BIRDS AND BEES IN THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY
As a physician and mother (grandmother, great-grandmother) I have had frequent occasions to ponder about teen-aged sexuality. I speak in those capacities, not as a representative of the Board of Education.
The recent controversy about condom distribution in schools is in danger of obscuring the major issue, which is appropriate sex education for young people. There is wide-spread concern about certain social changes--teenage sexual freedom, pregnancies, and sexually transmitted diseases; also a general feeling that the "sexual revolution" is undermining our society's values. There is understandably a wish to apportion blame for these changes--in the current debate, the use and availability of conception control, including condoms, is considered responsible for these effects. A moment's reflection should help us to recall that unintended pregnancy is scarcely a new phenomenon, nor is teen-aged sexual activity. I grew up in the 1930's, and we had our share of girls who were forced to drop out of school and whose lives were irretrievably warped by too youthful and unsupported child-bearing. Fortunately now we consider our young women's education too important to exclude them from school in the event of pregnancy, much as we might wish for these events not to have occurred.
Indeed, our current popular culture and the ever-intrusive and uninhibited media contribute to the fixation on sexual gratification to the exclusion of other values, but this again is not caused by sex education. Such education, backed by full access to contraceptive and sexually transmitted disease information and services should include emphasis on abstinence, and even then may not significantly decrease sexual activity, but neither will the refusal to provide this information and service. In this area, as in most of life, accurate knowledge is a prerequisite to responsible choice.
That being said, I am in full agreement with those who promote an abstinence emphasis in the education of teenagers. Unfortunately, the current emphasis on and governmental support of an "abstinence-only" curriculum gives young people inadequate resources to navigate the turbulence of adolescent life. If we fail to recognize that many will not accept the abstinence message, are we unwittingly failing in the opportunity for "damage control"? After all, if I tell my child not to drink, but he or she goes to a party where drinking "happens", will I refuse to go out regardless of the hour and drive him or her and friends home?
We are indeed fortunate to have an excellent program in our Middle School health curriculum, titled Values and Choices, which is very complete in its presentation of adolescent physical and emotional changes and challenges, and in providing practical tools for dealing with the inevitable dilemmas of those turbulent years. In these materials it is made entirely clear that abstinence is the ideal and the norm, but that young people will make independent decisions and deserve the fullest possible knowledge for making these decisions.
I appreciate the offer of the Care-Net organization to assist in our sexuality education teaching, but I think we would be teaching only half of the needed materials if we used their abstinence-based curriculum.
As far as the distribution of condoms in the high school is concerned, I recognize and applaud the effort of the young people in making their study and presentation. I also recognize the discomfort of many of the folks who have written to school administrators and board members in opposition to such a program. I think we can in general agree that following up on our middle school program with age-appropriate more detailed sex education in the high school, still with emphasis on abstinence as an ideal choice, is the first priority.
Incidentally, the Planned Parenthood
Mary Frantz, M.D.