Friday, January 20, 2012

Let's Talk About Sex...Education

As many of you know, my side gig when I'm not being a professional blogger is teaching high school English (well, maybe it's the other way around, but let’s pretend).  The other day, as a reward for finishing their state tests, I was letting my students talk quietly in groups and do word games.  I sat next to three of my 9th graders (3 girls and a boy) and quickly joined in on their discussion.

They were talking about teenage pregnancy, noticing the high number of girls in the high school who were currently pregnant.  The tone of the conversation started playful, but the students were asking some very serious questions.  The sole male student in our group directed the following question to me:

“Yo, Miss-- who do you think is more responsible for getting pregnant-- the boy or the girl?” 

Before I could answer the girls were quickly interjecting their own opinions.  It was the boy’s responsibility, because he was the one who needed to use a condom.  It was the girls’ responsibility because she shouldn’t be letting a boy go that far with her.  It was the parents’ responsibility because they should be monitoring their kids so they don’t have sex, in the first place.  

Reeling the conversation back in from this heated debate, I said, “Well, first of all, I think it’s everyone’s responsibility because the consequences can affect each person.  But I think that’s the wrong question.  My question is why are teenagers getting pregnant in the first place.  And I think the honest answer is that you guys just don’t receive a good sex education in school.”

To my surprise, the kids whole-heartedly agreed with this (not that I expected them to be against it, per se, but rather, in the true spirit of teenager-dom, to be somewhat apathetic to anything say).  Many were quick to point out that they had had no sex education in their public schools.  And they were even quicker to insist that they needed it.

What followed was a barrage of basic sex-ed questions,- from prophylactics to periods to pregnancy-- some of which astonished me in their naïveté.  For example, one of my students asked if using condoms was even “worth it” because “a lot of times they don’t  work.”  Astonished to find that several of my students were nodding in agreement, it dawned on me that this is a direct consequence of the misinformation that gets spread with abstinence-only sex education.  

In abstinence-only “sex education,” educators must emphasize abstinence as the only true method of birth control.  Information about prophylactics, disease, birth control, etc. gets spinned to reflect the abstinence-only rhetoric.  Therefore, rather than facilitating a discussion about the importance of using condoms for safety, educators must state something along the lines of “Condoms are only effective a certain percentage of the time and they can even break.  The only 100% safe method of birth control is abstinence.”  While this information is technically true, it leads kids to believe that there really is no other form of birth control except abstinence.  This is one of the most dangerous misconceptions that teens have.  It leads them to engage in risky behavior that might otherwise be avoided by simple information.  

What has been proven, time and time again, is that abstinence-based sex education is ineffective.  The reason is simple.  People have sex.  And I’m going to say something truly shocking to everyone:  teenagers have sex, too.   While this may be an affront to our Puritan sensibilities, what should shock us is that teens are having sex without the necessary information to protect themselves, prevent unwanted pregnancy, and feel respected and safe at all time.  Furthermore, the scare-tactics used in abstinence-based sex education (like, “don’t have sex, because you’ll get AIDs and die) are making teens too afraid to ask appropriate questions about sex-- something that perpetuates the ignorance which leads to high-risk behavior.

This is not to say that parents, families, and communities cannot impart their particular moral values around sex to their children.  However, this should be the basis of a child making the decision to have sex.  Regardless of the outcome of that decision, I maintain, they should have all the information necessary to be safe should they choose to have sex. {NOTE: Obama has technically lifted the Bush-era ban on funding comprehensive sex education; however, many states have not moved from abstinence-only sex education}.

For my students, as a moral responsibility, I did my part to dispel any of the myths or misinterpretations that they had been forming.  I told them the percentage effective-ness rates for condoms when used correctly and incorrectly.  I gave them resources to where they could go to find other age-appropriate information.   We talked about the subject maturely, objectively, and scientifically, and the students appreciated the candor.  

As the discussion progressed, more and more students moved their desks towards are table-group in the center of the room.  All of this tells me that teens are CRYING OUT for information.  More than that, they want to be able to ask questions in an environment where they feel respected as a young adult and not judged for their curiosity.  It’s time that we stop shaming teens for trying to educate themselves and do our part to make sure they have the correct information when the time comes for them to make potentially life-altering decisions.  

1 comment:

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