Author and adolescent psychiatrist, Lynn Ponton, M.D., unveils plenty of daunting scenarios in The Sex Lives of Teenagers. On these pages, we meet Naomi, a pregnant teen who wants to have her baby; Lara, who is infected with HIV; Tom, who is hooked on pornographic videos; and Angie, who was sexually assaulted after getting drunk at a party. Ponton also tells stories of teens struggling with sexual identity, curious about normal sexual function, and dealing with pressure to have sex before they feel ready. In addition, sprinkled throughout are the voices of parents who struggle to cope with their teens' problems and, for the most part, seek to offer guidance and support, though not always successfully.
At times, Ponton seems to dwell on the dark and disturbing side of teens and sex: the boy who is sexually assaulted by a priest; the mother who calls her HIV-infected daughter a slut; the teen who discovers that his father sexually harasses female employees. Some of these situations may discourage parents, who have educated themselves about more common situations and who simply can't believe these types of things could happen to their children.
The best course of action might be for parents to read this book together with their teens, and to use some of the stories as jumping-off points for discussion. As Ponton makes clear in the opening chapter, all teens have sex lives--whether or not they are sexually active. And despite the sexually charged culture teens are exposed to daily, sex remains a difficult topic for parents and teens to discuss openly. The Sex Lives of Teenagers may be just the tool to help parents open the door to that discussion.--Virginia Smyth
From Publishers Weekly
Respected adolescent psychiatrist Ponton (The Romance of Risk) effectively addresses parents' and teens' questions about sexual development in this down-to-earth primer. She finds that teenagers face the same issues and experiences as adults, but often struggle through them with less information and expertise. Making the case that all teenagers have a sexual identity and sexual life, even though it may not be readily apparent, Ponton shows that, if they are not coerced, expressions of teenage sexuality can provide important explorations of the self and relationships with others. She offers valuable suggestions to alleviate a shared sense of discomfort when parents try to talk with their children about sexuality, emphasizing the importance of using simple language, admitting to embarrassment when it arises. Drawing on her work with youths from all backgrounds in the San Francisco area, Ponton tackles a variety of tough topicsAfrom those that are often perceived as embarrassing, like masturbation and fantasies, to stigmatized ones, like bi- and homosexuality. The final chapters focus on the potentially devastating consequences of risky or forced sex (including HIV infection and abortion), and show how parents and teens can work on realistic parameters for sexual consent. She also includes fascinating descriptions of the therapeutic process, in which Ponton admits moments when she, like a parent, feels herself losing her connection with certain patients. Ponton remains warm, unsensationalistic and empathetic, always focused on the task at handAhelping teenagers and their parents develop the necessary skills to achieve healthier emotional and sexual lives.
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