Weekly Geeks 2009-08: Who’s got issues?

This week we are going to rewind to May 2008 and revisit one of Dewey‘s original Weekly Geeks themes: Political and Social Issues.

Here is how to play:

1. Choose a political or social issue that matters to you. If you were a Weekly Geek last May and already did this theme, pick a different theme than the one you did at that time.

2. Educate readers about your topic by telling us a little about it and any involvement you’ve had in this issue.

3. Find books addressing your issue; they do not necessarily have to be books you’ve read. They can be non fiction, fiction, poetry, etc…Give a little synopsis of the book or a link to the description.

4. Use images which you feel illustrate your topic.

Last summer, there were news reports that, after years of decline, the rate of pregnancies among teenagers was increasing. The reports weren’t clear on whether this should be considered a trend or what the possible reasons for the increase might be, but cutbacks in support and funding for comprehensive sex education in favor of an “abstinence-only” curriculum were frequently suggested as a factor.

Twenty-six years ago, I was nineteen years old and pregnant. Both my then-boyfriend and I were Catholic-high-school grads, and we were Catholic enough ourselves to follow its teachings against artificial birth control. However, I will say from experience that unless you have a very regular cycle and/or track it consistently, “natural” birth control is not the most effective birth control. And since we clearly weren’t Catholic enough to follow the no-sex-outside-marriage teachings, we needed effective birth control. A few years later, the AIDS crisis was underway, and protection from bigger and scarier things than pregnancy became necessary.

It’s undeniable that abstinence IS the most effective means to prevent sexually-transmitted diseases and unplanned pregnancies. It’s also unrealistic to expect that hormone-addled adolescents are going to practice abstinence when they have an opportunity to do otherwise (although some will, and more power to them). For that reason, and speaking as a former pregnant teen myself, I continue to support comprehensive sex education for teens. As a parent who has raised one son to young adulthood, and a stepparent to a teenage daughter and a future teenage son, I think that much of the responsibility for that education rests at home; however, since I think that our schools are supposed to prepare our kids for life in society, they need to play a role too.

Given that sometimes it’s very difficult for parents and teens to discuss this topic – even when both think the discussion is important – books can help, even novels. In a post last fall, I talked about how teen sexuality and its consequences have long been a staple theme in young-adult literature:

“…I think part of what made – and keeps – [Judy Blume’s novel Forever . . .] controversial is the characters’ ‘acting responsibly.’ It acknowledges that teens not only do have sex, they are capable of planning for it – and that they absolutely should plan, if they’re going to do it. Denying this reality is where ‘abstinence-only’ sex education comes in. We seem to be backing away from Forever, and in the worst-case scenario, heading toward [My Darling, My] Hamburger territory…or the return of Mr. and Mrs. [Bo Jo] Jones, at least.”

Sex education is about more than mechanics, of course, and is part of the overall discussion in Nancy Amanda Redd’s acclaimed Body Drama: Real Girls, Real Bodies, Real Issues, Real Answers, a book that remains on my shelf to be shared with my stepdaughter.

An Amazon.com search for books on “sex education for teens” brings up several pages of results, including the promising-sounding 100 Questions You’d Never Ask Your Parents (but you never know, they might anyway…it depends on how open the lines of communication are, I think) and S.E.X.: The All-You-Need-To-Know Progressive Sexuality Guide to Get You Through High School and College. The latter book is by the founder of the website Scarleteen.com, which has a decade-long history of

…provid(ing) sex and sexuality education, information and advice for millions of young adults, parents and allies each year! We’re read by 20,000 – 30,000 users daily, and are often the most highly ranked teen sex education website online despite never having any public funding or doing any advertising.

I wasn’t familiar with that website until I began working on this post, but I’ve bookmarked it now – it looks like a fantastic reference for both parents and teens.

Much as we might want our teens to “wait until they’re married,” all of us who were once teens ourselves know that chances are pretty high that they won’t. I feel that turning a blind eye to this is irresponsible parenting, and unfair to our teenagers. I think responsible behavior from our teens is a very reasonable expectation, but we need to make sure they’re clear on what that means and what they need to know in order to fulfill it – and that means all aspects of “the facts of life,” like it or not. One fact of life, for both parents and teens, is that you have to face reality.

** EDITED TO ADD this link to a Broadsheet post about “abstinence-only” education programs in Florida , which are part of why I chose to write about this issue – and why it is an issue in the first place.

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  1. I really like your post — nice combination of personal story, opinions, book recommendations, and additional resources. Thank goodness we don’t have to worry about these issues for awhile around here (15 month old), but I enjoyed your article.

  2. I was considering a post about these same issues, but you’ve covered it very nicely here. Have you seen the documentary The Education of Shelby Knox? It follows a teenager from Lubbock, TX who is crusading for comprehensive sex ed in her schools. A few years old, but very interesting.

  3. What a fine choice of subject and a really thoughtful post. I think most Danish schools teach our youngsters about sex in an adequate way, but parents should never just rely on the teacher when it comes to something as serious as this.

  4. I agree completely. A while back I reviewed the book The Girls Who Went Away: The Hidden History of Women Who Surrendered Children for Adoption in the Decades Before Roe v. Wade. It really opened my eyes to what can happen when sex education is completely ignored or consists only of, “Don’t do it!” Many of the girls profiled in this book either had no idea how pregnancy occurred, had no means of acquiring birth control, and/or trusted their boyfriends to take care of everything. These were mostly “good girls,” not tramps running around sleeping with every boy they met, many of them engaged or planning on becoming engaged to their boyfriends, and they found themselves in situations which affected them for the rest of their lives in ways they absolutely had never imagined. So, yeah, education is important!

  5. I echo the previous comments.

    I come from a culture where sex is taboo and one isn’t encouraged to speak of it openly. And our teen pregnancy rates are still sky rocketing!

  6. What a great post, Florinda. I couldn’t agree more with your stance on the issue and I love how you used your own personal experience to illustrate your perspective.

  7. Infant Bibliophile – Thanks for stopping by…and your time will come one of these days :-).

    Rebecca – Sorry, I didn’t mean to steal your topic :-)! I’m not familiar with that documentary, but it sounds interesting – and good for her.

    April – Glad to help; you’re going to need those resources all too soon!

    Nymeth – Thanks!

    Dorte – Danish schools are apparently more progressive than many in the US, in that case. But you’re right – parents shouldn’t just rely on the schools to handle these things, in any case.

    Dreamybee – I think I’m going to have to look up that book – thanks for the link! I worry sometimes that there are forces that want to send us back in that direction.

    Ariel – Thanks for weighing in with a comment that backs up the point of this post so well :-).

    Heather – I don’t like to be preachy, and weaving personal experience in is one way I get around that. In this particular case, I like to think my history adds some credibility to my position :-).

  8. I love this post – my initial topic for this weeks geek was Teen Pregnancy – as where i live it's the highest in Europe.

    I agree with quite a lot of what you said and i also find that film, books, and to some extend society (retail fashion, freedom of choice at a younger age) contribute to the steady rise in this area.

    I have a teenager myself and I dealt with this years ago – with home discussion, very open and forward conversation- and I struggle everyday with the societial changes and how they affect my family.

    Great Post.


  9. E.H. – As I mentioned here, the rates in the US are going up too. Your point about social influences is well taken, and I think that it actually helps emphasize the importance of getting real, useful information about sex to teens. Thanks for weighing in!

  10. Excellent post and great resources. I don’t have to worry about this quite yet (my son isn’t due till June!) but I hope when he’s a teenager I’ll be able to talk to him and he’ll have some good eduction at school too.

  11. Alexa – Thanks for your comment. Hopefully by the time your son’s a teen, school curriculum will be taking that more comprehensive approach.

  12. Thanks for posting on this, Florinda. It astounds me that we’ve gone “backwards” in this area!