Posted by: Beverly Dale | March 1, 2010

I believe in education…and so does California

I have a strong bias toward education. I admit it. That is why I am at a university. I think we enhance our chances for a better life with more information and can then become better problem-solvers both for ourselves and our world. Now, I am aware that education does not make us smarter than others. People with fancy degrees after their names can still commit heinous crimes or act like idiots with no common sense.  But I am not dissuaded that instilling knowledge is better than living in ignorance. So why would anybody not want to educate their children about sexuality?

We don’t limit their education in math, reading, and science, how to drive a car or how to behave  civilly and respectfully in public.  Most parents help their children and youth develop any natural or latent talent they might have in the arts or sports as well.  And we want them to make wise relationship decisions and to explore their world safely. So it is puzzling why teaching about their bodies and reproduction is problematic.

There is a dangerous myth that if kids are uninformed they will somehow remain “untainted,” a myth that would laughable if it were not so dangerous for the young person’s health and well being.  And only the naive parent who doesn’t  watch television or check out the internet could cling to such ideas. There are plenty of stereotypes and sexual misinformation, not to mention amoral perspectives  in the culture at large, to fill any educational void.

I can document the level of sexual ignorance of many college first-year students at this Ivy League university. For example, several didn’t know the meaning of the word “sexologist” while one group didn’t understand a question about the difference between “quality sex” and “quantity of sex!”

But now that teen pregnancies and abortions are on the rise after some years of being in decline, there is a great debate as to why.  Some blame abstinence-only teaching in the classroom, while others say its our sex-saturated culture. But there is good news if we all look toward California. California believes in education too.

This state has never accepted abstinence-only funding and instead spends $45 million of its $450 million health dollars annually on teens. This is called prevention and the teens are getting the message. California has been teaching comprehensive sex education for years and has consistently led the nation in lower teen pregnancy statistics. However, the latest reported statistics have  not only NOT followed the national trend upward, but are continuing to go in the opposite direction to an all time low. One UC-Berkeley researcher at the School of Public Health is using words like “phenomenal” and “unbelievable.” And researchers are not known for hyperbole!

But of course, other countries, especially in those in Scandinavia, also get it. Teach at the child/youth level. Teach medically accurate facts and only give correct information. (But without the scare factors as the Penn Drs. Jemmott and Jemmott found in their recent study.) Educate them to make informed choices they feel ready to handle, and if they are too young, they most likely will abstain until they feel ready. Now, will they always make the choices the parents might want them to make? Perhaps not. But by the time young people can leave the house on their own or turn on a computer, the only issue parents need to worry about is, do they know enough to stay safe and healthy and where did they learn about sexual relationships? If there is no proactive education taking place, then what they learn will not help them become sexually confident and at ease in this most important aspect of our lives.

(I always refer college students to the award-winning sex ed textbook A Guide to Getting it On by sexologist Dr. Paul Joannides.)

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