Just Don't Do It!
Are we teaching our kids way too much about sex? Or not nearly enough?
That extends to mental health. Research shows that 97 percent of public high school students say they hear antigay remarks regularly, and 80 percent of gay and lesbian students say they suffer severe social isolation. "The data has consistently found that gay and lesbian and bi teens have at least three times the rate of [teen] suicide and suicide attempts," says Ron Schlittler, deputy executive director at the national office of Parents, Families & Friends of Lesbians & Gays, adding, "The fact is, kids self-identify as gay or lesbian whether we like it or not." About 9 percent of high school students say they are gay, lesbian, bisexual, or questioning. "Gay kids--just as straight kids--are figuring out these new things that are happening in their heads and bodies," he says. "They need information."
"I didn't think homosexuality should be taught as something that is natural or the same as heterosexuality," says Michelle Turner, a Montgomery County, Md., mother of six. Last year, the county adopted a sex ed curriculum that included information about same-gender attraction and a film that demonstrated putting a condom on a cucumber. Turner and others objected so vehemently that they--encouraged by national supporters--formed a group called Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum, took the school board to court, and won. The curriculum was dropped before it was ever taught. Reaching a national consensus on what should be taught seems unlikely.
What do teens want? Like their parents, teenagers have different notions of how much is enough. For a comparative few, abstinence-only classes are--or would be--something of a relief. "Had there been an abstinence-only course, I would have taken that," says John Maddrey, 16, a junior at Einstein High School in Kensington, Md. "To be in a class of people who do think like you think--the way you have been brought up by your family--to get that sense that you're not the only person like that would be a more comfortable environment."
Instead, he took a class that emphasized abstinence. Says Maddrey: "Our teacher always went back to, 'Yes there are these other means of birth control,' but she said they are always fallible. We had a speaker who told us the four types of sex--oral, anal, mutual masturbation, and sex--and told us the risks of all of them. Her concluding point was that abstinence was the best way to keep you healthy," he says, adding, "Homosexuality is a bit of a hot topic. We didn't really go into that. Had they gone into abortion, I would not have attended; I would make my own crusade."
While those wanting a comprehensive approach would feel shortchanged, Maddrey feels he could have done with less. "I'm a very intelligent individual," he says. "You can give me a pamphlet, and I can read it. I have already learned about condoms and birth control. The rest I can put together from TV, the Internet, current events, and what I read in the newspaper."
When Taylor Moore, 16, goes to abstinence-only classes in Chicago public schools and other venues, she's a speaker, not a student. "My message is sex is for marriage. They need to stay focused on their education, dreams, and ambitions," she says. "They will be sent a husband or a wife. God has already ordained that special someone. We don't have to go on the market."