Why Does My Textbook Say Sex Is Harmful? (and)

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Two Views of Sex Education

Dealing with teen sex education and sexual behavior is always controversial. Here, two teens give their views on abstinence and sex education.

One says emphasizing abstinence distorts the dangers of sex and ignores the realities that teens face. Another, who has been having sex since she was 13, wishes she had gotten better sex education and practiced abstinence until she was ready to take the big step.

Why Does My Textbook Say Sex is Harmful?
By Robyn Licht, 16

This year I finally had to confront one of my high school graduation requirements – health education. The class took me through a never-ending spiral of dull chapters in Health, A Guide to Wellness. As I endured lesson after lesson, I was never particularly moved until I came upon the chapter, “Adolescence, a time of change.”

The book’s definition for the term abstinence is: “the conscious decision to avoid harmful behaviors, including sexual activity before marriage and the use of tobacco, alcohol and other drugs. Abstinence is the only healthful and safe choice for teenagers. By postponing sexual activity until marriage, teens avoid the many risks of sexual behavior such as … loss of self-respect.”

At first I read over this definition without even thinking about it. But as I reconsidered, I realized teens need to be given a much different message than the one provided here.

This definition implies that sexual activity is as bad for you as tobacco and alcohol. Tobacco and alcohol are drugs, which can harm and even kill. Tobacco causes lung cancer and emphysema, while alcohol abuse may lead to traffic fatalities and liver damage. Sex, however, does not have to be a harmful act.

The tough question teens face about whether to have sexual relationships should be met with frank discussion by teachers in health classes. The reality is that teens are having sex. By classifying premarital sex as something negative, the authors are overlooking what is going to help teens make meaningful decisions: correct information on all choices they have when it comes to sex. Using the word “harmful” solidifies the point that sex is a damaging act and that it always has negative repercussions, including loss of “self-respect.”

The book gives helpful advice on how to avoid a situation that might lead teens into a sexual encounter. It suggests going places in big groups, and never going somewhere dark with someone you’ve just met. And if a partner is being pressured into having sex, the book recommends ending that relationship. These tips suggest that to be safe, teens must surround themselves with people who can protect them from their partners.

But what about those teens who think they are ready for sexual intimacy? Where is the advice to lead them into a healthy sexual relationship? Isn’t it possible to have sex without losing your self-respect? Not according to my health book.

A health book is an educational tool and should not be a way to preach to teens about acceptable sexual behavior. The authors should not be taking a stand on the issue, and yet they clearly preach their position. Teens should be able to decide for themselves how they feel about sex and whether they want to do it. Sex education should help teens make mature, educated decisions and not say all sex is evil. Lack of information leads to problems.

If teens were educated about safe sex, then the teen pregnancy rates would not be so high. According to the website www.teenpregnancy.org., four out of 10 women get pregnant at least once before they are 20. Teens these days are left with minimal guidance and resort to imitating the mainstream images that bombard them every day in the media. TV shows like “The Real World” show people having sex casually and not always using condoms, while many health books and teachers teach that premarital sex is wrong. So where are teens supposed to turn for guidance that will teach them how to practice safe sex?

Almost once a month I see young girls in the halls at my school with their newborn infants in their arms. People try to avert their eyes as the young mothers walk by, but it’s clear where their attention is focused. You can almost feel the embarrassment of the young mothers. They are swarmed by smiling friends offering congratulations. It seems like these friends are the only warm and accepting faces in the whole building. I think most people feel sorry for them and what they’re going through. No girl should become a mother before she finishes high school.

In our society, sex is seen as an uncomfortable topic. Adults often ignore it and blush whenever it’s mentioned. It is often seen as an unavoidable evil that will make a person dirty.

On the other hand, teens are dealing with their natural impulses, and the images they see on TV are the ones they want to copy. With these two very different messages being presented, where are teens supposed to turn to make their decisions?

Teens should be able to decide for themselves whether they are ready for sexual intimacy, and they should be given the tools to make that decision.

I Wish I Had Waited
By Anonymous, 15

I am a 15-year-old girl who’s had sex since the age of 13. There are two main reasons I got into having sex at such an early age.

One, I didn’t know much about sex, so I wanted to see what it was like. I saw it everywhere, from Victoria’s Secret shops to TV shows.

Two, I was influenced into having sex because “everybody” in high school was doing it. I was in eighth grade and I hung around people who were older than me. The guys were not virgins. They would say things like, “It’s not a big deal.” So I thought that if I was not a virgin, it wouldn’t matter that much.

My parents and teachers were too embarrassed to sit me in a chair and talk to me about sex. My parents thought I wouldn’t become sexually active because my brothers and sisters had not become involved with sex. In my middle school I didn’t have any sex education classes. At that time I was wondering about stuff like, “How does it feel to have sex? Do I get pregnant the first time? What is a condom?”

The first time I had sex, I had to depend on what the guy knew. I was 13 and the guy was my sex education class. He was 16 years old and not my boyfriend. It was his idea to have sex, and I was really adventurous at the time. I wanted to know more and it just happened.

It was his idea to use a condom, because I didn’t know much about birth control. After I had sex, I realized it was too late to take back the biggest mistake of my life. I went home and kept telling myself, “I’m not a virgin, I’m not a virgin.” I felt really bad about it, because growing up I was taught that you shouldn’t lose your virginity until you’re married.

Months later, when my parents found out that I was having sex, they lost their trust in me and sent me to a group home. But sex is addictive. I became addicted to the feeling of being loved, because I wasn’t getting enough love from my family. I began to have sex with people who I really didn’t want to have sex with. Once I started having sex, it wasn’t easy to stop.

I personally believe that middle school is one of the most important times to be given sex education, because when you get into high school, you will see sex everywhere. Nowadays, people do not wait to be seniors at the prom to have sex. They just have sex when they think they’re ready, whether or not they are.

I wanted to save my virginity for someone special, not just some guy. I think that if I had known more about sex and taken sex-ed classes in middle school, I would have realized that sex is not a game. After the sex-ed classes I took in ninth grade, I learned that there is much more to sex than the “fun” of it. There are sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy, and with those risks comes a lot of responsibility.

In the future, I want to wait to have sex until I meet someone who appreciates me. Sex can bring too many negative things when you’re not ready for it.

© 2003, LA Youth, www.layouth.com.

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