As a fashion photographer, I shoot a lot of pictures that contribute to the sexual imagery that confront youth every day in America. While American teens live in a society that uses sex to sell everything from lipstick to laptops, they are rarely afforded opportunities to discuss sex in an open, honest way. Because of my work in many different countries and cultures, and my involvement in a project called Move For Aids, I became interested in the issue and decided to take a deeper look at how America's inability to talk about sex really impacts teens.
I was really shocked by what I found. Every day in America, 10,000 teens catch a sexually transmitted disease, 2,400 teen girls get pregnant, and 55 young people are infected with HIV. Also consider these cold, hard facts:
- By ages 18-19, 62% of American teenagers have had sex. 70% have had some sexual contact (anal, oral, or vaginal).
- Of the 18.9 million new STD cases in the U.S. each year, nearly 50% occur among 15-24 year olds.
- 30% of teenage girls in the U.S become pregnant before the age of 20. More than 80% of those pregnancies are unintended.
- In the U.S. the teen pregnancy rate is over four times that of the Netherlands, over three times that of Germany, and almost three times that of France.
- Teen pregnancies cost U.S. taxpayers9 Billion dollars a year.
- Teen STD's cost taxpayers6.5 billion dollars a year.
But I wasn't just shocked by the statistics but also by the fact that most people are unaware of how bad the situation really is and also how valuable open communication and education can be in alleviating the problem.
After processing what I had learned, my mission became to bring these shocking facts to life through film and in the process offer some real solutions to try and improve the situation. That film is called Let's Talk About Sex. For three years, I traveled through the United States and Western Europe on a journey to understand common trends on sex and sexuality, and to profile young Americans who have been directly affected by the current lack of honest, open conversation. These teens are powerful advocates for change, navigating the real world with little guidance about sexuality, and occasionally facing devastating consequences as a result.
The film highlights the price young people pay for a culture where fear, shame, and denial too often undermine education, communication, and basic common sense. It looks at a broad swath of the American teenage experience -- from a teen in Atlanta, GA who discusses the disconnect between the virginity pledge movement and the reality of teen's lives, to college students talking about the "hook up" culture of college, and a young gay man who was infected with HIV at age 17 talks about the impact the lack of sex education and information has on gay teens.
Let's Talk About Sex concludes in Oregon, where some of the lessons learned in Western Europe are helping to create practical solutions. The differences between Europe and America are staggering. If the U.S. were able to achieve the sexual health outcomes on a par with the Netherlands, American teens each year would experience 600,000 fewer pregnancies, 350,000 fewer births and 63,000 fewer abortions. The annual savings for American taxpayers would reach $505 million.
The Internet and modern life have changed the playing field for teens. Now more than ever, we need to stand up and make sure young people have honest, reliable information and communication around this issue. Sexuality is such a big part of who we are, and I believe that most people want to talk to their children about it but they just don't know how. Let's Talk About Sex was created as a tool for parents, educators and community leaders to initiate healthy, age-appropriate conversations about sexual health across America. Only a community effort will really solve this problem, so please join me in getting this important message out.
The film can be seen on TLC, April 9th at 10 PM EST / 9 CST. More information on the film can be found at LetsTalkAboutTheFilm.com
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