The Texas Legislature is about to reconvene and the sex ed debate in our State is already in the news. (Free subscription required.)
Unfortunately, the news article blurs the line between sex ed for all children in our schools and the problem that some of our girls have multiple pregnancies as teenagers. What little evidence we have about “abstinence-plus” vs “abstinence-only” sex ed (some of which is reviewed here and here) is never mentioned, while the fact that our State teen pregnancy rate has dropped is seen as a failure or completely ignored.
Along with many of our local physicians, I teach the doctor’s portion of “Worth the Wait.” The program is taught in all our county’s schools. The classes begin in the 6th grader (the students are 11 and 12 years old) and continue into High School health classes (through grade 12, or 17 to 18 years old). The course consists of 16 or 17 classes, including one on STD’s that is taught by local doctors and one on the legal consequences, taught by local lawyers.
The main contrast between “Worth the Wait” and “Big Decisions,” the program mentioned in the article ( available for download, free, here), is that in each of the 10 to 12 lessons, the latter emphasizes condom use for those who do choose to have sex. There’s even a supplemental lesson that teaches how to correctly use a male condom.
Many point out that since some teens will have sex before marriage, and that many will do so much earlier than expected, the earlier these lessons are taught, the better. However, in my experience, the kids who are having sex before 17 or 18 are the ones who are also engaged in other risky behavior, including drinking alcohol and smoking, or who are being abused. (See the story about the 18 year old young man, here.)
I’m uncomfortable with early discussions about “taking action” to buy condoms and how to use them because it seems to actually endorse the idea that there is a healthy way to have sex outside of a committed, monogamous relationship – one that 14, 15 and most 16 and 17 year-olds are not able to establish.
I believe that the best decision is the one that parents, teachers and our schools should teach. We do not talk about the safest way to drive a car before they are 16 and have passed several tests or that seat belts will protect them if they drive recklessly, we don’t teach them which alcohol to drink when they are under the legal age limit, and we never tell them that if they are going to smoke, here’s the way to do it.
In my “How to live a healthy life” talk that I give adolescents and teens (and sometimes adults) I talk about the physiological and medical reasons we encourage helmets for skaters, seat belts in cars, and why we discourage certain other behavior. I mention the job of the liver, the differences in the body as it matures, the risk of addiction, injury, and infections. Then, I talk about the psychological and social risks and consequences.
For instance, can you really trust someone selling an illegal drug to be honest about what he’s selling you? If someone pressures you to have sex without a condom, knowing the risk of even deadly infections (yes, I talk about condoms in my office) does he even love himself, much less you?
It astonishes me how varied the apparent ages of these children are – even through the High School classes (up to age 18). Some still appear to be prepubescent and some look to be fully developed physical adults. While discussing sexual abuse, I remind the 11, 12, and 13 year-olds that in the State of Texas, that it is absolutely illegal to have sex under the age of 14.
And in every class of 6th graders, there’s at least one girl who raises her hand and asks if shecould go to jail.