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

by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: We work for Planned Parenthood and would like to commend you for your continued frank discussion about how important it is that parents talk to their kids about their sexuality. A significant amount of research shows that parents have a great deal of influence on their children's behavior, and no matter how much their teens roll their eyes or stare out the window, they are listening.

"North Dakota Mom" was a great example of how to approach your teen -- with accurate information and a message about your own values in a nonjudgmental, open manner. Sex education has been shown to delay the onset of sexual intercourse, and parents are an excellent source for accurate sex information. Teens also make better decisions when they decide to become sexually active if they have had comprehensive sex education.

One point that is missing is that boys also need these frank discussions about protection, contraception, and how to develop their own value systems. Parents should get the same contraceptive kit to show to their sons.

Condoms and spermicidal gels or foams used together are extremely effective in preventing the spread of sexually transmitted infections (including HIV/AIDS) and unplanned pregnancies. Boys need to know how to put on a condom correctly to reduce the chances of its breaking. They also need to understand that they are equally responsible for keeping both their partner and themselves safe and healthy.

The only surefire way to prevent both disease and pregnancy is abstinence. Many adolescents don't know what "abstinence" means, and they often think that only vaginal intercourse is "having sex."

Thank you again, Abby, for your continued crusade to protect our teens and your confidence that they will make the right decisions when given honest information. -- DEBORAH HOBBINS AND SUSAN CASKEY, MADISON, WIS.

DEAR DEBORAH AND SUSAN: You're welcome. And you are right; I do have confidence in the common sense of young adults. Given the information they need to protect themselves, I have faith they will use it intelligently.

I am in favor of abstinence-based sex education. (To "abstain" means to practice deliberate restraint and/or self-denial in relation to an urge or craving.) However, that should not be the entire message. Sexually mature young adults also need the specifics about how to protect themselves from STDs and pregnancies for which they are not prepared emotionally, financially and sometimes physically.

DERA ABBY: I am 81 years old; my wife is 76. We have been married 52 years. My wife recently decided that we were not having enough "together" time. So she went to her appointment calendar and drew big red hearts around all the Wednesdays. Our Wednesdays are now our together time. We use it to sightsee, to visit a museum or go to the library to research genealogy, to have a picnic or try a new restaurant. But mostly it's just about being together. Every week is beautiful because we have a "heart day" to look forward to. -- LOVING WEDNESDAYS, CHESHIRE, MASS.

DEAR LOVING: I suspect that every week is beautiful because you still have and appreciate each other.

Abby shares her favorite recipes in two booklets: "Abby's Favorite Recipes" and "Abby's More Favorite Recipes." To order, send a business-size, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $3.95 per booklet ($4.50 each in Canada) to: Dear Abby Booklets, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447. (Postage is included in price.)

4520 Main St., Kansas City, MO 64111; (816) 932-6600