Let’s Talk About Sex: Reflections on Sexuality Education in the US

October 24, 2016

I’ve often heard it said that there are only two things in life that are certain; death and taxes. In my life, I’ve had two more revelations. First, change is inevitable. Secondly, if we pay close attention we always find reason to be hopeful, inspiration leading to the next right step and validation that we are living on purpose and doing what we are here to do.

Last night, while watching the movie, Let’s Talk About Sex, I got exactly what I needed. I love when that happens! I woke up grateful, inspired and energetic at a time when I could very easily be discouraged and frustrated.

Before I get too far into this article, let me tell you where I’m coming from. For the past ten years, I’ve been teaching comprehensive sexuality education programs starting in elementary school and continuing into young adulthood. I work with parents to help them better understand teen development and behavior and improve communication with their kids about sexuality and other challenging topics.

I give this movie two thumbs up. I agree with Hugh Jackman, “Whether you have children, teach children or are around children at all… this movie is a must see.” It clearly outlines some key issues that need to be addressed if we are to promote healthy attitudes towards sexuality while reducing teen and unintended pregnancy in the US.

The movie highlights the following issues:

~The United States has the highest teen pregnancy rate in all the developed countries.

~Our attitudes towards teen sexuality in the US are very different than in other developed countries.

~Sexuality is a huge marketing tool; used to sell lots of things in our country and in all types of media. The reality is that sex sells product.

~ Humans are sexual beings. We are all here because an egg met a sperm. Period.

~ Eighty-five percent of adults in the United States support comprehensive sexuality education for our youth. Science clearly proves that it works. And we are not doing it.

~ Religion poses a major barrier in the US to the delivery of what we know to be effective; namely comprehensive sexuality education. At the same time, religious leaders and organizations can play a huge role in providing new solutions to teen pregnancy.

~ Even when teens have honest, open relationships with their parents, most teens aren’t honest with their parents about their sexual activity.

This movie clearly outlines the most pressing issues we are facing in reducing teen pregnancy in the US. It reminds me why I am so passionate about my work and clarifies what we can together to help prevent us from losing more ground.

It is with that in mind that I reflect and share my thoughts about Let’s Talk About Sex.

As an educated woman and health professional, I find it astounding that the US has the highest teen pregnancy rate in all the developed countries. We know what works. We need to be doing it. Now.

I’m amazed that our advertising and media campaigns use sex to sell everything from lipstick to laptops; yet we live in a society where we struggle to providing our kids with accurate information about how their own bodies work and why.

It is ridiculous that 85 percent of US adults in our population support comprehensive sexuality education for our kids, yet we are losing ground on this issue because a small percentage of very verbal and powerful individuals and organizations keep fighting against what we know works, and in fact saves our government billions of dollars every year.

As all this is happening teenagers are continuing to engage in sexual behavior, are naturally curious about sex and/or thinking about sex and are afraid or embarrassed to talk about it openly to the people closest to them.

I spend a significant amount of my time helping teens reconcile the guilt they feel for not being able to talk with their parents about what they’re really thinking, what they’re really curious about and what they’re really doing. Their guilt doesn’t stop them from being sexually active. What they really want is to be able to tell their parents the truth about what they are choosing and why. Some choose to have the conversation. Some choose to wait to talk with them. Often we practice how to initiate the conversation. Some state that they simply can’t for fear their parents will disown them for going against family values.

Perhaps the most important issue of all, as I see it, that seems to beg for so much more attention than we have the time or funding to really address appropriately, but is perhaps the most important issue of all… love, healthy communication and relationship skills. How great would it be to provide a consistent forum and presence to allow kids to get support to help them understand and process all that’s happening to them physically and emotionally and learn how to grow through it with a great understanding of themselves and others as well as an appreciation for the miracle that sexuality is and a foundation for healthy respect and connectedness on all levels.

Lately, I’ve been struggling to identify new funding sources to support this important work that is in jeopardy. My clinic and outreach program is in NH. We have one of the very lowest teen pregnancy rates in the US. We use strategies that are proven effective and endorsed by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy and base all our programs on a research-based asset development framework developed by the Search Institute called the 40 Developmental Assets. Rather than having our funding, we should be used as a model for the parts of our country where the teen pregnancy rates are high.

Let’s Talk About Sex did a great job of motivating viewers to take action toward being a part of the solution! As the credits played, I began brainstorming a list of action steps we can take to spread the word and increase the frequency, reach and scope of conversations that need to happen to make the US shift toward better serving our future generation.

Teens in the US need your support. It’s not enough to say you support comprehensive sexuality education. It time to be taking action to be sure your kids are getting it! I suggest the following action steps:

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