Friday, July 24, 2009

Some thoughts on the failures of sex education in the U.S.

I was going to simply make a note of this in the scratch pad; basically it was going to be a link dump for reference purposes, but I found myself writing a bit more. Thus I figure I could post it here and share it. Since this post is a bit long, I am putting the links to the articles I was reviewing over in the scratch pad, and I am writing my thoughts here. If you are one the puritanical ignoramuses I will be ranting about, you may want to skip reading the blog today. If you happen to think that young people should get all the education and information on sexual health available so they can stay healthy, safe, and happy, read on.

One of the things that has always irked me about the U.S. is the excessive puritanism when it comes to sexual health and education. People in this country would rather keep their kids ignorant, leading to higher teen pregnancy rates and more STDs because they don't want them to actually learn what healthy sexual expression is like. Heaven forbid the kids learn something like how to use a condom or other ways of sexual expression. The whole notion of abstinence education has pretty much been discredited, but large segments of the population keep favoring it, again illustrating willful ignorance. Yes, we do have to grant that the best way to avoid an unwanted pregnancy or an STD is to abstain. That is not in question. What is in question is what happens when a couple of teens do not abstain, and they lack the information to know what to do in that case. Just telling youngsters "don't do it" is not going to hack it. A few may abstain. Many will not. And for those that will not, I would rather they go in with their eyes open and with accurate, correct, up to date information that may very well save their lives.

Recently, while channel surfing, I came across a show on MTv called "16 and Pregnant." It's basically another reality show, only this time it features teens that, well, got pregnant way before they should have. In a way, it has all the elements of a bad reality show; it's like watching a train wreck. But that one time last week, I decided to take a look, or at least not move to the next channel so fast. On watching the show, I am not sure who, if anybody, I should be sympathetic for. On the one hand, I find it very hard to be sympathetic to the teen parents because, when they whine about how they can't see their friends anymore, or go out and party, or even graduate, my gut reply is "no one told to spread your legs" or "who made you think knocking up your girlfriend would make you more of a man?" Does it sound harsh? You bet it does. Reality is harsh. It's a jungle out there, and those kids are now paying the consequences because they decided to think with their crotches. And before anyone says that I am being mean, I will say a couple of things. One, I did not get anyone pregnant in high school, or college for that matter. Two, a lot of other young people don't get pregnant in high school. At the end of the day, no one is putting a gun to their heads and telling them to have a baby. Thus ends this part of the rant as we move on.

So, I find it hard to be sympathetic to the teens. But then we have the reality. They did it, and there is a baby on the way or already here. You have to deal with it. At least in the episode I saw, the guys were not particularly good about being men and taking responsibility. I was raised on a simple principle: if you are man enough to get a girl pregnant, you better be man enough to raise the child (I didn't say marry the girl. I said provide for the child. Different matter). To be perfectly honest, how some of those girls found those bozos attractive enough for a moment of passion is beyond me. I think it has to do with the common notion that girls, for some reason, tend to like the bad boys even when they know they are bad for them.

But as I look at things, I come to realize that a lot of those boys were not taught such a principle as owning up to their actions. Yes, we still need to teach such things to our boys. They do not learn it by osmosis. Along with that, a lot of the girls probably were not taught a lot either when it comes to avoiding an unwanted pregnancy. They probably had poor health education in their schools, if they had any. At home, they probably have poor role models as well. At least in one episode I observed, the father of one of the teens had been in and out of jail, and the mother was not much better. So clearly they were not going to get their education in the home. Therein comes the failure. Family, schools, and thus society failed those young people. Would they have all avoided pregnancy with a good education? Maybe, maybe not. But their odds would have been better. And at the end of the day, condemnation is not the appropriate response. You can lack some sympathy for their poor choices, but then you have to support them. The new young parents need all the help they can get to learn what many of us who are parents have learned. I also was concerned in watching the show how the degree of support from the parents varied widely from very supportive to outright hostile. Being supportive does not mean you approve of their wrong choice; the kids now have to bear the consequences of their bad choice. Being supportive does mean that: you will support them, reassure them they have a family they can draw upon, and you don't love your kids any less.

When it comes to the show, some may argue that it shows teen pregnancy as it is. It may show that to some extent, but it also exploits many of the stereotypes or images commonly associated with teen pregnancy: poverty, lack of education, dysfunctional families, so on. Such a show can very easily lead many who see it to be complacent when they say, "that could never happen to us" until it happens. And I could write another rant about "until it happens" but that would be another long post. The bottom line is that a lot more teen pregnancies could likely be avoided if parents and kids talked about sex and health in responsible, open way. When people finally take off the blinders and realize that their teens are sexual beings, and then educate them accordingly, we may actually get somewhere.

Just a thought.

3 comments:

sex education for teens said...

Sad but true.

darci said...

All the mothers seemed like real trainwrecks to me (other than Catelynn) - they were all super annoying and either didn’t understand the seriousness of the situation, or wanted to shirk the responsibility, or just played into whatever their idiot boyfriends wanted.

Like you, I just channel surfed upon 16 & Pregnant the other day, and was pleasantly surprised. I only saw the reunion episode, but I think that was enough to sum up the whole season for me – got a nice quick rundown of all the stories, without having to have all the added melodrama. At least to me, they did a good job of not glamorizing teen pregnancy, which in itself was a big win, plus Dr. Drew seemed to agree with us as he railed all the other couples pretty hard other than Catelynn and Tyler.

Also, this is MTV, so I was paying attention to the music they used, and they actually made some really good song choices in this episode – I love Tokyo Police Club and so glad they featured three of my favorite songs, “Graves,” “Juno,” and “Nursery Academy.” If you liked those songs or this episode, I have them posted at : http://modestcomplexity.blogspot.com/2009/07/16-and-pregnant.html

Angel, librarian and educator said...

Darci: Thanks for stopping by. I have to agree, the show really was like watching a train wreck. How some of those couples got together given their behaviors, outlooks in life, so on, is a bit amazing to me. I caught part of the reunion episode. The one thing that I saw was about how they (except for one) were all now using contraceptives. Seemed they learned the hard way (no pun intended).

The value may well be in not glamorizing teen pregnancy. It is hard and harsh reality. And one that can be avoided with a little education other than saying, "don't do it."

I did not pay much attention to the music, but I will have to look into your suggestions.

Best, and keep on blogging.