This column was written several months ago, but I just realized I had not posted it here. The information is still valid.
Because of the passions ignited over the topic of sex education in schools (no pun intended, ok, yes it is intended, I couldn’t resist) I have purposely tried to avoid putting a dog in the fight. However, in the last two weeks two major studies have come out providing strong evidence for both the necessity and the efficacy of formal sex education.
The first study, says 1 in 4 teenage girls has at least one sexually transmitted disease. This study was reviewed in the Press a week or so ago and sends the blunt message that “abstinence only” sex-ed messages don’t work. The study was national in scope with the data extrapolated from a study conducted in 2003-04. For girls who admitted to being sexually active, the rate jumps to 40 percent, with the majority of those having contracted HPV or human papillomavirus, the virus that can lead to cervical cancer.
The second study used data from a 2002 survey but used a bigger sample of participants; about 1700 of them answered questions about their sexual activity and the kinds of sex education they have received. Teens that have had formal sex education had lower pregnancy rates than kids who had either abstinence only sex education or no sex education at all. While studies have consistently shown abstinence only programs to be less effective in reducing the onset of sexual activity and the pregnancy rates of teens, than formal sex education; this is the first national study to compare the effects of comprehensive sex-ed and abstinence-only education, according to Pamela K. Kohler, of the Center for AIDS and STD at the University of Washington in Seattle.
I realize there are parents who are not a fan of the schools teaching sex education, and if we are talking about the schools doing the entire job themselves then I agree. However, much as I try to use a hammer when I want to hit a nail, and a screwdriver when I wish to tighten a screw, I believe in both parents and teachers doing the part of this job to which they are best suited. In practical terms, this means parents taking the lead by teaching the moral, philosophical, and possible life changing implications of sexual activities, while professionally trained teachers provide accurate, fact based biology and physiology lessons.
Parents have a number of challenges to overcome in order to provide biology and physiology lessons themselves, not the least of which is having accurate information available to pass on. The next challenge is the communication of that information. Parents and their teens are often embarrassed by having conversations about sex and associated behaviors. This embarrassment is usually a barrier to conveying much needed information, information that can impact the health and well being of all our children.
For these reasons and likely a number of others, many parents are doing a very poor job of holding up their end of the bargain. Parents, if you fail to do this job adequately your child can have their life derailed or even ended before it can begin. Please maintain a positive relationship with your kids, do your research, and ask for help if you need it. The stakes are too high to do any less.
Mark Altman is a speaker and leadership consultant with the Altman Leadership Center. Mark has completed graduate work in Marriage and Family Counseling and is working on a PhD in Leadership studies at Gonzaga University. He is happy to speak or provide a workshop for your organization and can be reached at email@example.com.