Joyce Jackson said she is a virgin and she's proud. But at 16, she has many questions about sex, questions she finds it difficult to ask her mother.
"I would ask my sister first," said the Bladensburg, Md., teen. "The questions might sound kind of stupid, but I would ask, 'Does sex really hurt?' or 'What do you do first?'"
Her mother might answer her questions, "but she would have said, 'Joyce, are you active in this?' And I would say, 'No, I just wanted to know.'"
If one thing was clear at a series of workshops last week aimed at promoting better communication among teens and their parents, it was that the topic of sex is generally avoided by both.
Parents and youths assembled in small groups at Ballou High School in Southeast Washington and talked about adolescent pregnancy, sex in the media, sex education and the church's role in teaching young people about sex.
"I feel great (about being a virgin)," Joyce said. Peer pressure doesn't bother her. "It was a decision I made because I guess I was scared and I wanted to be somebody special from any other girl."
Joyce's mother, Marjorie Payne, said she worries about giving Joyce the guidance and support she needs to make intelligent sexual decisions.
"All these tension things with Reagan's program and the economy -- they are enough to drive you crazy," Payne said. "And then you have a beautiful teen-age girl who is depending on you emotionally and you are trying to get a job. You might not be ready to help a 16-year-old girl."
About 100 youths and parents, mostly girls and mothers, turned out for the workshops, sponsored by Planned Parenthood of Washington.
Dr. Mona Harrison, director of Ambulatory Care Services at D.C. General Hospital, attributed the low male turnout to "the macho kind of thing."
"It's an affront to (their) maleness that (they) don't know enough about sex. There is pressure on males to perform and be experienced. . . . It was not macho to be there. I wish that we could get them to realize that it was macho to be there," she said.
During the workshop on adolescent pregnancy, Harrison compared being a teen-ager 25 years ago and today.
One parent in the group said she had "negative training" about sex; she was taught that it was wrong. No reasons were given. "I was scared to get pregnant," she said.
Another parent agreed. "I was always afraid of sex," she said. "My parents said it's just something you don't do. You don't let a boy mess with you."
When Harrison asked where youths now get information about sex one teen-age male said, on the streets.
"If I went around this room and asked each person what their parents said about sex, half will say their parents didn't talk about it," Harrison said. She urged parents to discuss sex with their children.
Throughout the conference, the same point was repeated: Parents and children have a hard time communicating about sex.
Judith Saxon, a professor of communications arts and theater at the University of Maryland, said if parents don't get involved with their children's sex education, other forces will.
She pointed out how easy it is for children to be influenced by television, for example, especially when parents don't explain what is good or bad in the programs.
"If parents haven't talked to their children about values and principles, they will accept ideas presented on television." Television doesn't change attitudes and beliefs, but creates attitudes and beliefs where none existed before, said Saxon, a workshop leader.
The Rev. Willie Wilson of Union Temple Baptist Church said the church's role should be explaining sexuality to youths rather than condemning sex.
"People in the church, even the pastor, can't say sex is an unpardonable sin," Wilson said, "because they did it, too. We should tell children not to have sex with a reason or by explaining it to them, or you haven't solved the problem. . . . People try to suppress sex and put it all on God. God gave it to us. . . . We want youths to come to the truth for themselves with all the information. Then they can take responsibility for their actions."
Sometimes telling youths about one's own adolescent experiences will help them understand what is happening to them, Wilson said. "People (in the church) have so much God in them, they can't be human," he said."If a person can't relate to you as a human, he can't relate to you as a Christian. You've got to be able to remember when you were where this person is so that you can be truthful with the person and not just say, 'don't do it.'"