Dear Carolyn:

I'm 16, and my girlfriend, who turns 15 in a month, and I have dated in secret because neither of our parents would consent to our dating (we asked). About a month ago, one thing led to another and we had sexual intercourse without protection. Thankfully, she didn't become pregnant. Since then she has been on the pill, and we have sex several times a week.

I know we are both underage, and that using just the pill leaves a high probability of pregnancy. However, she doesn't want me to use a condom, and she is hesitant even to use the pill.

Carolyn, I love her, and I want to stay in a relationship with her, but I'm not ready to be a father, and, if this keeps up, that's what's going to happen. How can I convince her that we need to use protection for both our sakes, or, failing that, convince her that we shouldn't have sex as often?

-- Young Lover in L.A.

Less often, eh?

You know exactly what I'm going to say, don't you -- to stop having sex entirely because you're too young. Well, you're way off. I'm going to say why you're too young and why you should stop having sex. So there.

The universal sign that you're responsible enough to have sex (attention all irony enthusiasts) is having the sense and willpower to choose not to have it. You don't need to "convince" anyone, ever, not to have consensual sex. You simply keep your pants on, and sex is successfully not had.

You apparently don't need to convince yourself of a whole lot more, either. You asked your parents' permission, which is proof you recognize their authority over you and you therefore are not an adult yet; you admit you're not ready to be in their shoes; you know your girlfriend is shaky on the birth-control thing; you know how unwise that is.

These are all good things, signs of an unusual maturity that, when it's fully baked, will serve you well. Your caving to hormones in spite of it, however, just proves that the center's still raw -- and that, at 16, those hormones will fight you hard. Still, "underage" and "too young" are two different things. Underage means society tells you not to do something. Too young means the barriers are on the inside, in you. See them, please, and heed them.

"Love" could use some definition clarity here, too: Love is recognizing that your girlfriend is in a position she's not ready to handle, much less even than you are. Love is not putting her in that position.

If you want a less abstract reason to stay fully zipped, consider that the pill is only as effective as the person taking it and, even then, isn't effective immediately.

You aren't taking it, she is. She is: "hesitant." And 14. If you want any say at all in your future at this point, you're going to have to say no.

And if you have no intention of listening to anything I just said, please remind all involved in the impending calamity that babies find parents who are ready to be parents when you put them up for adoption. Speaking of other definitions of love.

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