By: Kristin O’Brien, Jeffrey Rosbash and Kathryn FitzPatrick
For years, the debate about Sex Education has been one motivated by religious and moral beliefs. In today’s society children need to know and understand sex; the risks and the consequences of what can happen to them as result of sex. According to the Heath Guide in the New York Times, “younger adolescents (12-14 years) are more likely to have unplanned sexual intercourse and more likely to be coerced into sex.” This implies a lack of education and a complete ignorance on behalf of educators. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2006, there were 435,427 births to mothers ages 15-19 years. “Hispanic and non-Hispanic black teen pregnancy rates are three times higher than white teen pregnancy.” And there are 1.1 million Americans living with HIV. The problem is most teens do not want to ask the embarrassing questions about sex and adults tend to avoid the topic altogether, even denigrate teens for wanting to know such information, so technology has stepped in to help eliminate all the embarrassing, face blushing, moments they may have during health class, to answer some of these questions.
In a recent New York Times article, “When the Cell phone Teaches Sex Education”, Jan Hoffman reviews a North Carolina program, called the Birds and the Bees text line, that allows teens to text questions they have about sex. They text whatever questions they may have which can range to any of the following, “Why don’t guys like short girls” to “what happens if I swallow a piece of the condom?” Within 24 hours they receive a non-judgmental response to these questions by a trained profession with graduate degree in social work or public health. This program does not advocate abortions and when in times of serious need refers teens directly to a doctor or emergency line. One professional actually confesses that she “doesn’t want them to feel connected…I want them to find someone real to talk to.” It is not the program’s goal to educate adolescents but to be a resource they can rely on when they feel no one else will listen. One possibly pregnant teen reported she talked to her sex-education teacher about her situation and the teacher made her feel ashamed. Who are children to look to if parents refuse to discuss sex with their teens and educators fear the backlash? It is obviously up to a family when to and how to discuss sexual education but we need to be aware of the growing need to introduce it earlier than we may want to. We must understand that not every child has an understanding support system at home; sexual education in school may be the only education they will ever get.
As educators keeping up with technology and students needs, what should we be doing in order to help our students? According to ABC News President Obama is replacing abstinence-only education with teenage pregnancy prevention programs that have been proven effective through rigorous evaluation. These programs are effective and based on science. According to a recent study in the journal of Pediatrics, teens who took pledges to remain abstinent are actually no less likely to engage in premarital sex but much less likely to use contraception! Obama believes that we should start sex education in kindergarten and make it age appropriate. It should be medically accurate and also be used to teach children about inappropriate touching which, we think anyone can agree, is an important topic young children should be aware of to avoid abuse.
This Birds and Bees program from North Carolina is just an updated version of what teenagers have been writing to teen magazines about for years. It is an effort to help children get through strange phases in their lives, when other outlets have proven unsuccessful. Sexual Education is an uncomfortable topic for everyone but it should not be. Everyone needs to know the facts eventually, but we need to make sure it does not come too late! This program gives students a way to have their questions answered without anyone judging them and it also gives them many useful resources as well.