One of the most useful things I learned from attending public high school was sex ed. It was taught to girls and boys separately (my first experience of single-sex education), discussed in an honest, factual, unabashed manner, and gave me all the information I needed about biology, pregnancy prevention, and sexually transmitted diseases, to make my choices in life.
My last two years of high school, and my year of high school teaching, were both in girls’ Catholic schools. My high school (in Monterey, California) was unusual in that the seniors were given a day off from lessons in the spring to spend the day (including a posh luncheon) with a gynecologist imported from San Francisco. She gave us a presentation about female sexuality, sprinkling her talk with humorous anecdotes from her private practice in The City. She told us everything we needed to know, and then the floor was open for questions. We were allowed to ask anything and everything we wished, and our questions were answered in full. Recognizing that we would soon be off to college and devoid of adult supervision or counsel, the blessed sisters made an effort to provide us with as much information as possible to keep ourselves safe and healthy.
Contrast this with the year I spent teaching in a girls’ Catholic school in Newton, Massachusetts, where sex education comprised lectures about abstinence. Please note that I was in high school in the mid-1980s, and was teaching fifteen years later. But the school where I taught espoused the much more traditional Catholic attitude toward premarital sex and, since it was not acting in loco parentis (as my boarding school was), perhaps the administration did not feel at liberty to offer advice that might run counter to some families’ values and parenting.
But I still remember the students filing into my US history class grumbling about the abstinence-only curriculum. “In two years we’ll be in college, and if we don’t know what we’re doing, we can get into trouble!” They were angry at the school for denying them the information they knew they would need in order to make their own choices. And given that one of my students (not in that class) was several months pregnant by graduation time, it’s clear that these girls were done a disservice.
All that came back to mind last week (as well as news of a 10 year old mother delivering her child in Spain recently) when a friend of the Cap’n’s who is a family physician sent him a link to a Slate Magazine article/slideshow on “The European approach to teens, sex, and love, in pictures.” It is compiled and written by a physician who works for Planned Parenthood, and examines and contrasts advertising and attitudes toward teen sexual activity in America and Europe. (In a nutshell, it shows that Europeans accept that many young people are sexually active and use humor to teach about condoms, encouraging young people to be prepared. Americans view youth sex as bad, carrying a condom is perceived negatively both for girls and boys, and Madison Avenue prefers fearful messages to sell condoms.) It should interest parents, teachers, media analysts, psychologists and health educators, as well as anyone else who takes an interest in the next generation.
Click here to view it. I’d be interested in comments from readers on both sides of The Pond.