Has sex education achieved its goals? As expected, the answer is no.
A 1986 Planned Parenthood of Ontario report pointed out gleefully that teenage pregnancy rates had gone down between 1976 and 1981. The decrease, naturally, was attributed editorially to PP’s hard work in promoting sex education and birth-control devices.
But what Planned Parenthood did not dwell on was the fact that although pregnancy rates showed a decline, the abortion rate had gone up in many areas of Ontario. For example, the report’s charts show that in Manitoulin the pregnancy rate went down 14% over the five years. The abortion rate went up 370%. Ironically Manitoulin is one of the areas of Ontario where access to abortion is considered inadequate. The statistics for the regional municipality of Sudbury are even more appalling. The pregnancy rate declined 19% and the abortion rate rose 520%.
The city of Toronto is one of the few areas of Ontario where the pregnancy rate rose over 5 years, going up 19%. The only figure that declined was the birth rate, since the abortion rate rose 77%.
Planned Parenthood Ontario viewed the Sudbury and Manitoulin rates as grist to their mill, showing the need for more sex education and more birth control because those areas have a very high native population. However, the report also points out that high individual self esteem and life expectations reduce the number of teenage pregnancies in general. Planned Parenthood apparently does not consider young natives would benefit from higher education and better job opportunities. The report also does not bother to discuss why Toronto should show such an increase in both pregnancy and abortion rates, perhaps because they can hardly claim that sex education and access to birth control is limited in that city.
STDS and AIDS
Planned Parenthood, of course, is not worried about the escalating abortion rate – in fact this report says that the high number of abortions in the North means that the North needs more abortion services.
This Planned Parenthood report does not mention the other inevitable consequences of teenage sexual activity: sexually transmitted diseases and AIDS. Nor does it remind its readers that one of the adverse consequences of early sexual activity and many partners for females is an increase in the risks for cervical cancer.
STDS are on the increase among adolescents. They can scar a young woman for the rest of her life, leaving her at risk of infertility, chronic pelvic pain and ectopic pregnancy.
Although cases of gonorrhea have declined in recent years, the rate among girls age 15 to 19 is the highest among all female age groups and it is still growing. The rate for genital herpes has been rising since 1980; it stood at around 16,000 cases in 1987 from 2,000 in 1980. Chlamydia is also rising, passing the rates for gonorrhea.
Not only are STDS of concern in themselves but it is also thought that the sores caused by such viruses as syphilis and herpes can make it easier for the infected person to be infected with the HIV virus.
And so to AIDS. Since it is obvious that sex education is having no effect on adolescent sexual experimentation, it is hard to see how AIDS education, with its emphasis on using condoms, will stop teenagers dying from AIDS. But, needless to say, the old arguments are being trotted out.
On June 30, North York school board trustee Cheryl Moscoe was quoted in the Toronto Star as saying, “Children are having sex. They do get pregnant and they do get AIDS. There’s no way you can stop them from having sex. All you can do is educate them, give them the information and hope they live through it.”
The same article states that in Toronto last year, there were 45 cases reported of 15 to 19 year olds with the HIV virus. The story did not state whether teens had been infected through blood transfusions or through sexual contact. The article was about installing condom dispensing machines in high schools so the average reader would immediately connect AIDS with teenage sex, which is why trustee Moscoe’s comments were reported.
Incidentally, North York is considering installing the condom machines in al secondary, junior high school and middle schools, and the Toronto school board is both the same. Apparently, Lisgar Collegiate School in Ottawa and Ballenas Secondary school near Victoria will have these machines in place this fall.
Connie Clement, the family planning program coordinator for the Toronto public health department, denied that putting condom machines in schools would increase sexual activity among adolescents. “I don’t think that anyone’s ever had sex because a piece of latex was available,” she said.
It seems quite plausible that a high school student, having sat through classes which talk about “safe sex” using condoms, after watching all the videos hosted by Madonna and other stars saying if you’re having sex use a condom, will see the condom machines in the washroom as the school saying it’s OK to have sex.
Sex educators believe that the sexual urge is merely an animal instinct and that adolescents are incapable of self control. This is why sex and AIDS education courses barely mention chastity, and if they do mention it, subtly sneered at it as some quaint old fashioned notion, barely attainable really, and merely an option, a matter of choice.
The only sin in the sex educator’s view is not using a pregnancy – or disease – prevention device. Preventing pregnancy or disease sounds logical to the adult mind perhaps, but it totally ignores the reality of the adolescent’s emotions.
To go back to the Queens’ Youth and AIDS study for a moment. Their survey showed that from grade 9 through to university, the respondents showed a high level of knowledge on how AIDS and other STDs are transmitted. But when asked about effective use of condoms, only 41 to 60% had the “correct” answers. That is, they believed that condoms prevent the HIV virus from being transmitted.
This, according to the Queen’s report, showed that the level of knowledge about protection was inadequate. Perhaps it means instead that young people are not that gullible and they too are skeptical about the effectiveness of condoms. Perhaps also it has occurred to some of them to wonder why a condom is being promoted as effective against HIV – a very small virus – when it is known to be so infective in protecting transmission of male sperm – a much larger organism.
Methods of contraception
Study after study has shown that the majority of teenagers know about birth control methods and disease prevention but they don’t put this knowledge into practice. They believe that pregnancy or STDs or AIDS happens to other people. Even Planned Parenthood has to acknowledge this. The report I mentioned earlier says that “contraceptive prevention of pregnancy is considered to be more difficult amongst adolescents due to their delayed, inconsistent and discontinuous use of the more effective prescription methods of contraception.”
The Queen’s study found that the majority of teenagers believe premarital sex is OK as long as they are in love. Preplanning by going on the pill or carrying condoms in a wallet is not romantic, and no teenage boy or girl wishes to appear experiences or cheap to his or her potential lover.
Until now we have spent an enormous amount of time, energy and money to educate children into having sex without getting pregnant. It has not worked. While adolescent pregnancy is often a tragedy, especially when the baby is aborted, pregnancy is not a disease and today pregnant girls do not die. But AIDS is different. AIDS kills, and despite the media hype that a vaccine and a cure are not far away, this is a virus that transmutes into related viruses so quickly that a cure may never be possible. It is frightening to think that the only solution we can find to give young people is a leaky condom.
So what can we do?
First of all, we parents must educate ourselves. It is no good walking into your children’s school and objecting to sex education on general principles. You must read the particular curriculum and make your own evaluation. If you read it and know that you don’t like it but don’t feel confident enough to put your objections down clearly, get together with like-minded parents and do it in a group. A group of parents has more impact than one. Speak to the teacher; you may be pleasantly surprised and find that you have a teacher who also dislikes the curriculum and intends to teach it differently. So find out what the teacher’s attitudes are. If you have trouble with the teacher, go to the principal. If you have trouble there, then go to the school board.
If you cannot face the thought of making such a fuss, then withdraw your child from that class. You have the right as a parent to do that. Some children do not mind being withdrawn from classes, others get upset at the thought of being pegged as different. I removed my daughter from the AIDS class in grade 7 and she was very embarrassed. So I made a deal with her for the grade 8 class. We had talked a bit about AIDS, and I was pretty sure that she had a good understanding of the disease and that she also had a very clear understanding of what the Church teaches about premarital sex. Our deal was that she would stay in class, but that she would speak up whenever the teacher made any statements she knew were wrong. In the event, the grade 8 teacher skipped the AIDS course this year, so we both breathed a sigh of relief.
You can also enter the battle with all flags flying and attempt to have an objectionable curriculum replaced. There are programs that put chastity first as an eminently attainable ideal and are not afraid to stress moral absolutes.
No to premarital sex
When we teach children about drugs, alcohol or smoking we say, “Just say no” and then we give them the reasons why they should say no and the strategies to help them say no. It is possible to teach children to say no to premarital sex.
To finish, I would just like to refer to the Queen’s study once more. The profile of the young person who refrains from premarital sex is a person who has the normal adolescent ups and downs but on the whole has a positive self image. He has a good relationship with his parents and finds it important to have his parents think well of him. He is not overly influenced by what his peers think. At the high school level, the ambitious students who were planning to go on to higher education were more likely to be chaste. If the adolescent attended church regularly, he was less likely to engage in premarital sex – although it should be noted that even the adolescents who claims a religious said that they were not very much influenced by church teaching. To me, that means that the teaching is not being given properly.
The Queen’s study also showed that the majority of adolescents prefer to get their information about sex and birth control from their families. And the preferred person to do this teaching is the mother.