Most people agree that teenagers are greatly helped in Driver’s Ed, by gaining skills to become safer drivers and more conscientious citizens on the road. Yet offering comprehensive Sex Ed to teenagers to gain skills about being sexually safer and more conscientious citizens while dating is highly controversial. Marty Klein, PhD, a leading social commentator in the United States on sexuality, describes the absurdity of our national values around sex education:
Although our country makes cars safer in case of accidents, has school athletes wear helmets in case they fall awkwardly, and establishes poison centers in case toddlers get into cleaning supplies, [those who are sex-negative] don’t want to reduce the consequences of unauthorized, unprotected, or unlucky sex. They say that doing so encourages bad sexual choices. That’s like saying seat belts encourage dangerous driving and poison centers encourage sloppy parenting.*
We are an over-protective society except when it comes to sex. Clearly there is something about the topic of sex that breeds irrationality. The U.S. is founded on Puritan values, and we seem to cling to these values regarding sex despite a variety of science and logic to the contrary. It seems that amidst a cultural and religious upbringing of shame, fear, silence, and disconnect regarding sexuality and pleasure, we develop a fundamental discomfort with our own sexuality. What else can explain the many politicians and religious leaders who publicly condemn anything outside of mainstream, heterosexual, married intercourse, yet whose own sexual desires reveal a penchant for sex outside marriage, texting penis photos, or spending intimate time with gay masseuses? If we could examine the shame around sexuality, and recognize the broad range of sexual activity that is natural and normal, I don’t think we’d see such hypocrisy.
In a few weeks I will visit Sweden, a country that teaches comprehensive sexuality education to all students, by law. The philosophy in many European countries is that sexual activity is a normal and natural part of being human, and therefore children and teens are best suited to be sexually responsible through education. Sweden’s statistics on teenage pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections don’t lie – this approach works.** Knowledge gained through education is a resource for power and choice regarding both driving AND sexual health. Yet, as Marty Klein writes, “The welfare of our children is being sacrificed so that adults can sleep better at night.” I think it’s time for a wake up call.
**The birthrate for teens in Sweden is 7 per 1,000 births, compared with 49 in the U.S., and in the 15 to 19 year old age range, reported cases of gonorrhea in the U.S. are almost 600 times as great per capita.
(This was originally posted as part of the Sex & Love Blogger Series for Pacific San Diego Magazine.)
~Dr. Jenn Gunsaullus, San Diego, CA -- Sex Therapist, Marriage Counselor, Sexologist, College Sexual Health Speaker