July 25, 2012

Broken Education

by Airen Wolf

Did you know that the government has spent 1.5 billion per year, estimated, on abstinence only programs in public schools, only to leave us with the highest teen birthrate in the entire industrialized world? Now consider that teen pregnancy costs taxpayers about 9 billion dollars a year. Are we trying to throw money away? Why do we have such a hard time talking about sex and sexuality with our kids?

Documentaries And Late Night Conversation

One night, as I was browsing NetFlix, I came across a documentary by James Houston entitled "Let's Talk About Sex". I had long admired his photography, and here was his take on sex and sexuality education in America. I began to watch this documentary and, like moths to a bright flame, my daughters slowly edged their way over to my computer. What followed left us all with our mouths hanging open, and we had a serious talk about what were were seeing.

In "Let's Talk About Sex," Mr. Houston shows the completely strange and seriously twisted relationship we have with sex and teenagers. Kids need us to help them make good decisions about their bodies and their lives, but in America we show them raw sex in every venue and then ask them to simply look, but don't touch. We give them next to no information about the responsibilities of sex and how to take care of themselves. Instead we present sex as a foe they need to battle against every minute of every day until that magical moment they are sanctified. We are sending a mixed message that is getting our kids in trouble. Statistics show that in America, everyday, 10,000 teens catch an STD! Further, 1 in 3 teenaged girls get pregnant in their teens. CLEARLY teaching teens "abstinence only" isn't working. Not talking about sex, and how to maintain proper sexual health, is making our teens ill, and forcing them to make life changing decisions about whether they are ready to become parents.

Now don't get me wrong, I am all for discussing the benefits of waiting to become sexually active. The idea that keeping silent on the matter, or worse, threatening and coercing your kids into abstinence works to keep them safe is what is foreign to me. If we don't teach our children properly, and with good information, they will fill that knowledge vacuum with other sources. These sources may be telling your teenager that Mountain Dew prevents sperm production or that a yellow skittle placed in the vagina will prevent both pregnancy and disease!

In another section of the documentary, we meet a young woman whose mother believes her to be a virgin. The young woman admits that she is not and that she had sex for the first time after drinking at a party. She was blithe about the drinking, but shook and cried at the thought of her Mom finding our she was no longer a virgin. She was more worried about her Mom finding out she had SEX than about the fact that she had been underage and DRINKING. The drinking is CLEARLY the problem here, because it lead to the impaired decision making that lead to the sex. My daughter actually pointed out this weird dichotomy to me, while shaking her head in disbelief. Her words were, "The natural act of putting a penis in her body is more frightening to deal with than the unnatural act of getting drunk, and then putting a penis inside her. How sad that her Mother completely failed to get the correct message across."

I don't know about you, but in our household making life changing decisions while intoxicated is frowned upon heavily. There are few things that are completely not tolerated, but underage drinking is one of the biggest ones. I would have been sad to learn that my daughter had chosen to have sex with a boy she barely knew, but I would have been FURIOUS if I knew either of my girls was at a party drinking. My girls are very well aware of this fact! I trust their judgement and we've been as frank about alcohol, and drugs, as we have been about sex.

I think it's time that we stand up and let our young people know that sex is a natural part of life, and that it isn't something to be feared or struggled against. It's something to be embraced, in a responsible manner. We need to teach them everything we can about their bodies and how to keep them disease free. I also think we need to provide them with the means to turn pregnancy into a choice rather than a horrifying consequence.

I think that the responsibility for good sex and sexuality education begins in the home, and ends in the home. We, as parents, are our children's first line of defense against misinformation and unsafe activities. We should be frankly discussing sex and sexuality while our children are young, and then adding in more vital information years before the public schools offer their silly attempts at education. This isn't meant to criticize teachers, because I am well aware that the vocal minority that oppose any form of sex education in schools has tied the hands of the good folk entrusted with the job of education. I am hoping that the quiet, but forward thinking parents will stand up and demand better for their children.

I have heard the argument that teaching a teenager about safer sex practices and showing a willingness to accept them as they are actually encourages them to have sex and be gay! First of all, I have no doubt that sexuality and sexual preference is something that we don't choose. In my household we stress that whomever you love should be a good person who doesn't say, "I love you", with a fist. Whatever the sex of the person, my girls know to be sure this person is someone they look forward to introducing to their parents; all three of them! In the long run we want our children to be happy, healthy and satisfied in love. We accept our children as they are, simply because they are our children.

Second, I was taught about condoms, though my Mom stopped short of actually demonstrating how to use them. What this did was empower me and offer me a choice. She also taught me all the silly things young boys say to get you to "give in". I was taught the exact mechanics of male orgasm so that I could refute the "blue balls" plea, and yes, my boyfriend DID try to use that one on me! He thought I was sexy as hell when I told him that he could simply take the matter in hand or I could find someone who wasn't afraid of his sexuality and masturbation. I then gave him a lecture on the possible health benefits of the act. I knew my mind and I chose when and where we would eventually have sex. In fact, both of us made a careful decision and practiced safer sex because we had the wherewithal to do so.

Having learned about condoms kept us from attempting sex for a full year after we started dating, and then we went slowly and carefully, making sure we were ready for this big step. It did NOT make us rush out and try sex the moment we learned about condoms! Studies in other countries prove out this fact, and I think it's high time American parents take a chance and trust their kids.

I don't know about you, but I want my teens to feel comfortable enough to come to me when they have questions or concerns about sex and their sexuality. I certainly want them to be able to tell me anything that is happening in their lives so that I can guide them and provide help when needed. When I speak confidently about sex and sexual identity I am teaching my children that I love,accept, and expect them to act responsibly about sex. I arm them with the best information I have access to and then let them loose to make their choices. I may not like or agree with their choices but I trust them to come to me if they need me. In the end, it's all we can do for our kids, and it's so much better than trying to scare them into compliance with an ideal that clearly isn't all that important in our world.

Stress your moral beliefs but prepare your children, and yourself, for the possibility that no matter what you say they may choose to go ahead and do the deed. You don't want your child to say, "I got pregnant, or sick, because I didn't know I was supposed to stay firm about using a condom."