Wednesday, March 4, 2009

It’s Not Realistic

Back in the 70’s, I had a very brave health teacher who decided to offer her 10th grade class frank and accurate information about sex—both the benefits and the consequences. I recall that my parents had to sign a release form giving me permission to attend this class, which they did, quite happily.

It was in that classroom where I saw my first condom and I learned how men get erections, and learned that women have “little penises” called a clitoris and this tiny bit of anatomy was the key to female orgasm. As I write this I marvel at all the information I was given in this short series of classes. This information later allowed me to challenge much of the schoolyard sexual mythology—such as the “blue ball” myth that guys would practically die if they couldn’t satisfy an erection—and allowed me to protect myself from unplanned pregnancies and act as my own advocate when I was ready to go beyond first base.

I mourn for the generations of men and women who didn’t get this information, or got it too late. I speak not only as a childless by choice woman but also as a mentor of young women. More than once I’ve had to explain to a young woman, as my teacher did, why you can’t use a condom twice, or confirm that it is possible to get STDs from oral sex. Too many go out in a world, where 30 percent of American teens have sex before they are old enough to drive a car, unarmed and misinformed.

This is why I have always resisted the notion of abstinence-only education. I fear that by limiting sex education in schools we rob children of critical knowledge that will keep them safer, and I feel it is grossly naïve to think abstinence-only education can reduce premarital sex. Sadly, my fears were confirmed in a recent article titled Abstinence-Only Education: Just As Much Sex, But With Less Condom Use written by Melanie Altar citing a study by Janet Rosenbaum, a researcher at John Hopkins, which found that “teenagers who pledge to remain virgins until their wedding night are just as likely to have premarital sex as those who do not. Moreover, pledgers in the study were less likely to take precautions against STIs and unwanted pregnancies than a peer control group with similar backgrounds who did not make a pledge.”

Rosenbaum’s findings were echoed in Greta Van Susteren’s interview with Sarah Palin’s daughter Bristol, a new teen mom. Although her mother is a proponent of abstinence-only education as Governor of Alaska, Bristol, when asked how she felt about contraception, said, “Everyone should be abstinent or whatever, but it's not realistic at all.”

From the mouths of babes to our ears.

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