Back in the day when birth control and abortion weren't readily available to high school kids, fathers were pretty good deterrents to pregnancy. Boys knew they'd have kneecap problems if they got daddy's little girl pregnant. If they were lucky, they'd be married by the morning after.
Girls, meanwhile, were less likely to risk pregnancy because alternatives to motherhood were few, adoption being the most likely.
It wasn't a foolproof system, clearly, but the specter of lifelong consequences, combined with societal and parental disapproval, helped keep the illegitimate birthrate down.
Today, using the term "illegitimate" is more likely to spark disapproval than the activities contributing to the plague of unwed pregnancies. For sure there are far fewer fathers around to give young males The Eye. It is a fair guess, though not possible to confirm at this point, that at least some of Gloucester's pregnant daughters are from fatherless homes.
That guess is founded on sound social science indicating a strong correlation between father absence and a high risk for early sex and unwed pregnancy. Not only do fathers provide the masculine affection so many girls seek elsewhere, but they teach their daughters how to handle male sexual aggression, as well as to understand their own role in stimulating that aggression.
Thus far, there's been little mention of the family dynamic that often foretells the tragedy of children having children. Instead, most of the debate has centered on whether these girls and boys had enough access to sex education and contraceptives.
Other conversations have circled around the influence of movies, such as "Juno," that glamorize teen pregnancy. In the movie, 16-year-old Juno is adorably pregnant and far wiser than the film's adults.
Whatever happened in Gloucester, we know this much. Today's girls and boys daily marinate in a culture that offers little instruction in responsibility and self-control -- or the importance of marriage as antecedent to procreation -- but celebrates single motherhood and encourages sex without strings.
The surprise isn't that 17 girls are pregnant at one high school. The surprise is that there aren't more.