Sex Education; Finding Out The Facts
The issue of sex education in our schools has been a source of never-ending conflict for decades, with no sign of a compromise in sight. Some say it's the parents' job to teach their adolescents the facts about sex, others insist the job belongs to the public and private schools. Schools with programs already in place have to deal with the debate over what material should be included in the sex education curriculums. Most conservatives strongly advocate a faith-based "abstinence-only" approach, while moderates and liberals tend to favor a comprehensive program that gives teens all the facts necessary to make an informed decision.
Dr. Albert Ellis, in his excellent book Sex Without Guilt In the 21st Century, summed up the sex education debacle perfectly: "We put on determined sex education campaigns–and then see that our young people are so abysmally ignorant that they undergo numerous unwanted pregnancies, unnecessary abortions, forced marriages, gruesome wedding nights, great sex fears, and needless divorces." If anyone can prove beyond a shadow of doubt that this is not the case, please step forward.
Is there one right answer to this ongoing problem? Since beliefs and opinions on this critical topic vary from person to person, obviously not. But there is no doubt that some kind of compromise must be reached, unless we want to see future generations of teens making decisions on sexual activity without having the information that is essential in helping them make responsible choices. Engaging in sex in ignorance of the possible negative outcomes is a certain recipe for disaster, in the form of unplanned and unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases, as Dr. Ellis and other sex educators continue to point out.
Is there any way that these disastrous scenarios be significantly reduced or avoided altogether? One possibility we might consider on a national scale, rather than just an individual or local one, is encouraging and empowering our teens to find out the facts for themselves. Think about it. Every time our teens do a research project in school, parents and teachers help our kids find the sources of information needed to complete their school projects on time. What can possibly be more important than making knowledge about sex accessible as well? Considering that engaging in sex – or not – is a decision that will impact a teen's life from that point onward, I'm surprised we haven't considered discussing this alternative on a national level before. But now that it has been raised, let us look to the ways in which we can help them. There is no reason that parents and teachers can't be partners in this goal rather than adversaries, which has too often been the case in the past.
Our first priority is letting teens know where vital and objective information about sex can be obtained. Luckily, we have excellent resources available, including our public libraries and the Internet. The last decade of the 20th Century brought about extraordinary developments in online communication, one of which was the availability of informational web sites. Planned Parenthood Federation of America created a website for teens alone, which is appropriately called "Teenwire." What is "Teenwire" exactly? The copy on their "About Us" page says it all, but here are a few quotes to help you get an idea. "Teenwire is the leading web site for teens needing information about sexual health. We are committed to giving you the facts about sex so that you can use this information to make your own responsible choices. We provide honest and nonjudgmental information about sexuality with the hope that you will use this knowledge to reduce your risk of unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections."
Sounds like a very intelligent resource to me, but if you still want to get the facts yourself before telling your teen about it, a great place to start is Teenwire's "In Focus" page. It promises to give you "everything you need to know about sex, birth control, pregnancy, your body and more." When you
click on the In Focus link, you are taken to a page with thirteen brightly-colored topic boxes, each of which is labeled with an important subject. Topics such as sex, birth control, infections, pregnancy, abortion, body, and relations are included, but there are more offered as well.
Each box you click on takes you to a detailed list of articles that relate to each topic. In the "Sex" area for example, you will find some excellent articles, including: Abstinence-Only Sex Ed Gets an "F," Masturbation Myths, Are You Sexually Healthy?, Safer Sex 101 and even Abstinence: Who, What, When, Why And How. They sure don't sound dangerous to me. And those are just five articles from quite a long list.
For those who prefer printed books to online web sites, the public libraries are the best resource - especially since the knowledge can be obtained with the ease of giving your library card to the person at the checkout desk. Parents and teens who are unsure what books would be most helpful can do a search on the library system computer under "sex education." If their library system is like mine, the search will bring up a list of available titles to look over.
Naturally, this third alternative of helping teens find out the facts will generate controversy, and if it does, we need to face it head on. The most likely source of opposition to this new approach will probably be groups from the Religious Right, who won't be thrilled that the control over young people's sexual choices is being yanked out of their hands. Concerned Women of America is already doing its best to discredit Planned Parenthood's web site, with titles such as "Planned Parenthood's Teenwire: Debauching Our Children" written on September 19, 2004.
One would think, reading the article in its entirety, that providing honest information about sex is actually worse than the very real dangers of unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases that Planned Parenthood is helping teens to avoid. The author goes as far as to imply that giving teens important knowledge about sex will soon lead to "experimenting with every sex act known to fallen humanity." Sure. And someday, maybe elephants will fly. This kind of anti-sex hysteria demonstrates once again that when conservative religion attempts to tackle the issue of sex, the virtues of logic and reason are conspicuously absent. Why else would conservative faith groups go out of their way to promote sexual ignorance rather than intelligence. How anyone could prefer the first over the second is something only they can try to explain.