The pill, a diaphragm or an IUD?
The young girl's attractive, freckled face puckered in concentration as she studied contraception literature in the waiting room of the Montgomery County Planned Parenthood Clinic.
The 14-year-old's decision to have sex with her 16-year -old boyfriend wasn't quite as difficult as this one, she admitted.
"If you're in love with a guy, why not go all the way?" she said with a flip of her long brown hair. "I told my mother one day after dinner and she said, "Oh, my poor baby, you're growing up so fast. 'Then she told me to get some contraception."
Shocking perhaps, but consider these statistics:
Like this girl, one of every five 13-and 14-year-olds in the United States has had sexual intercourse, according to a report published by the Alan Guttmacher Institute, a research affiliate of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America.
Of the country's 21 million youngsters ages 15 to 19, more than half are estimated to have had intercourse -- almost 7 million young men and 4 million young women.
Sexual activity appears to be starting at younger ages, the report notes. And while adolescent sexual activity in the past had been portrayed as occurring principally among minority groups and the poor, recent evidence suggests that white teen-agers from higher :income families are now beginning sexual relationships at earlier ages.
Each year, more than 1 million 15-to 19-year-olds become pregnant. In addition, some 30,000 girls younger than 15 get pregnant annually.
A congressional report, prepared by the Selecct Committee on Population, says further:
In 1971 approximately 26.8 percent of unmarried females ages 15 to 19 had experenced intercourse. By 1976, that percentage had risen to 35 percent -- an increase of 30 percent within five years.
Sexual activity among unmarried femalles ages 15 to 19 increased in every age group and was particularly common among 17-year-olds.
While there has been an increase in use of contraception, few teen-agers begin using birth control at the same time they begin having intercourse, and many wait until after a pregnancy has occurred.
There is a serious lack of accurate knowledge about sex, sexuality and contraception among most of today's adolescents -- particularly among teenage males.
Interviews -- in youth centers, high schools and birth-control centers with about 30 teen-agers from Maryland and the District revealed a variety of values and attitudes. There were those who expressed some trepidation about sex; other were casual. Some sounded very mature on the subject; others native.
While some claimed "everybody's doing it," others said only a small percentage of their classmates "go all the way."
Probably the most remarkable aspect of the interviews was the openness with which the teen-agers talked.
"I don't necessarily think you should keep virginity for the person you marry, but you should keep it for the person you love," commented one recent Maryland high-school graduate who said she and most to her girl friends are virgins.
"I don't think it's old-fashioned to wait for the right guy to come along. I don't look down on those people who do (have sex), but I think if I did it in high school I'd regret it."
The pressure, she said, on girls who want to wait is "incredible."
From another high-school girl: "Sometimes I think everyone in having sex but me. It makes me feel out of it, like I'm missing something."
But this opinion from a 17-year-old Maryland girl perhaps best expresses the feeling shared by most of the teens interviewed:
"Times have changed," she said. "To expect a girl to wait until after she's married is just old-fashioned."
"I was curious," admitted a 17-year-old Montgomery County girl who had her first sexual experience at age 16. "i had a steady boyfriend, and I wanted to see what it was all about." "When you're in junior high school and you start messing with a high school guy, if he says he wants to, you do it," said a 15-year-old District girl. "Especially if you want to keep him."
"You know everybody else is," added another District 16-year-old. "If a 16-year-oldgirl's a virgin, she's not weird, but she's rare."
"It just happened," said Maryland girl. "I was 15, he was 19. I had known him about six weeks and I was crazy about him. I figured, well, you've got to learn sometime."
"Having sex is all anybody talks about -- I guess it's just part of being a teen-ager," said a 14-year:old montgomery County boy. "And if you're not with fads, you're not with it."
"When you go with somebody, sex is part of the relationship," said a District girl. "If he's your boyfriend, and you've been going with him (for at least two months to a year) everybody assumes you've had sex."
While attitudes appear to be changing along with the increase in sexual activity among teen-age girls, the double standard continues.
"I still think guys want their wives to be virgins," declared one maryland girl who is "waiting for the right guy." "But girls want a guy to be experienced, and for a guy it's accepted."
"I don't think guys accept it if you run around," said a 17-year-old District girl. "But if you have a boyfriend, having sex with him is okay."
"A girl who'll do it with anybody is a whore," said a junior high school boy. "For a guy it's different."
This double standard places pressure on the male, admitted one 14-year-old Maryland boy who says he has had sexual intercourse about five times in the last year.
"The first few times it takes guts," he confessed, "but if the girl you're with is just as scared as you, it's not so bad. But with experienced chicks, you get nervous about performing to maximum efficiency."
"The guy's always expected to know what to do," lamented a District 17-year-old boy. "By 14 most guys are expected to be Mr. Macho."
Often, along with this pressure goes a real lack of accurate information about sexuality and contraception.
"I thought I couldn't get pregnant the first time I had sex," said a 17-year-old mother of two. "After five or six times I went to my doctor to get the pill and he told me I was pregnant.
"After my first baby, I figured I couldn't get pregnant right away, but I did. If I had it to do over again I still would have (had sex). But I'd use contraception."
"A lot of people when they first have sex don't use contraceptive. Sometimes they wait until after they've had a scare about the girl being pregnant," said a District boy. "And a majority of dudes are just lazy or afraid to go into a store to get contraception."
Teen-agers cite their friends or older siblings as their main sources of sexual information. About 90 percent of parents have never mentioned any aspect of erotic behavior or its consequences to their children, according to a survey of 1,400 Cleveland parents prepared by the Project on Human Sexual Development.
"I guess my parents still think of me as the baby," said 15-year-old boy. "I think it'd stun them if they knew what I was interested in."
"The first person you want to talk to is a parent, but you're scared they'll yell,"said a District girl.
From a Maryland boy who gets his information from his older sister. "I think my parents would get real embarrased and it would be awkward."
While some parents close their eyes to their teen-agers' sexual activity, teens cite their own homes or their partners' homes as the places where they have sex most often. The older the girl, the more likely that intercourse will take place at the boy's home, note Johns Hopkins researchers Melvin Zelnik and John F. Kantner.
"Sometimes it's when you cut school or when your parents are out," said a 17-year-old girl. "Sometimes we wait till they're asleep," added another. "I'd be too scared in my house, we go to my boyfriend's," said a third.
First intercourse among unmarried teen-aged women is seasonal, note Zelnik and Kanter. "Summer is the time of year, apparently, when temptation and opportunity peak together." CAPTION: Picture, no caption, By Ken Fell - The Washington Post