Sexuality Education: What To Tell Your Children (cont.)

Moderator: Where do kids get most of their information about sex?

Huberman: In survey after survey there's been some dramatic changes in the last 50 years certainly. We've seen a reversal from parents and churches being at the top of the list of where children get their information to now TV, movies and peer groups being at the top. For young girls, the growth of magazines and printed sources of information has been astounding in the last 10 years. For young boys, when you look at the list of their sources for information it's mostly their peers. And unfortunately when we go back, we know that much of the information that we learned from our peers was inaccurate and in many cases inappropriate and certainly unhealthy.

Moderator: What problems are linked to children not having enough or correct information about sexuality?

Huberman: Well, one of the most severe problems is that one out of ten young people in this country, one out of ten young women has a pregnancy in their teens. That's 13 times higher than young women 15-19 in the Netherlands. That's 9 times higher than young women in Germany. We know that one out of four young women in this country experiences some type of sexual abuse or harassment during their teen years. We know that one out of four cases of STDs, sexually transmitted diseases, occur to teenagers in our country. These are certainly physical consequences that we've seen, but there are others as well. For young people who become parents at very young ages, their whole potential and their future changes. The road that they might have been on for many of them to self-sufficiency, completion of an education, and the ability to parent is severely diminished. We know that many of the children who are born to teen mothers will not have a father in their lives. Almost 80% of teen pregnancies are out-of-wedlock pregnancies. And, a great majority of those will have no relationship with the father.

Moderator: Does America differ from other countries in terms of parents and communications with their children about sexuality?

Huberman: You see a totally different picture in Northern European countries. I've been studying France, Germany, the Netherlands and the Scandinavian countries for the past five years. We've been meeting with experts in those countries who are looking at relationships between young people and families and their communications. What we find is that parents generally feel very comfortable to answer questions. Parents, in general, accept, in the European countries, that the older adolescents, it's a normal part of growing up to become close to someone and to become sexually intimate with that person. What parents in those countries say to their young people is not, don't have sex, but don't ever have sex without protecting yourselves from pregnancies and STDs. In those countries, in most families, young girls go to their family doctor when they're 16 years old and receive some type of birth control When we stopped young people on the streets or sat and talked with them in coffee shops, over and over again every single one of them said, I always carry condoms. Perhaps not for me, but so that I have it for a friend. Condoms, because of AIDS and HIV primarily, not because of pregnancy prevention, are easily available in the European countries. And the public in general supports the government's role in providing family planning services to all people. There is no doubt that in these countries with national health care insurance, that a teenager's ability to access reproductive health services is much easier and can be done because everyone has the national health insurance, this can be done confidentially. But, in most families, the parents are very aware that their young person is involved in a relationship that is sexually intimate. And, the message overall is not one of "you shouldn't be doing this" , but, "if you are doing it, you're protecting yourself."

Moderator: Do you feel there is enough interest in educating children about sex, and what role should the government have?

Huberman: Well, in the past several years there has been tremendous interest in this country on the part of the government especially. Until three years ago, the federal government had invested no dollars in sexuality education. And, as a part of welfare reform in 1996, appropriated $250 million for sexuality education. But, they placed severe restrictions on that money that was divided among the states. The money could only be used for programs in which young people were told that they could not have sex until they were married. And, if they did, one of the other restrictions you had to tell young people was that if you did have sex before marriage you would suffer physical and emotional damage.

Moderator: What is your opinion of sex education in public schools?

Huberman: Only about one out of ten schools in the country offers comprehensive, medically accurate, developmentally appropriate sexuality education taught by a competent, trained sexuality educator. So, what that means is about 90% of our kids may get a plumbing lecture in the 7th grade - this body part does that or this tube connects to that organ - but they are virtually deserted after junior high school in terms of sexuality education, a time which is the most likely time for them to be involved with someone and risk the consequences of unprotected intercourse.

Moderator: What has interested you in educating people about sexuality?

Huberman: A variety of things. I think, certainly the first, just to help people feel good about themselves and about their relationship. And, especially my work in adolescent reproductive health, to empower young people to make wise, safe, responsible decisions about their sexual health. I worked in a maternity home many years ago for pregnant, unwed mothers and it was so tragic to me. There was no good answer once a teenager was pregnant. Abortion? Adoption? Teenage parenting? They all had life-changing consequences. I think my personal motivation is one in which to help families communicate about sexuality in a positive, healthy way so that parents feel good about how they've raised their children and children feel good about the way they've been raised. And, if they begin their own families can look back in future generations and say wow, you never know that some of the things you tried to do so differently from your parents that you've done them. I have two grown children and when my daughter had her first child and was changing a diaper, she was doing the usual, this is your nose, these are your eyes, these are your fingers, and then she turned around and said, Madeline, your grandmother would like for me to tell you that these are your breasts and this is your vagina.

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