Monday, November 10, 2008

It's Monday morning, lets do a swan dive into controversy to get the blood moving. One of my clinic duties is to take care of patients at the local university student health. Most of the time this includes a lot of colds, sports physicals, pap smears and STD checks. Its generally pretty light duty. The patients are young and healthy and just don't involve the level of complexity that I see at the other clinics.

Since its been a couple of months since classes have started, the girls have started to come in for pregnancy tests. The last one (fortunately not pregnant) had only a vague idea how pregnancy happens. Most of our time together was spent discussing how the process actually works. She understood that sex=pregnancy/STD (good) but that's as far as her knowledge went. She didn't know what ovulation was, didn't know the timing of the menstrual cycle (she wasn't even late), and was not really sure how fertilization happens. This led to a great deal of fear and panic.

Eighteen year olds are allowed to vote on our elected officials and this year came out in massive numbers to elect the first multi-racial president. They are able to drive a car and most are expected to take drivers education classes in high school so that they are safe behind the wheel. They are able to join the military and/or be drafted, learn to carry a gun and kill someone before their frontal lobes are even finished developing. But we don't teach them about their bodies because, as a society, we think its "too dangerous" and leads them to increased sexual behaviour. That makes about as much sense as giving the keys to a sports car to a person who doesn't know the brake pedal from the gas and the turn signal lever is just there to make that rhythmic clicking sound.

According to the Journal of the American Medical socity (no citation, sorry), kids today are actually engaging in less risky behaviour than we did in the wicked 1980's when I was a teenager. They are waiting to have sex, using condoms more frequently and smoking and drinking less. The rate of teen pregnancy has actually gone down in the last ten years. However HIV and syphilis infections are actually going up. The places that are still having problems with teenage pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases are where sexual education doesn't happen at all or where abstinence only (same thing) is taught.

Teaching kids about sex doesn't necessarily make them want to go out and fornicate like rabbits. If done correctly, it will make their hormone soaked brains think twice now that they know the potential consequences of unprotected sex. It leads to an understanding of how their bodies work which decreases fear. We're curious primates, fear only works as a short-term motivator. We are designed to have sex. Telling kids to wait has never worked all that well. Sure, in the past it kept the majority from bonking before they were married, or at least getting caught. But there were always a few daring souls who had their hands in the cookie jar.

Sexual education is like drivers ed. We don't really want these kids in a car. They are inexperienced, have short attention spans, and have more auto accidents than any other demographic. But if we can say "this is the seat belt, this is a stop sign, this is how you keep from getting hurt on this crazy road" its better for all of us.

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