Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Sex Education: 21st Century Kids with Parents Living in the Past

Imagine you are a health and wellness educator.  It's up to your department to choose appropriate resources to teach sex education as part of the curriculum.  After the tedious process of sifting through recommendations and samples, reviewing research and statistics and considering needs of the students, your team selects a textbook.  The district endorses the unanimous choice of the educators, Your Health Today. The school board approves and the book is ordered and distributed to Fremont, California's six high schools. 
Then naive or ignorant or uninformed or extremist or overly-protective parents got involved.  After a few angry parents browsed through the book, you'd think the students, the school and the entire Fremont School District were headed straight to hell. After 2000 signatures, the book was shelved while the school worked with the publisher to change some of the 'controversial' references.  A few of these 'controversies' included: 

·         Anatomically correct drawing of reproductive organs
·         Discussion about unwanted pregnancies
·         Inappropriate topics like sex toys or sharing your sexual history with your partner because How does that relate to my 14-year-old kid?
·         Showing graphic pictures and explaining how to put on a condom is pornography

     Obviously, educators were aware of 
     the information in the book considering it a vital resource to keep kids informed and safe. The superintendent's statement echoed the instructional team's philosophy. Your Health Today  “provides current, accurate, factual and relevant information our students need to make responsible decisions about their health.”  
If accurate sex education gets the 'controversial' stamp in California, imagine the reaction of parents in the Bible Belt.  Hence, the conundrum: to serve the needs of students while satisfying unrealistic demands from parents.  Someone is out of touch with the real lives of 14-year-olds. Let's just say it is not the educators.

Why does teaching comprehensive sex education to sexually active students cause such a bru-ha-ha in the United States? For the same reasons it was controversial in the 1980's, the 1900's, the 2000's and any time the topic arises. It's all about our messed up perceptions of the human body and its natural functions.

   
 Your Body Is Not a Wonderland - It's Evil

In American society we seemed to inherit parts of the Puritan code regarding sex. We've learned to be ashamed of naked bodies, embarrassed about the natural process of the body parts-like breast feeding in public, associate being bad/naughty/evil with masturbation or any sex act not needed for reproduction. Instead of being comfortable with natural human urges, we are expected to suppress them.

In case you need an example supporting this anal attitude in American society, think Janet Jackson.   The Janet Jackson Superbowl wardrobe malfunction fiasco - (when [gasp] part of one breast flashed the crowd) was not a proud moment in our history. Unlike real news like house fires killing kids or the discovery of an antidote for influenza, a couple inches of exposed skin made all the headlines for weeks. Reporters, viewers, and large numbers of wanna-be drama queens discussed ways to save America's children from a lifetime of nightmares and how to erase such an ugly chapter in our country's history. They speculated on conspiracy theories trying to make sense of the heinous act. 

To summarize: Unlike more progressive countries where people think nakedness is natural-that humans were not born clothed, an incident like the breast exposure fiasco would probably go unnoticed.  Or, it'd be like, "Hey Sven, did you see her perky breastie?" Then Sven (rolling his eyes) responds with, "Are you in kindergarten, dumbass? It's just another titty." Or something like that.

                                                                 Parents Just Want the Sex Talk Thing to Go Away

Many parents say sex education belongs at home. Great.  The problem?  Many prefer not to discuss such a sensitive topic with their kids. Others are too uncomfortable to bring up little details like how it's possible to get pregnant or get a nasty infection w/o penetration and many other enlightening scenarios.  Instead of sharing accurate information about sex in an ongoing conversation, some parents just want to get it over with, have 'The Talk" in 20 minutes or less and be done with it. Then there are always those parents who don't know that much about sexual health, proper sexual etiquette, the existence of oral sex and such.  

Then there are the old-school parents who go with the excuse, Kids learn all that stuff from other kids. That's the way it's always been. That's how I learned about sex and I turned out okay.  Sure.  In other words let's keep doing what we've been doing just because we've been doing it.  In any case, sexual health is more effective when taught by an objective person more in touch with teen sexual activity.

                                                 Just Close Your Eyes and Look the Other Way, AKA Denial

Sure, your kid has never experienced a natural body reaction when surrounded by hotties.  Yup, you're right. It's the neighbor's kid across the street or kids with no parents at home, or kids who do not go to church.  They turn into bad girls and bad boys. THOSE are the kids who have sex. Your princess would never think of such inappropriate acts. She goes to church every Sunday.  And, yes, we're so proud of junior. He is waiting for marriage (Junior makes crude gestures snickering in background). Oh, my. Freshmen in high school are too young to learn about sex. That will expose them to inappropriate material for their age. Or not.
  
That's part of the problem; many kids don't get accurate information about sex until after they're sexually active.  In reality, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention says sex education should start with 10 year olds.  In order to prevent unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections, children need to learn facts about sexual health before they become sexually active.

Sex Education Causes the Moral Decay of Our Youth

Several organizations including The Society for Adolescent Medicine cite studies showing comprehensive sex education programs do not cause an increase in sexual activity. Sex education does not lower the age of first sex and does not increase the frequency of sex.  On the other hand, research proves the abstinence only programs funded by the US government do not work.   Columbia University research proved 'virginity pledges' and other programs convincing students to wait until marriage did not work. While many students waited longer to have first sex, 88% of the abstinence-only students initiated sex prior to marriage. 

While the US government spent over a billion dollars funding abstinence only programs proven to be ineffective, the government has spent zero dollars on funding comprehensive sexual education programs proven to be effective.  Due to accurate information about contraceptives and safety, the comprehensive programs were successful at reducing teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections.

Tell the Truth and Nothing but the Truth

One of the most troubling statistics on federally funded abstinence only programs is the distribution of inaccurate and misleading information about reproductive health.  Those resources, proven to be ineffective and misleading, were also dangerous. The material prepared by the US Department of Health and Human Services contained false information about the effectiveness of contraceptives, the risks of abortions, stereotyping gender roles, and claimed religious beliefs as scientific facts.

Twenty First Century Kids with Parents Living in the Past

Many parents still believe abstinence only programs work. Research continually proves them wrong.  The parents who refuse to accept scientific facts are harming children in the long run.  By keeping accurate sexual health information from students, parents are exposing their children to unsafe practices often leading to unwanted pregnancy.
Not much has changed in attitudes toward teaching sex education.  Many parents realize a high percentage of secondary students are sexually active. They promote providing accurate information about reproduction, birth control and other areas of sexual health with the intention of keeping children safe.  Parents who refuse to accept facts and choose to rely on ineffective programs like abstinence only, are setting kids up for serious problems.

As long as so many people insist on using religious beliefs as scientific facts, too many sexually active kids won't have access to accurate information about contraceptives, safe sex and other aspects of comprehensive sex education.  It seems strange that those putting kids in danger by hiding behind the morality excuse are the same parents responsible for their well being.
 
C'mon folks. It doesn't require a college degree to resolve the supposed controversy of teaching sex education in schools. It simply takes common sense. It's a choice between doing what's best for students or appeasing out-of-touch parents. 
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*UPDATE On August 14 the Fremont School Board voted 3-2 to return the new sex education books to the publisher. They opted to continue using the 10-year-old books filled with misinformation. So much for doing what's best for kids.

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Ten Myths about Sex and Pregnancy  (according to Web MD)

  • If you have sex while standing, you can't get pregnant. Wrong. Stand up, lay down, run, sleep-whatever. It has absolutely no impact on sperm hooking up with an egg.
  • If it's your first time, you can't get pregnant. Wrong again. It can be the hundredth time or the first time you have sex. It is still all about eggs/sperm.
  • If you do jumping jacks right after sex, you can't get pregnant. Ummm. No. Jumping up and down or other exercise doesn't have a thing to do with the sperm/egg courtship.
  • If you are having your period or you are in the water, you can't get pregnant. Again, not true. It might be messier but that's not gonna stop the swimmers.
  • If you douche with Coke right away after sex, you won't get pregnant. Wrong. When the egg and sperm join they haven't traveled to the vagina you are douching.
  • As long as the female doesn't have an orgasm, pregnancy won't happen. No, no, no! Multiple orgasms or no climax at all might be a factor in your relationship. But, after conception the fertilized  forms a zygot-a 100-150 cells that differentiate after two weeks to become an embryo.
  • If a male does not ejaculate inside the vagina, there's no chance of pregnancy. Very, very wrong. Fluids are discharged before the penis is even inserted  Prior to the big moment more fluids leak out, semen can be in this fluid.  If you are physically touching sexual organs, sperm and eggs can sneak into a fertile place. So, if a guy 'pulls out' prior to ejaculation, your baby makers do not care.
  •  Many other myths exist. Instead of believing another inexperienced person, ask an adult (counselor, nurse, guidance, teacher, nurse, doctor). Don't be embarrassed. Ask for more information as needed. Do some research and use common sense.