Join the debate. Vote Now on the Dear Abby Poll of the week.

by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: I am so sick of the argument that dispensing condoms in school encourages sex that I could scream. What are people thinking these days? I understand that parents and adults don't like the thought of fifth-graders (or younger or older, for that matter) having sex, but it's a fact that some do.

Adolescents and teens have sex for various reasons. Some are responsible and use condoms. But often they act irresponsibly and do not. Many are afraid or embarrassed to ask their parents for them.

As parents, adults and educators, we have a responsibility to provide young people with the necessary tools for survival in this world. I fail to see why anyone, especially our young, should be at risk of death because of a mistake in judgment.

Abby, you have been 100 percent correct in the past when you said that if children are at risk of dying, we as informed adults and parents have a moral obligation to educate children about safe sex. And yes, that includes providing condoms to help young people combat the spread of AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases.

It's no longer enough for parents to tell young adults that abstinence is the best way. The kids know that. But they do not necessarily heed that advice. This means that we must communicate to them in other ways. By dispensing condoms to young people and counseling them about safe sex, we can tell them, "I don't agree with your decision, but as your parent or friend, I don't want you to die because you have chosen to be sexually active."

I hope you will print my letter. -- RESPONSIBLE ADULT IN NEW JERSEY

DEAR RESPONSIBLE ADULT: I'm printing your letter, but I anticipate sharp criticism from those who disagree with you.

May I add that the only 100 percent safe sex is NO sex at all -- and I believe that is the ONLY way to go for adolescents and teen-agers.

DEAR ABBY: Here's one for your "Tasteless and Tacky" files.

A young co-worker was getting married -- a spur-of-the-moment thing. Having such short notice and being on a tight budget, my wife and I decided that a check for $30 would be our wedding gift.

Two weeks after the nuptials, the groom informed me that they had accidentally "washed" our gift when it went into the washing machine with the laundry, and the check was ruined. Then he asked me if I'd mind writing out another check in the same amount.

Without telling you what I did, I'd like to know what you think of his asking me to write another check, and how I should have handled the situation.

By the way, six months later they separated, were not speaking to each other, and the divorce papers were already filed. -- WONDERING IN THE WEST

DEAR WONDERING: This gives "laundering money" a new twist. His asking you to write another check to replace the one that went into the washing machine was not unreasonable. However, I suspect you delayed replacing the check until you were certain the marriage would last.

DEAR ABBY: A recent letter in your column really struck home with me. It was about an 11-year-old boy who hit a baseball into the neighbors' back yard. Thinking no one was home, he climbed the fence to retrieve it and encountered two nude women, sunbathing.

Well, in 1957, I was 11 years old and visiting my cousin's home in Los Angeles. One afternoon we were practicing archery in his back yard, and I accidentally shot an arrow over the target and into the neighbor's fenced back yard.

When I climbed the fence to retrieve the arrow, I encountered a woman sunbathing nude! When she saw me, she shrieked, grabbed a nearby towel and ran inside her house.

Only later did I learn that the neighbor was Marilyn Monroe! Had I only known then what I know now ... SENTIMENTAL IN SAN FRANCISCO

DEAR SENTIMENTAL: Right. You'd have grabbed a camera and asked for her autograph.

What teens need to know about sex, drugs, AIDS, and getting along with peers and parents is in "What Every Teen Should Know." To order, send a business-sized, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $3.95 ($4.50 in Canada) to: Dear Abby, Teen Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, Ill. 61054-0447. (Postage is included.)

4900 Main St., Kansas City, Mo. 64112; (816) 932-6600