Recently, I had the chance on three consecutive days to visit a Health class at a local public high school. I was a monitoring the class of freshman through senior students as they were listening to presentations about sex, sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), relationships and marriage.
My initial walk through the halls on the way to class was a bit frightening. Youth today seem more mature physically, than I recall my peers looking during the 1970s. However, the body language between teens continues to thrive in generational perpetuity. A couple embracing in a breezeway to cop a feel off each other and snag a deep-throat kiss during the precious minutes between classes was demonstration of how raging hormones can lead to reckless abandon.
Expecting a guest speaker for a Health class was not enough incentive for students to arrive to class before the tardy bell rang. However, once the presenter revealed the subject matter, the class perked up, and the usual slouching posture of teens changed to one of attention.
The subject of sex, STDs, condoms, pregnancy, abstinence, relationships and marriage captivated the audience. The presentation was developed by Austin LifeGuard (www.austinlifeguard.com), a character and sexuality education program partially funded through the Texas Department of State Health as part of its abstinence-until-marriage education effort. As an adult, I also found the presentation intriguing. The facts, especially the new information about the rapid spread of STDs in youth delivered a clarion call for both teens and their parents.
However, what became clear to me within the first few minutes of the short one-hour class was the students’ thirst for information about sex and about the facts – without bias – that addressed teens as decision makers over their own sexually maturing bodies. There was no judgment delivered; only objective data, that stimulated an honest exchange of perspectives, as the class began to see the act of sex in terms of its connection to both physical and emotional awareness and arousal. Students began connecting the dots between their own premature sexual activity and its influence on the rampant spread of STDs and its impact on self-esteem, relationships in high school and future relationships leading to marriage.
The use of and definitions for biologically and clinically correct terms like penis, vagina, fallopian tube, ovary, sperm, fetus, bacterial and viral infections, genital herpes, Chlamydia and Gonorrhea may have caught some by surprise, but broke down the walls of ignorance and opened the door to honest discussion and genuine education and learning.
Facts, through numbers and visual displays of how STDs spread and what they really look like made the presentations even more compelling and true for a generation that hungers for the truth, but is continually deflecting the onslaught of media impressions that subtly or aggressively paint a false but pretty picture on premature sexual activity.
In the end, sexual abstinence until marriage lingered in the air as the responsible, rational and realistic step for teens to take. The students finished the final presentation with a keener understanding how to filter the seductive come-on by a peer who uses the word, “love,” but is only seeking short-term sexual pleasure. They clearly understood the physical steps that lead to sexual arousal, and they did comprehend that oral sex is equal to intercourse as a sexual act and as a risk for contracting and spreading STDs.
In the end, these students understood the full facts about sex. They also understood that the decision to engage for the first time or continue engaging in sexual activity was their choice alone, and they understood the possible consequences of that choice.
In the end, several teens made their choice to abstain from sexual activity until marriage.
Programs, like LifeGuard, that treat teens in a respectful way, recognizing them as young adults who are shaping their own values about sex based on real-life situations and real facts, are making a positive impact on the youth culture. According to research conducted by The National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy (http://www.teenpregnancy.org/resources/data/pdf/cautious.pdf), close to six out of 10 teens surveyed (58%) said sexual activity for high school-age teens is not acceptable, even if precautions are taken against pregnancy and STDs. The vast majority of teens surveyed (87%) do not think it is embarrassing for teens to admit they are virgins. As a result, all Central Texas public and private high school should consider it necessary to present similar programs into their classrooms.
On my third day walking through the halls of the local high school, I felt more at ease with the student body, and I had a better understanding about the real need for parents to talk with our teens about sex and to remember we are the most influential source for shaping our children’s perspectives on the subject. It has since become a more regular topic in my household.