Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Readin' Writin' Rithmetic and Relationships

I am pleased today that my professional organization, Society for Adolescent Health and Medicine, and its president-elect,John Santelli, have come down from what is frequently the organization's ivory tower in the clouds to comment on the sex education program that is going into effect in New York City schools.  Along with Arik Marcell,  a pediatrician from Johns Hopkins, their op ed piece is a smart and compassionate answer to the October 19 Op-Ed piece entitled "Does Sex-Ed Undermine Parental Rights?"

In that article the authors painted an unsavory picture of young middle schoolers exploring all sorts of "solitary and mutual sex acts" using flash or "risk" cards.  This is what they imagine the new NYC Department of Education's requirements will consist of and fear that parents will lose control as "the effect of such lessons is as much to promote a certain sexual ideology among the young as it is to protect their health."

But Santelli and Marcell help us to see this new educational mandate in a different way:

"...public health is built on the twin pillars of scientific understanding and human rights, not ideology.
Children and adolescents are developing human beings, with rights to protection, to health and to education — and sexuality is a normal and vital aspect of human development. Comprehensive sexuality education equips young people with information they need to protect themselves against sexually transmitted infections and unplanned pregnancy and to adopt healthier sexual behaviors."
No matter what the curricula turn out to contain, parents can still have a lock on the values and morality and the when (and maybe the how and with whom) of sexuality in their children.  In fact, multiple studies have shown that kids want to know how their parents feel about sex and what their values are.   But parents have not done a very good job of it. In another Op-Ed piece today, one of the teenage staff writers for Sex,Etc, one of my favorite publications (cheap, well written by teens, and sharing a diverse and biologically correct view of sexuality in teens) points out that in 2008 while 47% of girls (ages 14-18) "said they had never discussed sex with their parents, only 6% of parents said they had never discussed sex with their children."

It might even turn out that the introduction of the biology and science of human sexuality in our schools may present an invitation to parents to engage in important conversations with their kids.  Not unlike proof-reading an English paper or (attempting to) help with math problems, the course in human sexuality can open the dialogue that so many parents and kids all want to be having.

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