I have passed many milestones in my life—times that marked my existence into distinct “before” and “after” periods—that include my 22nd birthday, discovering coffee in fifth grade, and the Jonas Brothers. As an old man, I think that I will think back fondly on my years and appreciate the time when I did not know who this trio was. Tonight, however, I was unwillingly exposed to their presence once again.
In her post-Oscars special, Barbara Walters sat across from the band and asked them, among other things, about the reconciliation of their religious beliefs and touring lifestyle. For their part, the boys came across as typical teenagers but what struck me was their declaration that they would wait to have sex until after marriage.
That worked out so well for Jessica Simpson.
In all seriousness, I have nothing against abstinence (if that’s the route that you choose to go, then I hope that you own it and don’t let other people make you feel shame for a choice that you made), but I am concerned about abstinence-only sexual health education. While, there’s certainly a moral argument to be made about why you would wait to have sex until you are married, I don’t think that this choice necessitates that you should merely have access to abstinence-only education.
In January, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported an increase in the national teen birth rate, which has fueled a discussion on national sexual health education policy. Both camps (abstinence-only vs. comprehensive) have been blaming the other side for this new development. I would venture to say that they’re both wrong, in a sense, and that we have a long way to go in helping our young people to become more comfortable, and proficient, with sex.
What it boils down to, I think, is a general lack of education in many types of sexual health programs. Before we make any other major decisions, we tend to research our options to the best of our ability—we check out prices before buying a car, a house, or a new television; we get referrals for schools and daycare; we become informed about the positions of our political candidates—so why should it be different when it comes to sex, which is a pretty significant choice? I strongly believe that young adults should be presented with the widest array of options available and then be counseled about how to pick out the plan that makes the most sense for them. We should teach young people about how they can make the choices that are the best for them and how to deal with the responsibility that results from poor choices. I certainly don’t believe that a solid sex education foundation is going to cause teenagers to go out and have intercourse like bunny rabbits (any more than they already do) and, if adults really feel that abstinence is the way to go, I think that it would then be their job to educate their young people as to why this was the better choice for them. I think that, in some ways, Conservatives tend to try to use fear to dictate behavior—fear that stems from a lack of education. Of course the unfamiliar is going to be scary; of course you are going to tend to want to stick with the safe and secure. But I also think that you then get into trouble when you are in an unfamiliar situation because you are suddenly thrust into a scenario that you are unequipped to handle.
In the end, I think that we can all agree that our goal is to keep the next generation happy, healthy, and disease-free. If this is our objective, then we owe it to young people to continually evaluate our methods and see if our sexual education programs are really doing what we think they should.