I recently asked some former students of a faith and sexuality class I teach at my church what issues they thought it was important to address for teens and parents in a blog type setting. Now, parents, I know from experience that many of you, even well-educated, well-meaning parents who have otherwise wonderful relationships with your children in 2007, quake, tremble, and get dry mouth when faced with the idea of talking to your teen about s-e-x, but you really need to get over it, and here's why.
As recently as "lately", an older teen in a small urban area has overheard discussions about certain intercourse positions preventing pregnancy. This kind of thing makes me absolutely crazy! Nobody should be walking around thinking that's true in 2007 anywhere in the world, but especially here in the United States and especially not to the degree that it's "the word on the street." There are a room full of girls and a few guys in the teen parenting class at the high school where I work that can disspell this myth, sure, but they're all a little busy right now raising their kids to tell the rest of their peers to not believe those rumors.
This week, I heard that (Thank God!) the Title V money that has been used to spend billions of dollars on abstinence only education over the past decade will expire June 30. When "don't have sex until you're married" is the only education that is funded, kids lose. Many programs have taken it upon themselves, because there haven't been protective laws in place, to give inaccurate information through scare tactics. One teen told me they were told by one such speaker that holding hands and french kissing lead to rape. Another was told that dating is just practice for marriage, so why even date if you're not ready to marry? And if you do date and break up with someone? Well, then you are practicing for divorce. I swear, I am not making this up.
When there isn't any frank discussion of pregnancy, how it happens (in detail, folks), how it can be prevented, how it effects your body, your relationships, your life--then the environment is ripe for untruths to be given "could be true" status and used in moments of hormonal impulse. I'm the first one to say that it's best for you to wait until you are older than early or middle adolescence to have intercourse, and abstinence IS the only 100% effective way to prevent pregnancy and disease. However, I want to make sure that youth know what their options are--the whole range of them between yes and no--and how to stay safe when they decide abstinence is no longer for them. I want the "word on the street" to be where to get safe, affordable birth control and infection protection. I want them to be discussing how there really are no easy and good solutions to the problem of a teen becoming or getting another teen pregnant. I want them to be chatting and texting about if they're really ready for this level of relationship and how to know if they are. I want them to have people to talk with about what a healthy and unhealthy relationship looks like and how to get out of an unhealthy one if they find themselves in that place.
Kids and teens are bombarded with sex in the media multiple times a day. Young elementary school girls are wearing heels and dangly earrings and "doing" their hair. Sex is blantantly used to sell everything from Fanta to music to movies and tv. But it's not a realistic portrayal of sexuality. This type of hype puts pressure on kids to do things they aren't ready for and don't fully understand. I believe we are not fulfilling our moral duty as parents and faith communities if we don't give our kids this information and provide safe places to discuss it and ask their questions--and believe me, they have questions.
Parents at least need to be familiar with what your teen is and isn't learning in any class they may have at school. Then get yourselves educated and talk with your teen. There are resources available. Get a drink of water, take a deep breath, forget about being cool, and use them.