Curious Crow

By Rachel Birdsell |

Teens and S-E-X

According to the Centers for Disease Control, teen pregnancy has been dropping since the early ’90s. At their last count in 2009, the teen birth rate was 39.1 per 1,000 women age 15-19. Even with the decrease, the U.S. is still way higher than other western industrialized nations. For a country that claims to be the greatest in the world, why do we have so much trouble keeping our teenagers from getting pregnant?

What are we failing to provide? Why is it our teen birth rate is higher than France, whose rate is only 7 per 1,000? Aren’t they a bunch of over-sexed heathens over there?

Could it be that their openness about sex is why their teen birth rate is so low?

I happen to think it is the exact reason. Americans do have a tendency to be more repressed about sex than our European neighbors. If you don’t believe me, just check out some European commercials on YouTube.

The Utah House has passed a bill that would require sex education classes in schools to teach an abstinence-only curriculum. Republican state Rep. Bill Wright, who sponsored the bill, stated, “We’ve been culturally watered down to think we have to teach about sex. … Why don’t we just be honest with them upfront that sex outside marriage is devastating?”

Do we really think if we tell our kids to just not have sex, that’s what will happen? I hate to break it to the Utah lawmakers, but even Mormon kids are getting it on in backseats all over Salt Lake City. Do parents not remember what it’s like to be a teenager and have hormones coursing through your body like lipids through Chris Christie’s veins? Being sexually aroused is completely natural; however, I may have killed all of that by mentioning Chris Christie.

A study published in 2005 in the Journal of Adolescent Health found that abstinence-pledged teens were more likely to engage in oral or anal sex. They also found they were less likely to use condoms once they did become sexually active. Another 2005 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that more than half of 15-19 year olds are engaging in oral sex. Sweet Jesus! That’s probably more than most married couples.

Obviously, teaching abstinence isn’t working. I think parents and schools should teach children with the view that sex is completely natural. I talked to my kids about sex. It wasn’t a big deal. It was just us talking about what to do to prevent pregnancies and STDs. Not once did I tell them, “Don’t you dare have sex” because I knew that would only spur them on to wanting to get it on like cracked-up bunnies.

The more you make something taboo and secretive to kids, the more allure it carries. Talk to them like they’re intelligent beings. Be upfront. Explain that wanting to have sex is natural. Let them decide what they want to do with their bodies. They’re going to anyway. Talk about STDs and pregnancy and how to prevent both. If they decide they want to have sex, volunteer to help them with getting protection. If you feel like you’d be endorsing something you don’t agree with, get over it.

Don’t look at it that you’re sanctioning your child to have sex. Look at it that you’re sanctioning them to be safe about the sex they’re going to have anyway. Let’s stop being so puritanical about sex and be smart about it instead.


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Jon Langner March 5, 2012 at 1:13 pm

With all due respect, Rachel Birdsell’s article “Teens and S-E-X” added nothing new to public opinion except the typical “liberal” viewpoint. In a time when the political waters are murky enough, and the only public dialogue is uncompromising and irresponsible, this type of article makes me cringe when I say that I tend to side more with the democratic social policy. When will we realize that both sides have a valuable point? When will we finish with the permissive parent model?
The article Teens and S-E-X was guilty of continuing the current argumentative contraceptive/sex discussion in the US. I thought I heard Rachel going somewhere new with this, but nope. She began by saying that our treatment of sex is different than other developed (European) countries; namely, that they are more open, but that we have much higher rates of teen pregnancy. True. I have lived in both Spain and Germany and they are quite open about sex. That is, Europeans show things on billboards that we only show on the television, and the cover of every magazine. I agree that we are sending a mixed message. But is the message that sex is just a normal as going out for dinner, the only alternative? Are our religious tendencies responsible for teen pregnancy? Isn’t sex outside of marriage (I hate to say it) actually heartbreaking?
I also think that it is completely irresponsible to curtail the availability of contraceptives for anyone and everyone. But does the availability of contraceptives mean that we aren’t allowed to teach our children that sex IS ideally between two committed people (the typical societal institution for this is marriage) who are going to be together long enough to raise those children together. I have children both with my wife, and from a previous relationship, as does she, and I promise, it is not ideal. We love them, and make it work, but I don’t have to tell my 12 and 13-year-olds that it causes problems because they have lived with 4 parents, divided between two houses. They live with the complications. And telling them that it is best to wait for marriage is not the same thing as “don’t you dare”. It is not a threat, it is good advice, just like don’t drink and drive.
According to most spiritual traditions, greed, lust, and anger are the emotions to be the most careful with, and that you should resist acting upon, as much as possible. They are a part of human existence, but isn’t the current issue of sexuality/contraception better served by more intelligent social dialogue. Even if you are an atheist advocate of social science, you have to believe the statistics, which say that the most ideal place for a child to be raised is within a loving relationship between biological parents. With our current, sex-is-normal-therefore-have-it-with-anyone-as-long-as-you-have-a-contraceptive-attitude is also irresponsible. Is an STD, or an unwanted pregnancy the only way promiscuity can hurt? I definitely felt regret when I had sex with someone with whom I was not in love. I also thought differently about those experiences once I met the woman that I am in love with. Am I alone in this? What I had once thought of as “mature experience”, I now recognize as a cheap fix for loneliness, much like drugs. I know that perfectly normal kids can be raised in a variety of family situations, but shouldn’t we at least teach them that the odds are better if you act in certain ways?
What is my suggestion? I suggest both. I suggest making contraceptives available, and I recommend teaching our children that sex is best reserved for when you meet that person that you want to raise children with. I think we should teach them that it is natural to feel lust, just like they also may feel angry when threatened, or greedy, on occasion. Rachel said it is natural for teens to feel aroused, and I will say that it is even natural for them to end up in the back seat. The mark of humanity, is that we can rise out of our “natural impulses” when it does not benefit ourselves or the greater community. I think we should teach our children this. We all make mistakes, but some of us don’t even agree that these things are mistakes. For when that is the case, let’s have laws and contraceptives.
Also, the law says that I am responsible for the actions of my child until he/she are 18. So, until then, I can and will watch my children to make sure they will not have the opportunity to make potentially life-changing mistakes. That includes monitoring a 17-year-old enough that sex would be difficult, if not impossible. 17-year-olds don’t provide for themselves, which means parents still have leverage. I agree with Rachel, let’s be smart. Let’s teach them the best way first, and then how to be safe if they are going to take chances.

Reply to this comment
Rachel Birdsell March 6, 2012 at 1:27 pm

Thank you so much for your well-thought out comment. I don’t agree that sex outside of marriage is heartbreaking. I’ve never experienced shame or remorse from having sex outside of marriage. I don’t hold sex and as being something sacred. Sex certainly can be a bonding experience between two people, but it can also just be sex – something that two people engage in for pleasure.

I’m not sure where I made any mention of when people should have children.

I’m also not sure how teens having safe sex is detrimental to our society. It’s certainly much better than them having unsafe sex. My point is that no matter how much you advise your teen to not have sex or to wait until they’ve found their life mate, they’re still going to have sex if they want to.

Maybe my article didn’t add anything new, but at least it struck a nerve strongly enough for you take the time to post a lengthy response. If nothing else, it’s created at least a little dialogue about the subject. Dialogue is always good.

And, for the record, I wear my liberal badge with pride. :)

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jon March 8, 2012 at 6:44 pm

Believe what you will. It is your right. It just seems to leave a few glaring problems. And how do you separate sex from children completely? When you say you don’t hold sex as “sacred”, I wonder what you do hold as “sacred”, or if you simply don’t believe anything is “sacred”. Probably, the reason’s why teen pregnancy is high in this country is this irrational belief that we can separate the two (sex and responsibility). Contraceptives are not 100%, which means children are a real possibility.

Again, you have presented a false dichotomy. Our only options are not “safe sex” or “unsafe sex”. Maybe that is your only option, or your children’s, but others have a wider range of possibilities.

And seriously, what I meant by typical liberal point of view is that it is more of an ideology than an intelligent viewpoint. It is blind (as is the conservative ideologue) to the wisdom of the other viewpoint. It ranks pretty low on the cognitive development scale. But… be proud of what you are. I for one, don’t care what badge people wear. I want some intelligent discussion. I don’t think you have addressed the larger issue that there is more to this life than our animal instincts, nor the well-pointed criticism that your philosophy seems to ignore this to the point of absurdity.

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