FOX's Family Guy is hugely popular with teens...and my husband. So I watch it occasionally. On a recent episode Lois decides to teach sex ed after catching Meg and her boyfriend having "ear sex." After drinking the Kool-Aid of the abstinence-only educator who came to their school armed with his version of the silver virginity pledge rings and myths about how condoms never work, the animated teen couple decided to just do everything but, which evidently included Meg's ear. Lois takes a more practical approach -- sexuality and sex are a healthy, enjoyable part of being human. Don't do it until you are emotionally ready. And if you do, wear a condom.
Nothing irritates me more than the right-wing evangelical approach to sexuality -- maybe because I grew up with it. My mom became a messianic Jew when I was 5 (i.e. born-again Christian). I grew up internalizing that sex was a sin before marriage, and if you did it, you were damaged goods. I also learned that masturbation was wrong and basically never had a real conversation about healthy sexuality with either one of my parents. I was given one of those Focus on The Family-type books called "Why Wait," which was all about waiting until marriage to have sex. Of course my response was, "Exactly, why wait?"
I wonder if President Bush imparted a similar message to his girls when they were teens. He has certainly decided to give it to all U.S. teens by choosing Dr. Eric Keroack to be deputy assistant secretary of population affairs within the Department of Health and Human Services. According to a recent article on Slate:
"Eric Keroack is a Massachusetts obstetrician-gynecologist who argues that abstinence until marriage is the only healthy choice for women. Until recently, he served as medical director of a pregnancy-counseling organization that runs down contraception and gives out scientifically false health information--for instance, that condoms "offer virtually no protection" against herpes or HPV. Keroack also promotes a wacky piece of pseudoscience: the claim that premarital sex disrupts brain chemistry so as to create a physiological barrier to happy marriage."
Talk to any non-ideologically driven teen sex educator in the trenches, and they will tell you abstinence-only doesn't work. Better yet, look at real research that was actually funded by our own government. Columbia University's Peter Bearman coauthored the most comprehensive study ever done on adolescent health and sexuality. The study was a $45 million project, funded by 17 separate federal agencies. Bearman's investigators interviewed more than 20,000 young people about virginity pledge programs. Bearman found that pledging will help teens delay sex for about 18 months. He also found that when they do have sex, pledgers are one-third less likely to use condoms, and that during the pledge period, many of them are doing everything (and I mean everything) but having intercourse.
Reuters also just published an article about research from the American Journal of Public Health that showed "the dramatic declines in teenage pregnancy rates noted in the United States between 1995 and 2002 were largely due to improved contraceptive use, not to abstinence."
Being a teen is all about sexual awakening. Between the natural impulses that come with puberty and the highly sexualized pop culture teens are bombarded with, the idea that teens should just repress all of this, and save it for marriage (which is now happening much later) is ridiculous.
There needs to be a national dialogue in this country about what constitutes healthy sexuality for teenagers. It needs to include solid health information about contraception and STDs. It also needs to include a frank, reality-based discussion about the emotional risks of having sex too young, about the full spectrum of sexual identity and about of the health benefits that can come from having a positive, healthy sex life when you're ready.