CDC estimates that 19 million new sexually transmitted infections occur each year, almost half among 15- to 24-year-olds.
What's interesting about this headline, is the fact that even though this country has been promoting "abstinence only" education in our high schools, close to 8 million teens and young adults are becoming infected with STIs this year alone! Where do we go from here? How do we get these numbers to decrease dramatically? We must first visit the land of reason and common sense.
Did anyone happen to catch Oprah last Friday when Bristol Palin was on with her mother, Sarah? Oprah was trying to give her the chance to retract the statement that she had made earlier in the week stating that she was going to wait until marriage before having sex again. But, she adamently defending her decision on live TV. Instead of taking the opportunity to tell young women all over the country that if you are going to engage in sexual acts, you have to protect yourself against unwanted pregnancy or STIs, she took the moment to preach abstinence. Her mother, with bouncy curls, called Bristol a "strong woman who can do it". Now, if she already "did it" (the other IT) what makes her mother think that she will be able to be celibate for the next several years? (Assuming she doesn't get married, like, tomorrow?) Keeping your head buried in the sand about real life issues has never worked in the past, and yet, collectively, the US is notorious for ignoring problems until they are on top of us. Healthcare reform comes to mind...
Age appropriate sex education in schools is really the only way to reduce STIs and unwanted pregnancies amongst teens in this country. Remember, school is a place to teach children how to think, not what to think. It is fine to present the idea of abstinence to teens and children. It is NOT fine, however, to neglect teaching these same teens about birth control and the consequences associated with STIs. If we give our nation's youth the proper information, they can make more informed decisions. The disconnect comes in when we assume that if they live in a place of ignorance, they won't get themselves into trouble. We all know this doesn't work. Yes, you can get pregnant the first time you have sex, yes you can catch an STI just from touching, and yes sex can be wonderful, which is why we need to have this talk. Learning how to protect yourself puts responsibility on the individual and allows them to make the decision best suited for them at the time.
This problem isn't just about sex education, although we are quite lacking in that department. This problem is rooted much deeper in our society. Many young women lack the self esteem to say "no" to sex. Everywhere you look, everything is about sex. We constantly talk about it, constantly view it, constantly think about it. The image to reproduce is all around us. But, in the movies, in Tv, on the radio, the fun side to sex is always shown, without consequences. People climb into bed together all the time, never discussing birth control, never discussing their past medical histories. Young girls think that this is what they are supposed to do to get a guy to like them, and in many cases, they have sex with guys they are not even interested in, they just want to feel close to someone, especially if they lack love at home. Boys in our society look at those same images and think that if they are not having sex, then they are not really a "man" and become confused as to how to relate to the girls around them. Instead of talking to girls, they objectify them, not understanding that the best sex between two people is always based on respect. If the teen is gay, they feel even more isolated and fearful to ask questions amongst their peers, and the silence only leads to irresponsible decisions being made out of ignorance on the subject. What teens need are the FACTS about STIs and pregnancy and everything in between!
And just so there is no confusion, sex and intimacy are not the same thing. Sex and love are not the same thing. And if a guy (or girl) doesn't want to be with you because you are not ready to take the leap and engage in sexual behavoir, then that's ok. It's ok to say no, it's ok to wait until you feel ready. If Bristol had learned about all of the ways she could have prevented her pregnancy, maybe she wouldn't be in this situation, struggling to raise a child while still being one, herself.
Do I believe in sex education? In the words of Sarah Palin, "You Betcha!"