I woke up to this today, reposted on Facebook: Massachusetts School District Under Fire For Condom Policy. In stark contrast, Texas maintains an ‘abstinence only education’ policy despite the rising number of teen pregnancies in our schools, which obviously shows that ‘abstinence only’ education really works! [/sarcasm] – well, after the picture…
Isn’t that an awesome picture? I think it illustrates exactly the atmosphere that abstinence only education breeds. All the while, parents are sticking their heads in the sand and hoping that their kids aren’t doing it too. And they’re wrong.
Sex Education in schools is a topic that is woefully under addressed. I really don’t see why this is not a more openly debated topic in Southeast Texas. Well, I know why it’s not, really. We have a disproportionately large number of churches to other buildings here. The religious right has their finger firmly in that pie, and who knows what it will take to release the masses from their death-grip on the idea that ‘sex=sin’. I just don’t understand why so many people go merrily along with it instead of openly advocating for their kids to have access to the education and information they need to make better choices.
Here’s the rub: if abstinence only education (AOE) actually worked, then teaching it would be fine. I was even fine with a trial period to test the theory. But it does not work. A cursory glimpse of any research on the topic will tell you that. It didn’t work for us; why on earth would we start thinking that it will work for our kids? AOE leaves our kids vulnerable. Not informing and arming our kids through education leaves them wide open for exposure to disease, pregnancy (and the subsequent very grown-up decisions one must face with an unplanned pregnancy), being talking into having sex before they’re ready (which can lead to depression and self-esteem issues) and a host of other complications as well. Even if a child is coerced into having sex before he or she is ready, at least a condom will lessen the risk of having a permanently life-altering physical consequence from the encounter.
Some parents don’t even want their kids to have access to basic biological information and terminology. Many go so far as to deny their kids information about how their bodies work and the changes that take place in them as puberty begins. ‘Carrie‘, anyone? I’ve seen this attitude first-hand here in Southeast Texas. One of the programs that my BFF/business partner and I tired to implement a couple of years ago with our organization was a ‘body awareness’ class targeting mothers and daughters. The target age range was for mothers and girls about to enter puberty. The class was designed with two goals in mind – to provide a basic education of how the female body works and to increase communication between mother (or female guardian/trusted female relative or friend) and daughter by addressing and opening the floor to topics that may be uncomfortable to bring up. We were met with outright opposition to the very idea of talking to girls as young as 9 or 10 about their monthly cycle and the development of breasts – as if frank discussion about such topics was somehow obscene. Some moms were profoundly offended, despite the fact that we clearly were not addressing sexual topics other that just a very, very basic mention of the mechanics. We also sought to encourage moms to open a dialogue about the other issues surrounding sex and ‘sexual activity within the context of their own individual belief systems’ with their children. We were not pushing anything onto these people, other than the idea that ‘girls need education’.
Boys do, too – don’t for one second think I am leaving them out. I have two of them on the precipice of puberty and that is a mind-blowing thought. But I can tell you that the discussions have already begun. At 8 and 7, my boys know where babies come from and we’ve talked about physical intimacy in roundabout ways. But the time is fast approaching where they’ll need more information and just because I’m squicked out by the idea of my sons thinking about having sex does not give me the right to withhold information they need in order to do so safely. Recognizing that gives me the opportunity and responsibility to continue talking with them about when it is right to have sex within the context of our belief system. Those types of discussions contribute to their ability to make the decision that is right for them.
The argument that sex education encourages kids to have sex is ludicrous. Sure, you might (I kinda doubt it, but the possibility exists) have a handful kids who would not otherwise have had sex until someone told them about it, but I would assert that those few kids have deeper issues in their lives that have impacted that decision than having access to condoms. I would further assert that for those children, having access to birth control would go along way towards preventing additional complications in their lives.
My opinion is that proper sex education gives children the knowledge and confidence in their bodies and beliefs to say no until the time is right for them, and when it is right, to engage in sexual activity with their own futures and safety, and the futures and safety of their partners, in mind.
Loverly Husband and I have recently begun watching the series Mad Men, and in one of the first episodes a young woman is at the gynecologists office and asks for birth control pills. He gives them to her, but threatens to take her off of them if she abuses them. He says that just because she is safe now doesn’t mean that she has to be the town bike (or some such nonsense). As if it is his right to monitor the sexual activity of a grown woman! The thought that ‘we’, being parents, the church, the school – anyone who is not the person (‘underage person’ though they may be) in question – can dictate to anyone else when the time is right for them to engage in sexual activity is asinine. Who told you when the time was right for you to have your first sexual experience? Did you get permission? Did you use protection? I didn’t! And I was damn lucky that there were not lifelong consequences resulting from that decision. Do I ever want my kids in that position?
I think that open dialogue with our kids is the only way to help them understand that sex is not something that should be taken lightly. That the possibility of pregnancy always exists, even with protection. That ‘sex’ is not always ‘intercourse’. That prophylactics can fail, leaving you open to exposure to disease. That you may feel differently after you’ve had sex. That other kids may see you differently after you’ve had sex. That it will probably feel good. That No means NO. That sometimes, sex is just sex. That intimacy and sex are not the same thing. That waiting doesn’t make you a loser, or immature, or a prude. That you have absolute autonomy when it comes to your own body.
There are so many issues surrounding sex that should be addressed, and I think that many parents put those intense and uncomfortable discussions off because they either think they have more time (forgetting that our babies grow up so lightening-quick that if you blink you might miss it…) or they are so uncomfortable with the topic that they avoid it.
Sex is NOT going to go away – and if YOU don’t talk to your kids about it, someone else will. In fact, if you’re not talking to your kids about sex, they probably are talking to someone else about it. Someone who may not share your views on sex. Someone who might be younger or less experienced than you. Someone who might be misinformed. Someone who might give your child bad information.
If you’re having a hard time getting sex ed into your child’s education, here are some books to help get the discussion started:
- The Care and Keeping of You: The Body Book for Girls
- My Body My Self for Girls
- The Boys Body Book
- My Body My Self for Boys
- The Talk: What Your Kids Need to Hear From You About Sex
- Let’s Talk About S-E-X
- It’s so Amazing! A Book About Eggs, Sperm, Birth, Babies and Families
- Sex and Sensibility
I have some of them, but I haven’t read all of those. I am buying a couple of them to ensure that we have plenty of material to work with. I consider myself a pretty open-minded mom, and progressive parent. While I don’t want my kids sexually active at a young age, I do want my children to have a healthy understanding of sex as both a biological function and as an expression of love with their partner. As much as I’d love to believe that I’ll know when my kids have their first sexual experience, realistically, I doubt that I will. In any case, I’d rather have my kids getting condoms from somewhere or someone than having this be our new life: