This year I finally had to confront one of my high school graduation requirements—health education. The class took me through a never-ending spiral of dull chapters in Health, A Guide to Wellness. As I endured lesson after lesson, I was never particularly moved until I came upon the chapter "Adolescence, a time of change."
The book’s definition for the term abstinence is: "The conscious decision to avoid harmful behaviors, including sexual activity before marriage and the use of tobacco, alcohol, and other drugs. Abstinence is the only healthful and safe choice for teenagers. By postponing sexual activity until marriage, teens avoid the many risks of sexual behavior such as … loss of self-respect." At first I read over this definition without even thinking about it, but as I reconsidered I realized teens need to be given a much different message than the one provided here.
This definition implies that sexual activity is as bad for you as tobacco and alcohol. Tobacco and alcohol are drugs, which can harm and even kill. Tobacco causes lung cancer and emphysema, while alcohol abuse may lead to traffic fatalities and liver damage. Sex, however, does not have to be a harmful act.
The tough question teens face about whether to have sexual relationships should be met with frank discussion by teachers in health classes. The reality is that teens are having sex. By classifying premarital sex as something negative, the authors are overlooking what is going to help teens make meaningful decisions—correct information on all choices they have when it comes to sex. Using the word "harmful" solidifies the point that sex is a damaging act and that it always has negative repercussions including loss of "self-respect."
The book gives helpful advice on how to avoid a situation that might lead teens into a sexual encounter. It suggests going places in big groups, and never going somewhere dark with someone you’ve just met. And if a partner is being pressured into having sex, the book recommends ending that relationship. These tips suggest that to be safe teens must surround themselves with people who can protect them from their partners.
But what about those teens who think they are ready for sexual intimacy—where is the advice to lead them into a healthy sexual relationship? Isn’t it possible to have sex without losing your self-respect? Not according to my book.
A health book is an educational tool and should not be a way to preach to teens about acceptable sexual behavior. The authors should not be taking a stand on the issue, and yet they clearly preach their position. Teens should be able to decide for themselves how they feel about sex, and whether they want to do it. Sex education should help teens make mature, educated decisions and not say all sex is evil, the way this book does.
Lack of info leads to problems
If teens were educated about safe sex, then the teen pregnancy rates would not be so high. According to the Web site www.teenpregnancy.org, four out of 10 women get pregnant at least once before they are 20. Teens these days are left with minimal guidance, and resort to imitating the mainstream images that bombard them every day in the media. TV shows like The Real World show people having sex casually, and not always using condoms, while many health books and teachers teach that premarital sex is wrong. So where are teens supposed to turn for guidance that will teach them how to practice safe sex?
Almost once a month I see young girls in the halls at my school with their newborn infants in their arms. People try to avert their eyes as the young mothers walk by, but it’s clear where their attention is focused. You can almost feel the young mothers’ embarrassment. They are swarmed by smiling friends offering congratulations. It seems like these friends are the only warm and accepting faces in the whole building. I think most people feel sorry for them and what they’re going through. No girl should become a mother before she finishes high school.
In our society sex is approached as an uncomfortable topic that adults often ignore and blush at whenever it’s mentioned. It is often taught as this unavoidable evil that should not happen because it will make a person dirty. On the other hand, teens are dealing with their natural impulses, and the images they see on TV that they want to copy. With these two very different messages being presented, where are teens supposed to turn to make their decisions? Teens should be able to decide for themselves whether they are ready for sexual intimacy, and they should be given the tools to make that decision.