Arm young people with information.
The U.S. government believes that if we don't talk about an issue, it doesn't exist. Since when has this policy ever worked? It certainly isn't working when we try to educate young people about the risks of having sex, both emotional and physical.
According to many groups, teenagers don't have sex so it isn't a problem in our communities and schools. So why is it that there are 900,000 unplanned pregnancies and that four out of every 10 young women will become pregnant before the age of 20? (1)
There is no way to explain away the phenomenon that is sweeping our nation. The United States has the highest rate of teen pregnancy and births in the Western industrialized world. It costs us at least four billion dollars a year. (2) As President Bush pushes for abstinence-only education in schools, we see young people's concerns pushed aside. They are not given information. They are simply told what not to do.
I have been working for a comprehensive sexuality education program for the last four years, and I can't imagine doing anything else. We not only show STD slides and teach people how to put on condoms but we also present on sexual decision making, healthy relationships, peer pressure, and self esteem.
There is far more to sex education than just showing people how to do it. Students are able to voice their concerns and ask any question in a safe environment where no one will tell them that they shouldn't be talking about S-E-X. It seems so simple to me, but apparently it is harder for our government to grasp this concept. When you arm young people with information, they are more likely to delay sexual intercourse and more likely to use contraceptives. (3)
In an ideal world, we would not have these problems, and I understand that it is easy to push this under the rug and hope that it will go away. But it won't, and eventually an unwanted pregnancy will occur to someone you know and love.
The reason behind those pregnancies vary from not feeling comfortable with your partner, not knowing how to use condoms or how to talk to your partner about using them, or even believing in one of the many myths, including you can't get pregnant the first time or that pulling out is sufficient to prevent pregnancy.
When young people receive their sex education from their friends, they also receive a lot of information that could be wrong or misleading. I know that I was told many things that I have since learned were wrong. Teens are more likely to delay sex if they have parental support and communication. This does not mean that you tell a girl not to get pregnant. It needs to be more comprehensive. Explain both the pros and cons of having sex as well as issues surrounding intimacy. Once young people are armed with knowledge, they are able to make decisions that will impact their lives in a positive way.
I have been lucky enough to work in several Catholic schools and present on all topics of sexual health education. When we presented on the topic of birth control, the Sister told the class that although the Church does not believe in contraceptives, she felt it was important for people to make their own decisions. She talked about how hard it is to deal with hormones and puberty but no matter what, she felt it was most important for them to have this information either to share with friends or to use themselves. She ended with saying that the most important thing is to protect yourself.
We allow guns in our country to apparently protect us and yet we are afraid to teach girls how to put on a condom. What is more important than protecting the body you are given and making sure that the people around you are safe?
Many of the young people I have worked with feel that if they talk to their parents about sex, they will be accused of having sex and maybe even get in trouble. I can under-stand wanting your teen not to have sex, but we need to make it less taboo to talk about. Open up a discussion when you see something on TN Ask your children how it made them feel or what it made them think about.
I know it can be hard because it has taken a lot of time and hardship for my parents and me to be able to talk about everything. It will take an effort for all the people involved and in the long run your teens will thank you. Don't wait for the worst to happen before you approach these conversations.
(1.) Fact Sheet: Recent Trends in Teen Pregnancy, Sexual Activity, and Contraceptive Use (Washington, DC: National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, 2003), http:www.teenpregnancy.org/resources/reading/pdf/rectrend.pdf
(3.) D. Kirby, Emerging Answers: Research Findings on Programs to Reduce Teen Pregnancy (The National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, May 2001).
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|Date:||Apr 1, 2003|
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