05/07/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Rutting Teens...It Must be Spring

They were doing it in the spring sunshine yesterday afternoon. A young boy and girl were doing it on a chaise down by the pool area that we share with about 30 other homes -- in full view of 10 homes and another teen-aged boy. The only vestige of modesty was the beach towel that covered their bodies. The third teenager wandered around the pool area, opening up the sun umbrellas.

I had left my balcony door open to let in the air and listen to my wind chimes as I cleaned the house. Our cat Henry had just awoken from a year of torpor and killed a sparrow. Since our old cat died last year, Henry spends his time sleeping, as territorial negotiations for various sofa cushions are moot. After I removed the bird and little gray feathers from our living room rug, I went out on the balcony because I heard noises near the pool. I've seen public displays of affection, of course, but not a public display of the full act. And I understand that privacy is one of the issues with teen sex. There has been plenty of semi-private sex in cars, in basements, in movie theaters, in dorm rooms, in alleys, in rest rooms. There has been sex in the home when the parents are away. But in public and in front of a friend? I closed the balcony door; this was enough nature for one day.

Of course, two (well, maybe three) dropouts from the school's abstinence-only program does not a trend make, but it starts speculation. Does watching sex on television or a movie with a group of friends break down barriers enough so the line between fiction and reality disappears? Or are there emerging concepts of what's appropriate in public? Possibly. Recently, I was waiting at a ladies room at the library of our local State University, and both girls coming out of the stalls were engaged in conversations on cell phones. No one in line seemed to care.

Since this is a medievalist's love and marriage blog, I look to history for insight on our notions, for example, of adolescent sexuality and of privacy. The thought that controlling adolescent sex is an issue that arose in the nineteenth or twentieth century is fantasy. Medieval and early modern societies had a system where young men and women left their parents and went to learn a trade or be a domestic servant in someone else's household. A typical contract between a master and an apprentice lasted seven years. With close living quarters and delayed marriage, adolescent sexuality was considered to be a problem. For example, an apprentice's contract from the Guild of English Merchant Tailors for 1451 states that the apprentice is "not to commit fornication in or out of his master's house, nor make any contract of matrimony nor affiance himself without his master's permission." Abstinence-only programs didn't work then either.

So far as personal and bodily privacy are concerned, medieval people had very little. Most people slept in close proximity to each other -- and, sometimes, to their livestock. Houses in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries had interlocking suites of rooms without a hallway, so one had to pass through bed chambers to get to other rooms. Only in the late seventeenth and eighteenth century did house plans change to accommodate privacy for family members. Also, apprentices began to live away from the master's family, with the payment to them in food and lodging turning into wages. Notions of what's appropriate in private and public do change over time.

After about half an hour, I checked out our pool area again. The teens were clothed now, sitting at a table. The girl looked at a cell phone and rested her head on the shoulder of one of the boys. I have no idea who they are, if they live near me or just jumped the fence, or what their relationships mean to them. All I know is it must be spring.