is morally wrong. That's precisely the wrong approach. The more successful approach is to give teenagers reliable information and encourage them to think about it and use it responsibly. It seems fairly clear that unwanted outcomes (basically, teenage pregnancies) are lower in countries that take the latter path. As suggested in the article, it's actually better for societies to take a more relaxed, less moralistic, attitude to teenage sex. Paradoxical perhaps, but true.

E.g. compare the dramatic difference between the less moralistic Canada and Sweden, on one hand, with the more moralistic US and UK:

Among the four countries compared for 2006, Canada boasted the lowest teen birth and abortion rate per 1,000 women aged 15 to 19 (27.9), followed by Sweden (31.4), England/Wales (60.3), and the United States (61.2).

The policy choice is clear-cut.

51 comments:

Robert N Stephenson said...

Russell the policy choice isn't clear and I must say I do find it interesting how many times you said 'should' in this piece:

Whose rules are you applying here and what does 'should' actually mean? Are you somehow imposing a secret set of rules only known to you. That is what 'should' does. This particular word has been scientifically connected with anger and of course the more it is used in succession the higher the anger level. The research papers on this were in the book oughta, gotta, shoulda.

Now, as to the argument, you speak as if morals do not count for anything and yet elsewhere you are arguing for scientifically based morals... what are you selling to people Russ. Sometimes, and in this instance, it sounds like a 'my morals are better than yours so listen up'

I have dealt with teenage pregnancies, and I have see and been with women who have made abortion decisions and in all those cases the questions of morality came up for the mother herself, and it their right to make their own moral choices, despite what you may think of morality.

Teenage sex is interesting right up until you are a parent having to educate your daughter about the risks. Do you have a teenage daughter Russell? It is an honest question and not one to put you in an awkward position - I don't know a huge amount about you in a personal sense. I do have a daughter and it is all about creating a set of moral values that keep her safe through life and not just a point in time.

How can you in one way say Religion is wrong with its moral ethics and then a few days later essentially turn your back on things that may require guidance as if it were little more than a social experiment.

Responsibility is a part of a moral position by the individual; the teenager is responsible for their own outcomes and the views they have for the future. You cannot blame parents here, or you could, but it is quite unfair to blame parents for wanting the best for their daughters - even when they choose to abort or keep children their parents still love them, support them and help them through life.

This could have been better said Russell, but instead you have run with a line I do hope you one day move away from

Robert N Stephenson said...

Sorry if this sounds harsh, mate but you wouldn't believe the rubbish I have had to deal with on both sides of this issue over the years.

Russell Blackford said...

"Should" means the same as "ought". I.e., if we desire to achieve X and action Y is most likely to achieve it, then we "should" or "ought" to undertake action Y. It's a normative requirement of practical rationality.

Of course we may sometimes say that somebody who is practically rational is also acting immorally - if we condemn her goal. If Hitler's goal was to exterminate the Jews, then as a matter of practical rationality perhaps he should have done exactly what he did: i.e., used extermination camps. But we don't endorse his goal. In fact, we all look on that goal with anger and repugnance.

However, if our goal here, as a society, is to reduce teenage pregnancies, then as a matter of practical rationality we should do whatever is most likely to achieve that goal. What's more, since it's a goal that we endorse - not like exterminating the Jews - there's no moral criticism available (other things being equal of course - I realise that there are potential complications, e.g. the means used may be horrible, or there may be some side effect that we don't desire, but it's hard to see what horrible means or side effects apply in this case).

That's the answer to your question, Rob. And nothing you've said convinces me in the slightest on the substantive issue. Quite the opposite.

Look, I have to be honest. What you say sounds counterproductive and destructive of human happiness. The data strongly suggest that less moralistic policy approaches will be more successful in what we ultimately want, i.e. fewer teenage lives ruined. Why adopt policies that go against the data?

I have a policy of my own about people who say, "Your life experience makes you epistemically unqualified to discusss this issue." Or, "My life experience trumps yours on this." I don't put much stock in that kind of argument. Sometimes it may have a grain of merit (I do think that my personal experiences have given me some interesting data points and taught me some unusual things), but you can't rely on it too much and it's better not to be too aggressive about it. Indeed the people who claim to be more epistemically qualified from their life experience are often in a position where their perceptions are distorted by emotion. They're too close to the issue. That may be a reason to be understanding towards them, and to treat them kindly, but it's not a reason to think they're correct.

But for what it's worth I've had plenty of experience in my life with harsh, moralistic parents ruining their kids' happiness, and with kids turning out well when not treated like that. But these are isolated data points: in formulating public policy, I'd really rather trust the sociological data than play a game of "my life experience trumps your life experience".

a work in progress said...

Hi Russell,

I was at your talk at Embiggen the other day...very interesting!

'the people who claim to be more epistemically qualified from their life experience are often in a position where their perceptions are distorted by emotion' This seems true enough, but isn't it also true of everyone to some degree or other? Is a consciousness of one's own bias (for want of a better word) and a desire for impartiality enough?

I am studying Philosophy as an undergraduate (with OUA and hopefully from next semester with UQ) and have an interest in ethics.

I am interested in your opinion as to how one goes about removing (as far as possible) one's preconceptions/emotions on a subject such as this when it comes to policy.

Whilst I agree that moralistic attitudes towards teenage sex are ultimately destructive in that they provoke the rebellion they strive to quash, I feel that to "look kindly" upon the issue is to swing the pendulum too far in the other direction. Acceptance is not the same as endorsement, which is what "kindly" suggests to me.

Kind regards
AWIP

NewEnglandBob said...

Russel is right on point on this. The numbers prove him correct. Sex is not bad, no matter what religious pompous assholes spout to the contrary.

Robert N Stephenson said...

Hi Russell, moral based policy has never worked and I agree with you there, but do some research on should. It is not a rational standpoint at all and has not really been acceptable as one since about the early 90s I think.

It might work for you, but it is not a rational standpoint not matter how you cage the position. But that is neither here not there, I did do a 20 week course on that particular word and its derivatives some years back - and there was extensive research done on this in the USA - the power of language is greater than you may realize sometimes.

Of course I can be quite aggressive - sorry, but I did grow up on the streets and some of this annoying trait still gets in the way. I am getting better at dealing with the pinch in the neck, but I am not always cognizant of it when it come on.

At present many of the really troubled moral dilemmas are being picked up by Church groups. Australian churches do do a good job of picking up so pretty messy pieces and that has nothing to do with policy. On the most part these groups have no moral position of the situation the teenage girl finds her self in; they can't. SOme groups are a bit nasty though (right to life groups especially)but again it isn't a policy.

Now when you say policy, I don't think Australian laws follow any moral code based on religious connections. Welfare and care centres operate freely under government control, and these use offered church resources to boost their care programs.

So, what policy choice is clear here? We have laws about age of consent but we do not have laws dictating what happens to a teenager after age of consent. Unless you are trying to advocate government control of households and parental guidance... you see I can't agree with that. Not because of any religious standpoint but because it infringes on the rights of all Australians, it goes against the freedoms we are granted by living in this country.

While I agree with you Russell on the nature of teenage sex and pregnancy I am cautious over the other suggestion

Rupert said...

Russell, a beautiful, well written and rational piece.
Why oh why do so many people find it so hard the accept the truths and realities you mention. They will scurry away to find every reference, anecdote and biblical quotation they can in a vain attempt to pervert the truth.
I really believe these people carry so much guilt, envy and bitterness they can't stand to see others lead lives of happiness and tranquility.

Robert N Stephenson said...

Russel is right on point on this. The numbers prove him correct. Sex is not bad, no matter what religious pompous assholes spout to the contrary.

This comment suggest that you are right and everyone else is wrong, and of course if they are wrong then they must be religious. Not very reasonable, but perhaps pompous in itself.

Russell states the policy is clear - the policy being?

Stalinism applied many secular undertakings in Russia, yet the general moral position on sex and sexuality remained unchanged - even today.

I like to view the world through social justice eyes rather than any other form of justice, but thinking like machines may not be the answer here - the suggestion, though unstated can appear to be to go against freedom.

Parents have the right to bring up their children the best way they can, but it is evident this does not meet with some policy -

be clear. One things I am always is very clear on what I am saying, rightly or wrongly - and I do accept I can be wrong (well mostly that is)

Robert N Stephenson said...

Well, at least I wasn't, well unreasonable

Russell Blackford said...

AWIP, I don't think there's a magic trick. But the one thing that I do advise philosophy students, whenever I get a chance, is something that I don't practise all that much myself on my blog - e.g. I can't claim to have done it in the original post. Still, I probably show more signs of it than most bloggers, and I definitely did it when planning and writing philosophy essays.

In fact, I still do it reflexively when I'm thinking through an issue. It's just this: try to work out the strongest argument for the case that you oppose. And then ask why you still think what you started out thinking, if that's indeed the case. You should be open to changing your mind, and sometimes you actually will change it ... but even if you don't you'll end up addressing contrary arguments at their strongest. That's how progress is made in philosophy; and pragmatically, it's certainly something that philosophy teachers tend to look for.

NewEnglandBob said...

"This comment suggest that you are right and everyone else is wrong, and of course if they are wrong then they must be religious. Not very reasonable, but perhaps pompous in itself."

No, yo clearly do not understand the words I wrote. The numbers (data) shows he is correct.

"Russell states the policy is clear - the policy being?"

Read his article. It is in there. The countries he used as examples.

"Stalinism applied many secular undertakings in Russia, yet the general moral position on sex and sexuality remained unchanged - even today."

This statement is irrelevant. Stalin was a totalitarianism tyrant who did not "The more successful approach is to give teenagers reliable information and encourage them to think about it and use it responsibly." Your example is specious.

Did you even read the same article I read above? Seems like you did not.

Colin said...

@RNS: "This comment suggest that you are right and everyone else is wrong"

Well, certainly not everyone else, as many people agree with him. But even if so - so what? When you argue with someone, isn't it because you think you're right and s/he is wrong? Arrogance, I'd say, lies in being so certain of my own position that I refuse to listen to anyone else's perspective - not merely in believing that I'm right. I don't, after all, pull my opinions from a lucky bag.

"you speak as if morals do not count for anything"

Strange comment. I thought Russell's piece was very moral, albeit that the moral assumptions underpinning it (as I understood it, a largely utilitarian concern with promoting pleasant experiences and minimising suffering) would not be to everyone's taste.

Moral decision-making also requires engagement with evidence; pursuing a course of action that will lead to bad outcomes is a poor moral choice, if the relevant information was available but ignored. Or to put it another way, wilful ignorance is no excuse.

'I do have a daughter and it is all about creating a set of moral values that keep her safe through life'

With respect, Robert, your 'job' is not to keep her safe through life, is it? No parent can do that, and I'm not even sure they should try (though it may be emotionally hard not to).

Surely, a parent's role is to keep their kids safe through childhood, but also to equip them with the relevant tools to function thereafter, as an adult in a more-or-less unsafe world; to make their own choices, informed by relevant evidence, and put them into effect.

Joel Feinberg wrote about a child's right to an open future, which involves keeping open as many life paths as possible until the child is old enough to choose for him/herself. That could reasonably involve steering her away from very early pregnancy (one option closed, but many, many others kept open), but not at the expense of keeping her in ignorance about her own body, or stuffing her full of puritan taboos that will risk ruining what should, in time, be a wonderfully enriching series of life experiences.

(For the record, I'm not suggesting that you do either of those things, but there are those who do!)

Brian said...

It's just this: try to work out the strongest argument for the case that you oppose.

Principle of charity.

steve oberski said...

Australian churches do do a good job of picking up so pretty messy pieces and that has nothing to do with policy. On the most part these groups have no moral position of the situation the teenage girl finds her self in

By definition this can not be true, a (xtian I assume) church will view morality through the lens of a bronze age mythology fabricated by nomadic goat herders who didn't even understand germ theory.

Of course they have a moral position, their dogma is quite explicit about pre-marital sex, and even more explicit about the less than fully human status of women, and very nasty it is indeed.

Robert N Stephenson said...

Steve - I think you may not know enough about how Church based support services work and you are applying your own ant-church theology to this group.

The individuals in this organizations will view morality through whatever lens is theirs to view through, but as an organization the lens changes to that of help, support and nurture and it has been this way for a long time now.

It is often interesting to note that if these church organizations did not prop up government bodies what would happen -- sorry to say that you positions of anti would be of little respite to anyone in dire need, let a lone a young girl no knowing what to do when falling unexpectedly pregnant.

These services are very good at support, they are also very good at connecting teens with the right government support networks quickly.

While I can agree with the idea you propose in the view, I cannot agree with the supposition that these support networks are of no use.

Just this year government support networks for troubled people, disfranchisement citizens of our country (poor people) has risen by about 7% but the the rise of demand on Church support services has risen by 25% - quite a disparity.

Do you really suggest that these church based support services be removed because they upset your right to be anti-church? I will say some services are better than others and those run by non-pentecostal churches are better still.

Before you run off chanting down with Church based community services, it might be wise to investigate just how many people need these services each and every day.

People do not just throw away their moral base because someone has their own personal issue with it.

Robert N Stephenson said...

Oh, and Steve - when you look at pre-marital sex in Church dogma, be specific, because mate - it isn't what you think it is, and hasn't really been like that since about the 60s

DM said...

the blood and bodies of the atheist movement...

they tried to BULLDOZE the entire METAPHYSICAL DIMENSION...

they LOST THE WAR...... See More

you have FORFEIT YOUR SOUL, shermer... you have become an object in the material world, as you WISHED...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eUB4j0n2UDU&feature=player_embedded

http://farm1.static.flickr.com/7/11792994_ffaaee87fa.jpg

we're gonna smash that TV...

They had become ENEMIES OF THE PEOPLE AND OF GOD...
you pushed too much and *CROSSED THE LINE*

degenerates (PZ) or children (HEMANT) - ATHEISTS!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bRRg2tWGDSY

do you have anything to say, you STUPID LITTLE F*CKER?

how about I tell you, Mr. Shermer, EVERYTHING YOU THINK ABOUT THE WORLD is

*WRONG*

THE BOOBQUAKE - 911!

http://dissidentphilosophy.lifediscussion.net/philosophy-f1/the-boobquake-911-t1310.htm

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sx7XNb3Q9Ek&feature=related

RUN, ATHEISTS, RUN!!!





and this is the problem...

you expect everyone to think like you and to believe like you - in NOTHING...

I believe WHATEVER I WANT, fuckers...

steve oberski said...

@RNS it isn't what you think it is, and hasn't really been like that since about the 60s

I think you are rather making the same point as Russell and other commenters, if dogma has changed it has been due to external evidence and not to any new nuggets of wisdom ferreted out of holy books.

What the study indicates is that giving young people all the information they need to make informed sexual decisions leads to lower teenage birth and abortion rates.

They did not get this information from churches, they got it from our public education system and in the face of stiff opposition from these same churches.

Only through the distorting viewpoint of religion is the dissemination of this information considered to be more harmful than the reduction in harm gained by lower teen birth and abortion rates.

let a lone a young girl no knowing what to do when falling unexpectedly pregnant.

Would that be a young girl denied access to the information needed to avoid just such a circumstance ?

One told that she was born flawed (original sin), sex was inherently disgusting and dirty and only to used for procreation ?

Robert N Stephenson said...

In discussions like this it does have to come down to specifics rather than generalizations. Contemporary Christians teach and guide through safe sexual relations, take the right precautions and be responsible with your body.

The bible may have insights into this but apparently some choose not to see them - then once you apply historical evidence of social structures, understand where moral's in the general sense were formed - pre-Christian and Hebrew you start to see the reasoning behind some stand points - and it is true, most of those stand points were really to stop goat herders having sex with the flock --

later sex before marriage concepts are connected with Kings and their legal right to have sex with virgins on their wedding night - it was not and never has been a Christian or even religious point, it was added after the fact and enforced by the Roman Catholic Church to support the power brokers in medieaval times - a shackle that is only now being understood and broken free of.

The mistake is to think Christians do not know history, or to think they are unintelligent - which is always the base rebuke of those who are not of this faith.

I once encouraged a young couple to live together because they were trying this whole no sex before marriage thing. It was quite destructive to them trying to deal with strong emotion and social acceptability. They moved in with each other and over night all the stress evaporated.

But you can't just say a blanket condition for everyone, because each person is so different there is a lot to weigh up.

Scientific evidence based on statistics to back up an argument isn't really evidence that something is the right solution. It is an indicator that some part of this policy is working, but which part, because if it was all working then the percentage figure would be even lower. Also it is difficult to have a uniform approach across a society that isn't homogeneous - the variables are huge.

Russell Blackford said...

No one is suggesting that every single parent can take the same attitude. They may have good reasons not to - e.g. some may have more mature children than others.

But at the level of government policy, e.g. what content will go into sex education programs, how readily available contraceptives will be to teenagers, whether unmarried mothers will be treated harshly, and so on, there does need to be some uniformity. That's what the original post was about.

Even with parents, it's one thing for parents to talk to their kids in different ways or to wait until they are different ages, or whatever. Sure, I agree. There are lots of variables. But that doesn't mean there are no guidelines at all. E.g., parents who operate on telling their kids that pre-marital sex is simply evil, try to drive away boyfriends or girlfriends, root through their teenage girls' rooms and throw out packets of the Pill, go berserk if they find that their daughters are on the Pill, and so on, are pretty definitely asking for trouble. These things do happen, and those parents are more likely to lose the respect of their kids and end up with very young pregnant daughters than to have any beneficial effect.

Robert N Stephenson said...

well Russell this is true, and on the most part parents across the board do a good job, and better body health education in public schools is also doing a good job - my children have done some of the learning nights they offer at the school.

It is difficult to actually legislate against bad parenting... yes you can educate or offer the opportunities for education but other than that you can't do much else.

Unlike Nth America and the UK Australia doesn't have a strict ingrained moral adherence to sex education; it has been for a long time pretty much a world leader in creating better outcomes for teenagers - now if you consider it isn't exactly brilliant, this does show how morally heavy other western cultures are.

If you look at Scandinavian countries they may show good figures in regards to this issue - but there are questions around what heavy handed government controls are actually on the people to conform to a set social pattern in the first place. Not so much a moral pattern, but a governmental control pattern.

The availability of contraception is better today than it was say 10 years ago, and it continues to improve. The disturbing area is the right to life organizations that are forming - and many of this are not Christian based Russell. Under the guides of offering help and support these groups are threatening young women, pressuring them to have babies - you may have heard stories of how these organizations work. And yes, Tony Abbott approved funding to some of these.

Russell, we probably agree on more than not agree. It is sometimes frustrating when extremes are presented when moderate and well planned approaches would get far better outcomes with far less stress on people.

DM said...

you FIGHT PAPER MONSTERS...



the blood and bodies of the atheist movement...

they tried to BULLDOZE the entire METAPHYSICAL DIMENSION...

they LOST THE WAR......

you have FORFEIT YOUR SOUL, shermer... you have become an object in the material world, as you WISHED...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eUB4j0n2UDU&feature=player_embedded

http://farm1.static.flickr.com/7/11792994_ffaaee87fa.jpg

we're gonna smash that TV...

They had become ENEMIES OF THE PEOPLE AND OF GOD...
you pushed too much and *CROSSED THE LINE*

degenerates (PZ) or children (HEMANT) - ATHEISTS!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bRRg2tWGDSY

do you have anything to say, you STUPID LITTLE F*CKER?

how about I tell you, Mr. Shermer, EVERYTHING YOU THINK ABOUT THE WORLD is

*WRONG*

THE BOOBQUAKE - 911!

http://dissidentphilosophy.lifediscussion.net/philosophy-f1/the-boobquake-911-t1310.htm

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sx7XNb3Q9Ek&feature=related

RUN, ATHEISTS, RUN!!!





and this is the problem...

you expect everyone to think like you and to believe like you - in NOTHING...

I believe WHATEVER I WANT, fuckers...

Richard Dawkins said...

Your blog is being overrun with Christians Russell. We need to set up a second internet where only those from a reason based reality can visit and move your blog there.

Until then we will have to hang out online with clowns such as Robert N Stephenson and old DM.

NewEnglandBob said...

It is so obvious that the previous comment did not come from Richard Dawkins due to the poor syntax, let alone that Dawkins would never say that.

Russell Blackford said...

@NEB, quite.

And note that the original post was not about religion, just about a policy issue. Christianity can sometimes be a barrier to good policy - I've certainly said that often enough - but not always, in all times and places. And the point of the post was not an anti-religious one.

tildeb said...

I've never understood why public policy about birth control and abortion seem to always be treated not under the format of a medical and/or civil rights issue it often is but primarily as a moral one. Imagine if we treated more issues this way: is it moral to treat burn victims with cosmetic surgery, is it moral to augment those breasts, is it moral to call three witnesses for the plaintiff, and so on?

It's just weird.

It seems if religion can stick its nose into any business it chooses, it always does so as if the issues are 1) moral concerns first and 2) therefore under the religious purview - neither of which is necessarily true... merely terribly convenient for people with little or no expertise to feel perfectly justified to judge those who are most affected.

Robert N Stephenson said...

In Australia of the past the Catholic Church did have some kind of input with public policy, but fortunately that has changed in a lot of cases.

Catholic policy is ant-abortion and anti-contraceptive (even anti- RU486) so by examining public policy in this regard you can see the desires of the Church has been ignored for the betterment of the people - something you will find many reasonable Christians agree with - though they might not say it openly. That may change one day as well.

Many would like to believe the gay union policy is enforced by Christian influences - there is some influence but there is a greater social pressure against it, even amongst irreligious folk. Government policy in this area, unlike our freer policy in regards to teen sex, is 100% vote driven and it will take a strong government to finally get these freedoms recognised. Yes the Catholic and some Penti Churches will be outraged, but to be honest they're influence is minor.

Ignore their complaints and just lobby politicians away from this moral, or presumed moral standpoint - that is where the differences can be made

Robert N Stephenson said...

Well the Dawkins post isn't the worst I have ever seen. I don't have issues with anyone so have not need to really create offense to posters for their views.

Yes, I might disagree, but that doesn't mean I'm right or wrong - just that I have a difference of opinion.

Remember, if you choose to breed hatred, then you choose to live it.

MI said...

Russ,

You neglected to address the emotional aspect of beginning a relationship: ie: are these teenagers emotionally and mentally ready for sex and it's consequences?

zackoz said...

When is a teenager mentally ready for sex?

Who decides that? Do we? What right do we have to do so?

Society has in a sense decided this by setting an age of consent; like any human compromise it has its problems and ambiguities. Assuming it is reasonable though, how do we make it work better?

The figures Russell quoted speak for themselves. Just look at the amazing contrast between Sweden and the UK/US. Which figures do you regard as socially preferable?

You can tell teenagers not to have sex - they will ignore you; even if they have signed an abstinence pledge, they will ignore that.

So what do you do? Why not adopt a Swedish approach and give them all possible help to avoid the main risks - pregnancy, STDs, etc?

I don't know the details of the Swedish system but I assume it would include frank, well informed sex education from experts who will not preach at them. Which approach works in practice, and which does not?

Robert N Stephenson said...

The difficulty with age has to do with the technological age as much as it has to do with some kind of morality or even protectionism.

In the middle ages marriage or sexual ages were around 14 - 15 years for girls, but boys still had to prove themselves so their age was closer to 16 -17 after they had somehow proved themselves to be men. Funny, in a way a variant of that still happens today - though it either sports or money that dictate that suitability.

Back then there were little in the way of distraction to hinder the unity commitment and there was no issue in having babies, as most of them died soon after birth.

Today there is a lot to be undertaken before social connectivity can really take place. No longer is someone just permitted to 'be' in society. Education in basic RRR Plus, basic technological concepts, biology and political understandings come to bare and no longer is it see that all of this can happen before 16 - this technological reasoning by default covers sexual interactions as well - not really a deliberate act in its outset but now something almost universally acceptable.

Sweden is mentioned but age of consent is still 16, it is only after this age the sexualization of interactions if freer than in some countries. Australia on surface examination really isn't all that different to Sweden here.

The age debate is often argued by those who have had little to do with actual teen sexuality other than what they wanted when young. Also, an increasing number of men are the ones arguing the lowering of age limitations on girls - though not in itself a damnation, it is just interesting to note when making considerations here.

Under the age of 16 girls, and boys, are easier to prey on and be sexually exploited. Our modern society has not only become clever in the enhancement of life but sadly we have become very clever at the exploitation as well.

The age limit is not really some arbitrary number, as it is only two years above the primitive acceptability models, and given our advancements that isn't too bad.

Sexual education is far more than helping younger people understand the risks, it is about understanding the emotions usually behind such a communication between people - 16 year olds still struggle with emotional roller coaster reactions to things, not only the concept of sex.

I have a 14 year old daughter - she is pretty smart and quite independent but would I feel comfortable with outside influences saying at 14 she should be allowed to have sex? Well, I would say I feel quite uncomfortable with this; not as a parent, though that does have some bearing, but for her sake as a human being. She is barely away from little girl standing and her world view, developing as it is, has some pretty big blank spots...

Free liberalists have issues of their own to deal with, deal with them, but beware of interfering in people's lives to serve hypothetical arguments

Zachary Voch said...

RNS

"The age debate is often argued by those who have had little to do with actual teen sexuality other than what they wanted when young."

And also by parents such as yourself. And also by lots of other people. I wonder what this statement might mean aside from the implied "they don't know what they're talking about!"

"Also, an increasing number of men are the ones arguing the lowering of age limitations on girls - though not in itself a damnation, it is just interesting to note when making considerations here."

I wonder where you get the statistics. I've noticed an increased number of cougars lately. Just noting things.

"Under the age of 16 girls, and boys, are easier to prey on and be sexually exploited. Our modern society has not only become clever in the enhancement of life but sadly we have become very clever at the exploitation as well."

True, but this holds for everything, sexuality included or not. How about economic exploitation? Hard to have a kid these days without demands for cellphones, overly expensive fashion, cars, etc. Shall we prevent marketing to children as well? We do so for cigarettes and booze, so might we expand the laws to general products? Kids are so impressionable! We should prevent the world from impressing them.

"The age limit is not really some arbitrary number, as it is only two years above the primitive acceptability models, and given our advancements that isn't too bad."

The first item: Yes it is. So were the numbers from `primitive acceptability models.'

I'll just summarize your main point: "Kids are inexperienced." That was easy.

"Free liberalists have issues of their own to deal with, deal with them, but beware of interfering in people's lives to serve hypothetical arguments"

A very broad use of `hypothetical,' if we're still on the topic of age of consent. The use of `interfering' is also interesting. The `free liberalist' stance, as I understand it, is actually one of increased noninterference.

NewEnglandBob said...

Zachary, you have to understand that the pontificating, verbose RNS comments are rarely worth reading except for the chuckle factor. Far higher than 50% of his statements are nonsense.

Zachary Voch said...

NEB

Thanks, but I'm a regular reader and I know most of the regulars fairly well by their comments, yourself included (here and at other blogs, such as Coyne's).

But, I want to comment on an earlier comment of RNS's:

"In discussions like this it does have to come down to specifics rather than generalizations. Contemporary Christians teach and guide through safe sexual relations, take the right precautions and be responsible with your body."

Do they really? I would say that the general population might do this in areas other than my own (southeast US), but to imply that this is a teaching of Christianity as distinct from an adoption from secular influence is absurd, which we see coming here:

"The bible may have insights into this but apparently some choose not to see them -"

They hide well. What are they?

"later sex before marriage concepts are connected with Kings and their legal right to have sex with virgins on their wedding night - it was not and never has been a Christian or even religious point, it was added after the fact and enforced by the Roman Catholic Church to support the power brokers in medieaval times - a shackle that is only now being understood and broken free of."

Not just Kings, but `important people' of all descriptions rode this bandwagon. Ideas of blood purity and inherited title were also important here, much of which was biblical and much was not.

"The mistake is to think Christians do not know history, or to think they are unintelligent - which is always the base rebuke of those who are not of this faith."

People in general do not know history. And wow, we spot the familiar accusation of intellectual arrogance on the part of atheists, all of whom must surely think Christians are ignorant and/or stupid. Does this really require refutation? Of course the position, if actually held, would be absurd and factually in error. I suppose that's why you bring it up. At the very least, I would like to see you try to justify the `always' in that sentence. Might I present myself as a counterexample?

Russell Blackford said...

Be nice to Rob, please. Argue with him all you like, but he's engaging with the blog in a civil way (despite, as I'm sure he'd be the first to agree, having a fairly emotional temperament).

Robert N Stephenson said...

Despite positions taken I prefer the position of reason and reason is an affectation of debate and discussion, not an abstract of truth as often presented.

I do present a Christian perspective to this argument, but it is not your run of the mill bible belt version, it is wider in scope and more accepting of logical representations.

When creating a debate that state Christians or religions, it is a generalization, much like stating the Church does this or that. I have already shown how the generalization can be just as easily used with Atheistic beliefs - but I am not terribly offended by the rebukes, they are quite expected and to this date nothing new has been added to the age old rhetoric -

Churches are made up of people, each and every one of them with a different belief structure. You will find some might hold similar understandings but they will differ in practice greatly. This is what is forgotten when rebukes are simply aimed at - 'The Church' - all I ever ask for is specifics to add clarity, and with clarity it is far easier for people to reach what is known as a reasonable point in the discussion.

At present in Australia and unfortunately only small parts of the USA and UK aspects of the Christian faith are being unshackled from the old 'King' based bastardization of biblical law. Note: It isn't fast and it isn't always welcomed by the Mainstream or Tradition Catholic/Anglican/Uniting Church systems - in fact the Catholic Church opposes many things its own research and vast religious text libraries are clear on. It was odd to hear some time ago that many Catholic Priests don't actually believe in God. To me this simply says it is a business and product for them.

Sex and sexuality has often been connected with the Church, or to be clearer, some Christian based doctrines, but biblically, when taken with history, context and proper research you will find the sex issue wasn't one of the great problems of the early Christians - it was a problem with Greek philosophy and the Greek way of life. It was a problem with lonely goat herders and their even lonelier wives.

In Christianity it is quite a complex issue that has only one reasonable outcome. And it has nothing to do with perceived religious morality.

For any discussion approaching reason there does need to be a level of respect for views. The views expressed here by others do not always sit well with me, but they are views that do require thought and attention. If I disagree, then I disagree - that does not mean I consider anyone lesser or greater than me. We just differ.

Once again I am seeing the alternative to what already exists in Australian law regarding consent and sexual behavior does not, at this stage, address social standing on the issue. This isn't a religious argument, as the religious groups had nothing to do with the laws.

With this in mind I would suspect the negativity is more based on the fact I am a Christian than anything that would sound reasonable. The Atheist often prides themselves on reason, in fact it is often the mainstay of debate - so I ask, what is the base of this reason, what makes your reasoning superior to any one else reasoning.

This is a question, not a statement. I have read over and over on many boards the fact the Atheists follow reason while religions do not. What is the philosophical position on the nature of the concept of reasoning?

Oh and thank you Russell. We come at the same argument from very different directions, but I feel the outcome would be the same.

Robert N Stephenson said...

In a quick note that hopefully helps you understand this Christian a bit more. South Australia is moving to legalize prostitution. Something a lot of reasonable Christians have been arguing for for many years

BenSix said...

Hi Russell,

In neither case are you hurting someone else (leaving aside the very brief pain suffered by a fetus if the abortion is late enough in the pregnancy).

Won't touch upon abortion (I argue with myself enough on that!) but if one brings a child into conditions where, it's likely, it'll receive neither physical or emotional sustenance, isn't that causing harm?

tildeb said...

Rob asks, The Atheist often prides themselves on reason, in fact it is often the mainstay of debate - so I ask, what is the base of this reason, what makes your reasoning superior to any one else reasoning. (And a bit later...) What is the philosophical position on the nature of the concept of reasoning?

The short answer to the first is an epistemology based on methodological naturalism leading to an informed ontology rather than an ontology derived from an epistemology of superstitious belief.

The second is a rather confused question leading to my rather long-winded blathering about knowledge: are you asking about the nature of the concept (do concepts have natures, philosophical or otherwise?)? Are you asking about the philosophy of reasoning? Are you suggesting that concepts are by definition philosophical in origin rather than biological? And so on.

But the assumption I am making is that (if you are religious) you already believe in dualism - that mind and body are two different things (and that things have 'natures', an idea first put to bed by Galileo). This assumption in the veracity of dualism tends to cause nothing but confusion about the available scientific data that mind is what the brain does, which has a rather profound impact on understanding the biological role in pattern acquisition (that usually goes by the name of 'knowledge'). But that's enough of that from my end. What is required, Rob, is clarification on what you are actually asking with this second question.

Robert N Stephenson said...

Hi Tildeb

yes this question could have been clearer. I do believe in mind and body, but that is not a religious stance, more my own philosophical one - even irreligeous people follow dualism, so it is confined to faith.

The problem I have is that reason is portrayed as something other than what it means by some parties. Reason in itself has nothing to do with spiritual beliefs, no matter what language you use to denounce those beliefs.

Reason is the ability to communicate ideas and thoughts between persons, or even within yourself that creates a satisfactory conclusion to what the subject matter may be. Reason is not determined by subject matter.

Reason and logic on the other hand has different meanings.

So the question is probably better put as 'Why is someone else's reasoning determined by a defined parameter set by someone else?'

This goes against reasoning in itself - which is the discussion on positions and the search for common ground on which to communicate.

Reasoning suggest there is something positive with Christian beliefs, as research would show this. Logic would debate the belief system itself as logic tends to be as unforgiving as the German language.

I have have wondered why people put themselves into position that are so diametrically opposed to someone elses that reason on any level cannot be attained. That is itself defies reason, does it not?

NewEnglandBob said...

Reason:

1. The basis or motive for an action, decision, or conviction. See Usage Note at because, why.
2. A declaration made to explain or justify action, decision, or conviction: inquired about her reason for leaving.
3. An underlying fact or cause that provides logical sense for a premise or occurrence: There is reason to believe that the accused did not commit this crime.
4. The capacity for logical, rational, and analytic thought; intelligence.
5. Good judgment; sound sense.
6. A normal mental state; sanity: He has lost his reason.
7. Logic. A premise, usually the minor premise, of an argument.

So reason, rational, logical are all synonyms.

These are based on observations and evidence of what happens in the real world, for the most part.

Reason is not absolute. One does not have to accept its basis but one should supply alternatives that are better and more reasonable.

Robert N Stephenson said...

That's pretty straight forward and when this logic is applied properly all is right with the world.

Note, there is a reason for people to believe in God/ or have faith and once questioned the logic makes sense - even if only to them.

We are not the masters of reason or logic we are only interpreters of it and we all have a wide range of reasonable interpretations. So, by applying most of the explanation reason applies to more than just mathmatical or square interpretations.

And you are right, your reasoning and logic will differ greatly from say a Fundamentalists Christians reason and logic but both make perfect sense in their own context.

NewEnglandBob said...

No, you totally missed the point, Robert. Fundamentalist and Christian logic has no observation and evidence behind it. It is flawed and replaced by better and more appropriate observation, evidence, logic and reason.

"Note, there is a reason for people to believe in God/ or have faith..."

Show us those reasons - none have worked for thousands of years. Fairy tales from the bible are insufficient reasons, as are faith and revelation.

Robert N Stephenson said...

Well NEB, this is where you make a stand on something that is not really definable with out a frame of reference. You state Reason and Logic are right - (truth perhaps), which is no different than any Fundamentalist of any persuasion I have heard. You alone know the truth, you alone are right and cannot be seen to be wrong.

Okay, standpoint accepted as your position, I do not have to follow it, as this is my reasonable right.

Because you are using no frames of reference and are throwing out a nebulous 'fit all' catchphrase you will need to understand I find it meaningless and quite unreasonable.

Because you do not believe in God, those who do are misguided, even stupid perhaps and based on your stance, maybe even insignificant in the world. Note, I use reason and logic to determine this possible stance. The presentation you give strongly suggests this.

Now I want you to apply your reason and logic to this:

A friend of mine was diagnosed with brain cancer, stage 4. Documented evidence based on all test results and all possible treatment scenarios is 6 or 7 months of life expectancy. There is no cure for this cancer, it is 100% fatal and no one up until this point has survived longer than 6 months. The data is there in cold hard numbers and reports. The patient is exactly like all the others, nothing unusual.

My friend died 18 months later, despite the data, reason and undeniable logic applied. At every moment he was simply expected to die and die quickly. Even studying the patient did not give the doctors and cancer researchers any usable answers. The patient continued to live despite all reason and all logic.

My friend was not a Christian, perhaps an Atheist would be closer, so there are no claims by me that there was anything supernatural about this.

The point here is that even using your reason and logic this patient did not fit. Why?

Here is something else: The physicist draws diagrams showing how gravity works through mathmatics to a Neaderthal. The Neanderthal does not understand it. It makes pure reasonable and logical sense to the scientist, so by applying the square reason/logic thinking the Neaderthal is stupid. The scientist has refused to accept there is a frame of reference other than his own, so much so that he even belittle the neaderthal for his stupidity. Where is the reason here?

Reason needs to be able to adjust frames of reference in order to communicate, if not then what is the point of reason - why even have the idea of logic at all.

This same scientist decide to adopt the point of reference of the neanderthal, as the thick brow cannot adjust his to a totally unknown concept. The scientist takes a rock, drops it several times to demonstrate the affects of gravity. Neaderthal gets it, he wasn't stupid after all, if fact he understands the nature of objects that go up must eventually come down.

BY only using your own frame of reference you do not have much of a picture. The only reason I can even communicate in a fashion with you at all is that I understand your frame of reference completely, so it is easier for me to adjust than it ever will be for you.

Reason and logic are not answers, they are simply a range of possible answers with a higher accuracy attributed.

While I can understand you NewB and even connect with what you use in the frame, it will be near impossible for you to understand my frame of reference. To do so would take considerable effort.

And dare I say this, an attitude of being reasonable

tildeb said...

Rob writes Reason is the ability to communicate ideas and thoughts between persons, or even within yourself that creates a satisfactory conclusion to what the subject matter may be.

Reason in this definition sounds suspiciously like communication. I like NEB's list much better.

We all use reason the same way. I still don't see any benefit to altering how we gain knowledge by boxing reason into having to provide us with satisfactory conclusions. Sometimes reason does the opposite, showing us that the favoured conclusion is actually wrong. And that's a good thing.

Thought of a different way, imagine if, let's say, chemistry was defined as a means to reach a satisfactory chemical conclusion, and that reaching a different conclusion in Argentina than in Austria was perfectly acceptable. What might that attitude have with direct consequences to chemistry itself? Of what practical use would chemistry be if the conflictual 'knowledge' (different results in the two places) was dependent on relative local conclusions that judged on some satisfactory scale rather than on whether or not the chemistry was true here as well as there, yesterday and today, regardless of who performed it? Surely knowledge must meet at least this much consistency to be considered true?

Chemistry either is true or it is not, and its results must be as consistent here as it is there, as reliable today as it was yesterday in order to be relied upon as practical 'knowledge' for use tomorrow no matter who undertakes it. To change the goal posts of what constitutes 'good' chemistry from 'bad' chemistry by alloowing chemistry to be dependent on satisfactory local conclusions fundamentally alters and harms the knowledge gained from studying chemistry as a single domain if we allow the results to be based on satisfactory local conclusions rather than the more objective strict universal guidelines of repeatability, and more importantly, falsifiability. We need falsifiability to clearly establish the chemical mechanisms that link chemical cause with chemical effect that empowers the consistency of the results we then call knowledge.

The same is true for reason. We cannot allow reason to be locally determined to gain a favoured predetermined result and still call the various end results 'knowledge'. Like chemistry, either the knowledge gained from reason is true or it is not. Everywhere. All the time. Regardless of who is doing it. Regardless of what conclusions the person hopes to achieve. And we need some universal way to determine this.

One of the mechanisms to allow reasoning to be consistent here and there, yesterday and today no matter who is undertaking the process is called logic. It is a marvelous deductive tool when properly applied. But to alter or dismiss logic simply to suit the favoured conclusion is undermining its utility and negating any 'knowledge' thus gained.

You may find the notion of dismissing logic as an integral part of good reasoning appealing, but I see such a manipulation to be a way to undermine and not enhance what can be known through a more objective use of strict reason. And that's a poor reason to undermine reason.

Robert N Stephenson said...

Reason is actually a combination of chemical reactions, if you seem to want to use the chemical analogy, in the brain. Now, this chemical reaction is not consistent at all, it is close at times but it runs with huge variations across brains.

Reason is not essentially a set of rules to be applied by those who claim superior knowledge - which is the suggestion I am getting here.

If reason is reliable then why doe reason have not logical explanation for 'Love', 'Hate' or even 'Depression'

Logic dictates each brain has a certain amount of chemicals and due to stimulation the 'should' react in a particular way. They don't in a consistent fashion and even today these emotional states defy logical or reasonable explanation. They simply do not fit the rules applied.

The problem with these rules is they are only fine if everyone was part of a hive mind or a homogeneous group - naturally we are not, we are a massive collection of individuals with unique properties.

So, the chemical analogy works for the mixing of chemicals in a test tube. Mix those same chemicals within the human body and the results vary from person to person.

Reason and logic all sound very straight forward to a machine, but are you forgetting we are not machines. The application of machine logic to human logic is not fully possible...

name any human based experiment where chemical stimulus are delivered the exact same answer in individuals? It has been tried

Robert N Stephenson said...

We are now so way off topic it is quite interesting - a move away from moralizing to the nature of Logic and Reason.

And at every turn not one person has even picked up the key point in this discussion and this one point c an be said to be one of the old cornerstones of philosophy...

NewEnglandBob said...

Robert, you stated:

"You state Reason and Logic are right - (truth perhaps), which is no different than any Fundamentalist of any persuasion I have heard."

Which shows you have no capacity for thinking at all. You completely ignored my points about observation and evidence. Your posts are nothing but specious beetle dung. You spew complete nonsense again and again. You are either malicious or obtuse so therefore I will no longer discuss topics with you since you never use reason or logic but spew out horse shit.

Sorry, Russel, but you are wrong, this troll never adds to a any discussion, he derails it.

tildeb said...

You miss the point, RNS. Russell has explained why, if we really want fewer teenage pregnancies for example, we must be willing to accept less moralistic policy approaches.

You seem to think that this effective shift in policy away from framing teenage pregnancies as a moral issue first - a framing that does not have any evidence that it reduces teenage pregnancies at all but seems to achieve the polar opposite - means that Russell is suggesting that morals do not count for anything. That's really poor comprehension skills on your part but he has taken the time and made the effort to clarify his position. NEB has agreed with Russell because the data supports that it is more effective basing a policy aimed at reducing teenage pregnancies with less emphasis on the morality of teenage pregnancy and more emphasis on it as a public health issue that involves personal responsibility. Personal responsibility is about responsible choices and choices require readily available information, which is accomplished in Canada by bringing that information into the elementary schools as part of the curriculum (here in Canada as part of the Family Planning curriculum starting as early as grade one with the necessary vocabulary students about body parts they will need to know and culminating in grade seven with a risk assessment of sexual behaviours).

Those who strongly frame the issue of teenage pregnancy as one of some failed morality, NEB notes, are more often than not religious "pompous assholes" who think of sex as bad and we have a dedicated effort by various religious organizations here in Canada to get sex education eradicated from the public curriculum. Their latest 'success' is having the federal government eliminate any funding for abortion in foreign aid... a move widely criticized here as undermining the goal of promoting women's health. NEB's point is legitimate.

You take issue with Russell's very accurate understanding on the appropriate use of 'should' and claim it to be irrational. You are wrong. You compound your error lecturing Russell on the power of language, which - whether you realize it or not - is quite an offensive assertion to make to an editor and writer of his caliber. What you have failed to do is explain in any meaningful way why the success achieved by this policy shift in other countries shouldn't be taken up by your own, claiming that Russell is suggesting policies somehow different, ones that will insert government into homes and reduce our freedoms, one intended to eliminate bad parenting, and so on. At every turn you misrepresent what has actually been written with an imaginary extreme version of what has not, inserted a different and extreme meaning where none has been intended, and when called on it switch gears to divert and obfuscate and devolve the post to one of hands: one the one hand you assert that you "prefer reason" in debates yet, on the other hand, attack what constitutes reason in service of your protecting what you call the Christian perspective, which Russell has already addressed as often being a barrier to good policy... a policy like reducing teenage pregnancies. That's why NEB appropriately accuses you of trying to derail the discussion in spite of many attempts by others to put it back on. That's what a troll does and I regret initially responding to you.

Robert N Stephenson said...

NEB

While I find no fault in what you say, I agree with Russell, I disagree with creating policy that could reach into homes directly - so I questioned if this was what he was aiming at.

In Australia we do not have a morally based policy on teenage pregnancy, it is secular and so too are school based services and learning programs about the body and sexuality. So when stating the policy is clear at the end of his statement, I asked what is clear. Australia already has better and secular education programs than many countries, and in fact, despite my religious beliefs I fully agree with this non moralistic secular approach to sexuality. So, there is actually no disagreement.

The concept of 'should' - you either learn it or you don't, this issue is no skin of my nose, but when it is used I can accurately measure emotion conditions and even philosophical standpoints. Big deal if you can't.

Russell stated privately that he didn't see strong connection but it does take considerable effort to adjust not only thinking but also presentation in this regard. The outcomes are beneficial, but like anything like this - it has to be able to penetrate and anger barrier, a position taken by anyone in defense of their own standing and core beliefs. In a lot of instances the adjustment simply fails - why? Because part of the adjustment requires you to accept something we all fight against, not matter how much we deny it. Being wrong. Russell doesn't have to accept my word for it, no one does. I just did the research and the 20 week intensive course about the influences of positive and negative communications.

I am also an editor, writer, publisher, professional creative and novel writing tutor and one time literary agent. I have been a scientist, a garboloist, a sportsman, sometimes even a preacher (very rarely though).

Now this is something more interesting than the actual discussions themselves:

All across this board I have posted different pieces of information, stories and even insights. Every single one of these pieces of information delivered with you all knowing full well I am a Christian, and the responses have been predictable: Sadly so in most cases.

Nearly all my acquaintances are Atheists, pretty much all discussions I ever have are with Atheists, but within these discussions it is rarely known what faith I have, and when this information has been delivered when the listeners think I am actually and Atheist there has been no complain, rebuke or even quibble.

All I did here was maybe experiment by adding my faith clearly at first and then applied the exact reasoning I offer when not disclosing my faith.

I don't think I need to explain what I have now assessed from this.

And, to make matters look even more skeptical in how interested with anyone having a difference of opinion the board is:

Not one single poster asked the obvious questions.

"Just how does a staunch Atheist become a Christian?"

I wouldn't have answered of course. I never answer that question, but truly inquisitive minds usually ask.

tubal reversal said...

How can be controlled teenage pregnancies?