I had succumbed to a professional gag rule: Don’t say anything to arouse a sense of shame.

When Sharon Sheehan’s article first came in, we were all excited. Here was a fresh perspective on teen sexuality that did not descend into simple moralism. And then Sharon called. It seemed Newsweek was also interested is this “fresh perspective” for their My Turn column in their July 13 issue. Fine, we said. Better to have a million people from the general public read her valuable insights. Perhaps we could run it later. Since Sharon was not wholly satisfied with how Newsweek deleted her article of its religious content, she thought running the restored version would be a good idea. We agree.

It was my first job in my career track. A master’s degree in public health qualified me for a position with the Riverside County Public Health Department in Southern California. My task was to “do something” about the county’s high rate of teenage pregnancy. Puzzled as to where to begin, I was happy to attend a training seminar in San Francisco conducted by acknowledged experts in the field.

A few dozen public-health workers from around the state met in a windowless room not far from the Golden Gate Bridge and wrestled with the growing problem of one million teenage pregnancies a year in the U.S. Our discussions quickly centered on how to convince teenagers to use birth control. The fundamental origin of the problem—teenagers’ premarital sexual activity—was accepted as a given.

Still, this group of experts was baffled. Despite tremendous efforts to disseminate information about birth control, an irritating obstacle remained. In the minds of teenagers, the decision to be sexually active was an embarrassment. Few girls wanted to march into a family-planning ...

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