The ongoing tug-of-war between schools teaching sex education or abstinence only continues, but evidence continues to show kids want and need honest, straightforward advice about sex, not simply a "just say no" message.
The question of how much and when to tell kids about sex is filled with complicated and competing issues of religion, personal philosophy, morality and health.
Although the idea of teaching sex education in schools overcame the strongest objections a few decades ago, there remains a significant number of school districts that have moved to an abstinence-only curriculum.
A survey of 12- to 17-year-olds by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 48 percent wanted more information about sexual health from their doctor and 42 percent from their health class teachers. A third wanted more discussions with their parents about sex.
The reason they want and need more information, youths say, is because of the conflicting messages they are constantly receiving. Television shows popular with young viewers are filled with characters who are sexually active. Top songs are charged with sexuality, and the Internet is laced with any number of sexual Web sites.
Yet, amid that barrage of sexuality, those same teens are simply told they should remain abstinent.
Indeed, there is evidence the abstinence message has some effect. Surveys by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that 50 percent of teens in 1999 said they have had intercourse, down some from the 54 percent reported in 1991.
Still, it is obvious that large numbers of youths will be sexually active. Giving them accurate information about birth control, disease and the emotional issues of intimacy is vital.
Indeed, sexually transmitted diseases remain a near-crisis problem in the United States. Even many of those kids who say they aren't having intercourse admit they have other sexual contact, including oral sex, believing it is protecting them, when in fact they can contract a number of diseases.
And the problem isn't just in big urban areas or other parts of the country. The Mankato area, in fact, ranks among the highest in the nation for rates of chlamydia, a common sexually transmitted disease.
Ideally, parents will give accurate and frank sexual information to their children. And they will set the boundaries they expect their children to stay in regarding sexual activity.
But those who argue parents, not schools, should deal with sex education issues, fail to admit that far too many parents do not and will not discuss sexuality with their children. Schools must offer honest health information about sex to students at appropriate ages.
Silence is not golden when it comes to sexuality and youth. It's dangerous. If parents and schools let kids get their information about sex from television and songs alone, too many lives will be devastated.
-- The Free Press of Mankato
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