Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Talk--America's Doing It Wrong

Did your parents ever sit down and have "the talk" with you?

When I was 16 my parents asked if I had any questions about sex. I didn't. There was no discussion of how it works, methods of preventing pregnancy and STDs, the emotional issues that go along with it. They simply reminded me that sex was "wrong" and "don't do it." Yeah, I knew that I'd been told sex was bad (but magically became good once you say "I do") but that didn't stop me from doing it-- two years prior to the non-talk "talk."

I've asked a couple of my friends, and none of them recall having the notorious talk that parents are supposedly so scared of. (Maybe they're so scared that they skip it altogether?) There was the "don't do it" speech for most of them, and the "we're just gonna put you on birth control & hope for the best" move for a few others.While this passive approach may seem like the answer for apprehensive parents, how is it working out for the kids?

Well, it looks like it's not. Not for teens in America, at least. Research recently done by sociologist Amy Schalet compares the difference in approach to teen sexuality in America and European countries. In her article, "Sex, Love and Autonomy in the Teenage Sleepover," she states, "American adolescent sexuality has been dramatized instead of normalized."  The results of this? A high rate of teen pregnancy, abortion, and transmission of STDs. Advocates for Youth provide these figures:

Schalet cites two main reasons for the stark differences in approaches to teen sexuality: religion and economic security. As a whole, the U.S. has a tendency to be more devout than our counterparts in the Netherlands, hence more conservative views and beliefs. As far as economic security, she reasons, "Like most European countries, the Dutch government provides a range of what sociologists call 'social' and what reproductive health advocates call 'human' rights: the right to housing, healthcare, and a minimum income. Not only do such rights ensure access, if need be, to free contraceptive and abortion services, government supports make coming of age less perilous for both teenagers and parents.

What are some of the differences found in approaches to sexuality?
  • Adults in France, Germany, and the Netherlands view young people as assets, not as problems. Adults value and respect adolescents and expect teens to act responsibly. Governments strongly support education and economic self-sufficiency for youth.
  • Research is the basis for public health policies to reduce unintended pregnancies, abortions, and sexually transmitted infections, including HIV. Political and religious interest groups have little influence on public health policy.
  • Youth have convenient access to free or low-cost contraception through national health insurance.
  • Sex education is not necessarily a separate curriculum and is usually integrated across school subjects and at all grade levels. Educators provide accurate and complete information in response to students’ questions.
  • Families have open, honest, consistent discussions with teens about sexuality and support the role of educators and health care providers in making sexual health information and services available to teens.
  • Society weighs the morality of sexual behavior through an individual ethic that includes the values of responsibility, respect, tolerance, and equity.

 I find it ironic that our society is still so conservative about some aspects of sex even though sex is everywhere, 24/7. Is it that we've demonized our natural sexuality to the point that we are in effect helpless against its power? By not looking at sex/sexuality for what it is--a natural desire that can be both healthy and fulfilling when done/used responsibly--we have left ourselves open to a myriad of problems that can be prevented.

main source: Consequences of U.S. and Dutch Approaches to Sex

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