The more I read of Laura Sessions Stepp's Jan. 19 Style article, "The Buddy System; Sex in High School and College: What's Love Got to Do With It?" the more disheartened I became. If the article truly reflects the "norm" today, no doubt therapists and pharmaceutical companies will be kept in robust business.

The issue of emotional detachment implicit in these sexual liaisons suggests the ominous beginning of future neurosis. The illusion of freedom and control that these young people have appropriated for their lives will trump the more critical need of learning to process complex emotions.

And it's disappointing to see that some 30 years after women's sexual liberation, our daughters have grossly twisted the meaning of the word "freedom." If sexual freedom dictates a kid-in-the-candy-store mentality, we have done our daughters a great disservice.

PAMELA BERG

Alexandria

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When I was in high school 20 years ago, we had a small percentage of girls who behaved the same way as the girls in Laura Sessions Stepp's article. I now have a son and a daughter in high school in Anne Arundel County, and they say the same thing. Yes, a small number of girls in their school act this way. But they are in the minority. The article portrayed this behavior as pandemic.

The article also seemed sympathetic toward the girls who behaved this way, as if they "don't have the time or energy" for a relationship. The only thing this behavior will lead to is lower self-esteem and heartache.

RONALD SEITS

Crownsville

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According to Laura Sessions Stepp, members of my generation engage in sexual activity with friends, acquaintances and ex-boyfriends but draw the line at having intercourse with them. Instead, Stepp continues, they engage in activities up to and including oral sex -- which seems to be about the only difference between the "hooking up" of today and the "free love" embraced by emancipated women in the 1960s and '70s.

So why the uproar?

Ms. Stepp lamented, "But when will they learn that just because you can do something doesn't necessarily mean that you should? Who will teach them that there is power in holding back?"

Our parents' generation learned this lesson, and so will we. Meanwhile, the situation is hardly as dire as Ms. Stepp suggested. Most of my friends are in long-term relationships. When my single friends hook up, they do so safely and because they want to. They do not need "large amounts of alcohol" to make it "palatable."

Considering that so many women today marry in their late twenties and early thirties, they have plenty of time after college to worry about dating and mating. With any luck, sometime before my generation settles down, we'll see an end to this hypocritical hand-wringing about our sexual habits.

At the least, technically we're more abstinent -- and isn't that what the Bush administration wants?

ESTER BLOOM

Washington