Wednesday, October 17, 2007

(post has been renamed as of 1/3/08)

A few thoughts on sex education.

Topeka High School in Kansas has recently gotten into trouble over offering condoms to students. The contraceptives were available at the nurse’s office and were accompanied by information about how to use them, as well as how to receive free AIDS testing. The basket of freebies was set up by a student at the school, but once officials got wind of the situation they immediately put the kibosh on it. The position of the superintendent was that the matter of birth control should be handled by the parents. President of the booster club, Michelle Durkes (who is an adult, by the way), added:

"Schools are not the place to choose to hand out condoms. Kids can go to the health department for that. It's not the school's job. It makes it look like you are approving having sex. We are supposed to be teaching, I thought, 'Just say no.' So it is very shocking that the school would be supplying them."

Just say no indeed. Honestly now, show of hands - how many of you DID NOT have sex in high school? Some studies show that about 35% of students are sexually active on a monthly basis (mind you, how many teens in long term relationships do YOU know?) So if they are going to be sexually active anyway, and what we really don't want is for them to get hurt, pregnant and/or sick, condoms and proper sex education are key. And why do we bother having schools? So they can educate!

So here is the question: should parents be solely responsible for educating their kids on sexual matters? Sure many of them can do a great job, but what about those who are uncomfortable talking about sex with their kids? What about the parents who for some religious or ethnic reasons feel that sex is shameful, taboo or inappropriate? What about parents who may not be all that informed themselves? This isn't drugs we are talking about, or drunk driving - topics that a "just say no" attitude is more than appropriate for, but a biological function which just about everyone will experience at one time or another.

There was a piece in an advice column that I saw recently, though I don't remember where, in which a mother was worried about her daughter who had 'discovered' at the age of 14 (through snooping in parents bedroom) that the parents were sexually active. She was so angry that she threatened to commit suicide if her parents did not cease having sex, and proclaimed that married people should not be intimate because intercourse is for making babies. The mother put her in therapy. Now, barring any abuse, a child's reaction to sex may initially be that of fright, but I was so surprised to find a FOURTEEN year old holding on to such bizarre notions! Did the parents not talk to her enough when she was younger about healthy sex lives? Did she pick it up at school or from her peers?

So here are my two cents:
It is the parents responsibility to make their kids feel comfortable talking about sex, so that they can explain to them not only where babies come from but what role sex plays in our daily lives. They have to tell them about unwanted pregnancies, ALL the ways of preventing it, homosexuality, lust and most of all love. After all, when the hormones are raging, deep spiritual connections are the last thing from any teens/tweens mind, but they should know that sex does not have to be a purely physical function, but one of the many facets of intimacy. And just to make sure that the kids got their lesson, the schools should repeat those teachings.

In summary - don't teach abstinence - teach moderation. Preach respect, not fear. And give out condoms like they're candy!

Just for fun: for a list of increasingly vulgar condom slogans click here.

Update (10-19-07): poll of 154,437 people showed 22% in favor of giving out the pill to students, 78% against.

Update (01-03-08): This post used to be entitled "if you are nude, tube your dude" which I thought was clever and appropriate but apparently too similar to a porn site URL, causing a lot of search engine traffic from porn seekers. Oh well...


maeverin said...

handing out condoms in college--definately. handing out condoms in HS--that is touchy territory. kids really shouldn't be having sex at that age because the risks are too great. there is something to be said for teaching abstinence. the best way out of trouble is to not get into it in the first place. but, as you said, many of them are going to do it anyway, so it is better to at least offer them protection that they wouldn't otherwise be able to get (condoms are expensive!)
parents NEED to have a hand in teaching sexual education to their kids. obviously, many won't or can't (mine didn't and because of that i thought you could get pregnant just by open mouth kissing right up until 8th grade or whenever we had sex ed. in school). an open discussion would undoubtedly be embarrassing the first few times, but the more it happens, the more comfortable everyone gets on the subject, the less taboo the subject becomes, and the more smart decisions are made. but because this isn't likely to happen (at least not for a few more generations) schools have to assume the responsibility of sex ed. and be completely open about ALL parts of it, controversial or not, including abstinence. let teens know it's okay to wait, and may, in fact, be a good idea. and maybe not hand out condoms "like candy", but let them be available upon request. then maybe prompt a conversation about it.
on a related note, i would like to request a post about the school in Maine that is thinking about giving out THE PILL to kids as young as 11--without parental notification or the ability to even hand out aspirin!
your thoughts?

Paulina said...

maeverin -
Should the King Middle School Health Center be able to prescribe the pill? After some research into the story (which I hadn't heard about, so thanks for bringing it up) my answer is - YES.
There are several reasons.
1) King MS has a greater percentage of underprivileged kids, who are as we all know at a higher risk of pregnancies, either because of their environment or because they can't afford to go to a doctor, I don't know
2) The pill will be prescribed by a physician. This was my main concern because I would actually worry more about adverse effects of hormones on the girls.
3) The pill may be prescribed not just as birth control but to help out those of the girls with irregular and painful periods.
4) Even though the parents may not be informed about the prescription, their permission is required in order for the kids to attend the health center in the first place, so they can have some measure of control there.
5) The kids receive counseling and education regarding sexual activity at the center and are encouraged to talk to their parents about the visit.

My main concerns are that the pill may not be all that safe for young girls anyway (although while raising risk of some cancers it reduced others, so who knows), and that increased reliance on the pill may lead to less condom use, which can raise the risk of STDs.

Finally, an interesting fact is that the top five reasons for visits to the health center last year were, in descending order: immunizations, physical examinations, sore throat, upper respiratory infection and asthma.

maeverin said...

thank you for your quick response to my request!
i actually have to really digaree with you, though. this is where the argument for distributing condoms would make more sense, but not the pill. it offers no protection against STDs. the parents really have no control because all a kid has to do to get into the health center is make some other kind of complaint (sore throat, desire for a physical) and then ask the doctor for a perscription. even though they are encouraged to talk to their parents about it, do you really think an 11 year old girl will bring up the subject if the parents haven't already?
you are right to be concerned about the hormone issues that a girl could face, but also, a girl that young is likely just starting her period. i know from experience the benefits of BC for irregular periods, but when you're that young, periods are likely going to be irregular until the hormones get themselves straightened out, so it is not a good idea to be messing with that until at least 13 or 14 when they know it won't do it on it's own.
and it will definately lead to less condom use! i don't know one guy who likes condoms, so if she is already protected he won't see much need to use one, even if he is coached on the ugliness that is an STD.
and besides, if you were a parent, wouldn't you want to know if your child were sexually active, or thinking about it, so you could address the issue properly?

Paulina said...

maeverin -
it is my understanding that parental consent is needed for access to the center in the first place. Then, once the access is approved by the parent, the child can go there for any issue, which will then not be disclosed to the parent.

"Any King Middle School student with a completed and parent-signed enrollment form on file may use the services of the Student Health Center throughout the current school year. We will allow one initial visit to the Health Center with a verbal consent from the parent, but thereafter, a signed consent is
required before a student can continue to access services. "

Also, if I am reading their info correctly, the treatment does not require notification but the chart is available for the parent to see.

maeverin said...

that is my point, a child can go in complaining of a sore throat just to get access to the health center, but after that they can get the pill without the parent's knowledge. and even if the parents are allowed to look at the chart, many won't because they believe A) their child would never lie to them and/or B)their child had been taken care of.