We live in a contradictory culture. We are given sexual scripts and expected to follow them to the most minute detail. We fantasize the sexual experience in media and, at the same time, tell youth that they can only experience one form of it: heterosexual, vanilla, intraracial, and monogamous (for life). Given that the foundation of many sex ed programs is abstinence until marriage (which is being pushed ever farther off), too many people are woefully unprepared for their first sexual encounter. So how do we fix this?
The film Let’s Talk about Sex reiterates the point of the U.S.’s lacking sexual education system and its repercussions. Our focus on abstinence and scare tactics has left us way behind other developed countries. It is unacceptable for us to continue to have STI and teen pregnancy rates this high. We need to move to a more holistic approach and cover all of the possibilities for teen health. The new sexual education system should speak about all of the forms of sexual contact in an open and honest forum. Furthermore, we need to ensure that our youth is informed and able to express their sexuality in a healthy way for themselves and others. For example, they should know what abuse and use looks like. Teenage vulnerability and insecurity combined with the idea of invincibility leaves the rest of us with a responsibility to protect them. I do not mean keep youth from any and all sexual contact. I mean protect, to the best of our ability, youth from unhealthy and/or abusive sexual contact.
For illustrative graphs: http://www.advocatesforyouth.org/publications/419-adolescent-sexual-health-in-europe-and-the-us
Alongside the traditional sexual education classes in school systems, we need to expand our outreach and education attempts to include everyone. Families need to take on the responsibility of educating their children and fostering an environment in which frank conversations can be had. Religious groups need to expand beyond the “sex is sin” to, at the very least, an acknowledgement of the probability of ONE sexual encounter a teen will face. It only takes one encounter to receive an STI and an unplanned pregnancy. Furthermore, the sex is sin approach keeps teens from seeking out resources. This can be in terms of general information prior to an encounter or help with the consequence of unsafe sex.
The European Model from the film depicts some of the changes I think we need. In it, children can talk to their parents about sex, even have sleepovers and contraception provided. In most cases, this is as close to safe, healthy, and non-abusive sexual experiences that a teen could have.
Also, as a part of the sex ed system, myths surrounding sex need to be dispelled, especially those espoused through porn and media. Similarly, the education should stress that information is based on the “average” and explain what that means. For example, the average woman will not enjoy a cum-shot, however that is not to say that a woman is wrong for enjoying it.
A sub-topic that our culture likes to ignore is the age of first encounter. The average age can fluctuate based on several variables, but the general consensus is that it is too young. The current method of handling this is to simply act as though sex does not exist and refuse to even approach the topic with children. We need to provide relevant information before it is needed.
Relatedly, we need to address the differences among minorities and how they are expressed. Minorities can have completely different societal expectations. Such as, the hypersexual vision of black men and the feminine/asexual vision of Asian men mentioned in various class discussions.
Along these lines, we need to start educating children about the array of options available to them; this includes alternate sexualities and forms of expressing it. Through this education, children can become more accepting of these alternatives and possibly help resolve internal conflict for some.
Basically, everything comes down to the dissemination of accurate information. Teens should be provided with the ability to practice safe sex, in every possible way. Are there any downsides to creating an environment open to discussion? What are the alternatives? Are there any aspects that you deem important that I missed? Who is ultimately responsible for educating America’s youth? Can we make this cultural change? Should morality even be a part of the discussion?