Why Don’t We Talk?

American culture is almost a paradox in the way that culture and media are so saturated with images of sex, and yet sex and sexuality are practically taboos. Many parents and adults labor under the delusion that if they don’t talk about or teach kids about sex, that they will not have any ideas about doing it. The documentary, Let’s Talk About Sex, exhibits how in some European cultures, sex is so much more easily talked about between parents and kids, as well as between kids. The society is much more accepting of teenagers’ sexuality, and their likeliness to engage in sexual behavior. This sort of openness is what American society should strive for.

However, instead of this openness and acceptance, most American parents don’t discuss sex with their children. In my experience, parents tell their kids not to have sex before marriage and hope that they will listen. Meanwhile, many kids go on to engage in sexual activity regardless of their parents’ warnings. The act of forbidding sex only serves to close the door of communication and push kids into secrecy, because if the kids really want to, they will find ways to have sex without their parents’ permission or knowledge. If the kids feel like they would get in trouble, why would they tell their parents what they have been up to? Forbidding kids from having sex just slams the door to communication shut. That’s it, no more conversation on the subject. Parents are not accepting the high likelihood that their kids will engage in sex–they are living in denial. Because of this, parents don’t instruct their kids on how to engage in safe sex. They are not putting their girls on birth control, they are not providing their kids with condoms, and they certainly are not making themselves available to answer questions or give helpful advice. A rift grows between parents and teens; a topic they cannot broach lies between them.  Without the resource of their own parents, teens who do engage in sex may do so without safe practices and end up with STDs or unwanted pregnancies. Not feeling they are able to turn to their parents, they are scared and alone, and don’t know where to turn to for help and advice.

The Dutch family in the documentary exhibited a very different relationship between parents and their teenager. The son felt that he could ask his parents questions or just talk with them about sex. The parents had accepted the likelihood that their son would want to have sex, and gave him permission to have partners stay over in his room (rather than forcing him to find some other place like a car or the street). The parents also made sure their son knew to use protection like condoms. In making sex a topic they can discuss, they make it safer for their son and create a healthier parent-child relationship.

If kids in America aren’t learning about sex from their parents, from where are they learning about it?Probably not in their schools! Most schools rely on abstinence-only programs and assume these will work to prevent teens from having sex until after they are married. Now this idea sounds familiar…Of course! It’s a teaching deeply rooted in many traditional religions. Hmm. Isn’t America supposed to profess a separation of church and state? So why then, are abstinence only programs the only programs being taught in public junior high and high schools? Again, by teaching only abstinence, these programs close communication and lose the interest of students who do not believe in saving sex until marriage. These school programs just label all sexual activities before marriage as wrong and then don’t talk about them or comprehensively teach kids how to engage in them safely.

Teaching abstinence may make some kids feel guilty, but it doesn’t actually stop kids from having sex. According to the Advocates for Youth website, recent studies have shown that abstinence-only sex ed programs do not show any more effectiveness than comprehensive sex ed programs. Most sex education programs don’t actually provide a comprehensive education in sex, and therefore,  they don’t work to foster acceptance by educating students on subjects such as feminism, homosexuality (bisexuality), transgender people, transsexual people, or other topics that kids may not know much about. Providing a more general knowledge of sexual identities and bodies would be the first step in creating an accepting society free of stigmatization and discrimination. Some programs don’t even adequately teach students about their own bodies and anatomy. Instead, many programs show pictures of STDs in order to try to scare kids out of having sex; they don’t teach kids how to use contraceptives to prevent STD transmission.

This may leave students unprepared. These kids don’t have the knowledge or resources to use birth control or practice safe sex using condoms. Sex is treated as such a taboo–making it hard for kids to talk about and learn about sex.

Because of the lack of communication and education from parents and school, teens then learn most of their information about sex from peers, the internet, and pornography. These sources can provide accurate knowledge, but oftentimes the truth is hidden and obscured behind so many myths. If teens are learning from each other, where does the actual information come from? When ideas are shared by word of mouth, meanings often get distorted and misconstrued. The internet also circulates many falsehoods. Popular myths say that pulling out will prevent pregnancy, oral sex is a way to avoid STDs, the first time having sex won’t cause pregnancy or transmit STDs, and that virginity is something that needs to be lost. Pornography does not always depict sex that actually feels good for the participants. It often objectifies women and portrays them as there for male pleasure. Some porn may give depictions of pleasurable sex for all those involved, but a lot of porn focuses on looking good for the camera. These methods of gaining information are not reliable or completely true. They create an uninformed/misinformed population on the topic of sex.

If the way our culture treats sex is so bad, what do we need instead? How about a comprehensive sex ed class taught in schools that will inform teens about contraceptives and safe practices to reduce the risk of std infection and unwanted pregnancy, and educate teens in other areas of sexuality to promote understanding and acceptance? How about relationships between parents and their kids that are open and honest on the topic of sex, relationships in which kids feel comfortable turning to their parents for knowledge, advice, and help? How about a culture in which sex is not a taboo, but a destigmatized and accepted part of life? Education is key–people who know what they are talking about are not usually scared to talk about it.

How do you feel that the taboo on sex affects young people in our country? How can we try to remedy the problems that surround sex and sexuality? What type of a sex ed program would be most effective in schools?

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