Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention:The Role of Family (cont.)
Moderator: How is sex education from parents and schools changing?
Huberman: There's very little sexuality education for adult parents. There is even less for the children in our school systems. When we look at the research, only about 10 percent of schools in our country offer a comprehensive, medically accurate curriculum that's K-12 for our young people, taught by trained sexuality educators. Most parents think their kids are getting this information in school, and they don't understand that they're not getting it. When we look at research, we also see that most parents want their young person to have this comprehensive sexuality education and not only an "abstinence until marriage approach." In the national poll, over 70 percent of the adults said they do not approve and do not want to support what's called "abstinence-only until marriage" education. Yet our federal government has recently decided that that's what they will fund and support.
And yet the federal government has decided to support only programs through a $250 million appropriation that will tell teens that they must wait for marriage to have sex. Not only is this unrealistic, given that over 90 percent of couples in this country do not wait for marriage, it's an unhealthy marriage. What's happening is that many young people who feel guilty or ashamed that they are not acting upon that belief, place themselves at risk by not using protection. In this federal appropriation, young people are not allowed to learn about the positive benefits of contraception against STD and HIV. They are only allowed to talk about the failures. In this appropriation, young people must be told that if they engage in sexual behavior before marriage, they will suffer psychological and physical damage. Our national poll last summer clearly demonstrates that the American public wants their young person to be protected against an unwanted pregnancy, HIV and STD's. Overwhelmingly they said, "Teach our children a continuum: never engage in an intimate relationship that includes sexual intercourse in which you are not protected yourself or that you are not wanting to be involved in that relationship."
I've been studying the European countries for past five years and have learned a lot in terms of how they have reduced their teen pregnancy rate, incredibly lower than ours. In the Netherlands, it's 13 times lower than the U.S., and they've done that by being honest about sex, by offering all women and men access and education about contraception, and they've done it by being positive about sexuality. These countries have achieved what we could achieve in our country, as well, but our policy makers in this country don't want to hear those messages, don't want to consider that perhaps what they're funding is not realistic or relevant when the average age of marriage is now 27. You're asking young people to delay the initiation of a beautiful, fulfilling relationship. Do I think 12 and 13 year olds should be having sex? Absolutely not. They ought to have knowledge and information and the skills to resist media pressure, peer pressure, their own sexual urges until they are much older. The European message is not one of abstinence but one of choice and power. In interviews of young people in the three countries, we heard over and over, "No, we don't talk about abstinence. We talk about responsibility. We're not preached at. We're taught that we will someday make that choice and when we do, it must be within the bounds of a loving, committed relationship."
If we truly in this country want to reduce teen pregnancies -- and even in adult women, 50 percent of pregnancies to all women are unplanned -- if we want to contain the spread of HIV and other STD's which have serious health consequences, emotional consequences, then there are things that family, community, church, physicians, have to do. They cannot censor information. Ignorance does not produce responsible behavior. Young people deserve the correct knowledge. The second thing is that those teenagers who decide to become active, like it or not, they didn't ask our permission, we have to give them access to the health services in a confidential way that gives them whatever methods, whatever services they need to protect themselves against STD's and pregnancy. The third thing we have to do is probably the hardest. We have to somehow instill in young people the motivation to protect themselves, to not get pregnant. What this means is that young people with goals are less likely to engage in risky behaviors. Young people who feel loved and appreciated, they have the motivation it takes, maybe not to not have sex, but the motivation to say, "If I make this decision, then the next decision I must make is to protect myself." Frequently young people ask, "How do I know when it's right for me?" They don't have the ability to really understand a lot of non-cognitive reasoning. They're very concrete. I tell them, "If you haven't had a thorough discussion with your partner, you're not ready. If you are not protecting yourself against disease and pregnancy, you are not ready. If you don't think after you do it that you can tell someone important in your life about what a wonderful experience this was, then you are not ready. You might be in love, you might be lustful, but if you are not going to do those three things, you are not ready and you don't have any business engaging in intimate sexual behavior." I think young people hear that message because it doesn't preach to them. It places the choices in their hand and it also gives them some parameters around making that decision. It gives them the power to say to a partner, "If we can't do these three things, then it's not right for us."
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