Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The Truth of Abstinence

America is deep into summer, and that most likely means many American teens are deep into sexual mischief. Skimpy swimsuits and raging hormones can overwhelm our youth. And yet, we need to remember that just as many teens clearly understand where to stop a sexual escapade because they learned about abstinence.

The topic of teen sex and sex education featured by the Austin American-Statesman surely raised Central Texas temperatures. The coverage followed a non-reported gathering in our city of hundreds of medical practitioners, educators and social workers from North America, Europe and Asia who came to hear the Medical Institute for Sexual Health present the latest facts and trends about sex, sexually transmitted infections, sexually transmitted diseases, pornography and the effects of it all, especially on our youth.

Teens are especially at risk of contracting and spreading infections because their bodies are not developed enough to fight them off. As a result, they are the population we focus on in studies about pregnancy, abortions and STDs because of their vulnerability and tendency toward risky sexual practices. Yet our focus on teens fades quickly as we politicize the topic.

Teens want facts and the respect that acknowledges they are in control of their own sexual health destinies. Treating them all as uncontrollable sexual animals or as controllable objects of fear tactics underestimates their thinking skills and undermines any desire for teens to live healthier, happier, fuller lives.

As a trained and experienced volunteer who speaks to high school students about abstinence, sexual health and relationships, I see how thirsty teens are for the truth. If you present them the facts they are most likely going to exercise better judgment about sex and the type of relationships they pursue.

Austin LifeGuard provides the abstinence curriculum I use in classrooms. As a parent who speaks openly about the topic at the family dinner table, I believe the abstinence curriculum is rather comprehensive, even without a demonstration of how to apply a condom onto a banana. Students clearly understand the abstinence bent, but I never tell students what is right or wrong, or that teens must choose abstinence.

Instead, credible public data is what attracts teen interest and engages them in open dialogue about the real physical and emotional risks surrounding sexual practices before marriage. They quickly begin using the facts to connect the dots between their own sexual activity and its influence on the spread of STDs, as well as its impact on their respective values, relationships in high school and future relationships leading to marriage.

We need to be careful not to leap too quickly to a conclusion that abstinence education is failing our teens based on a single data point of increased teen pregnancy over a short period. Abstinence programs have not been around long enough to determine their long-term impact.

The abstinence curriculum is not harmful and is clear-cut in its approach. The use of and definitions for biologically and clinically correct terms like penis, vagina, fallopian tube, ovary, sperm, fetus, bacterial and viral infections, HPV, genital herpes and chlamydia break down the walls of ignorance and open the door to genuine education and freedom to make decisions based on reliable information.

Real data and visual displays of how STDs spread and what they really look like make the facts even more compelling and true for a generation that continually has to deflect the onslaught of media impressions that subtly or aggressively paint a false but pretty picture on premature sexual activity.

Armed with the facts, teens understand the spin of "safe sex" versus what it means to be truly safe and healthy. In the end, sexual abstinence until marriage remains as the responsible, rational and realistic option for teens to practice, if they choose.

With the straightforward facts, our youth are free to decide where to draw the line in the sand this summer about sex.

(Published July 22, 2008, Austin American-Statesman)

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Hardball Q&A

As the dueling Democratic presidential candidates look to Texas, the current front runner, Senator Barack Obama and his team recently relied on Texas Senator Kirk Watson as personality du jour to convince Americans that Obama is the best choice as the next President of the United States.

During yesterday's televised interview between Watson and Chris Matthews, host of MSNBC's "Hardball," the Texas senator quickly fell into the hands of his interviewer, and underscored the importance of preparation prior to any exchange with a reporter.

Too many business executives -- but especially politicians -- believe their wit and ego are sufficient to master any conversation with a reporter. Watson's disastrous exchange on public television now lives forever on YouTube as a classic blunder, and the results of what can happen when the PR expertise is absent or ignored as part of the preparation.

Taking the time to thoughtfully ponder the possible questions and shape the appropriate responses is time well-spent. Taking the time to establish key message points for your interview is absolute, but be sure your message points have substance. Watson's interview with Matthews indicates he took the time for neither. His derelict expression was all too telling, and was not only embarrassing for him, but embarrassing for Texans.

Watson's inability to tout any of Obama's accomplishments demonstrates he, like many Americans, is lured by the packaging, but ignorant of its substance. Daily, the news media interviews the public about why they like Obama, and consistently, the answers are generic. People focus on his vision, his charisma, his new blood and expressions of hope. Few express their support of him based on an articulate expression that they know and like what he has done already.

This is where Senator Hillary Clinton does well to differentiate herself in testimonies by the public and by public leaders who lend her their support. Her campaign is doing a better job of articulating her advocacy for health insurance for children and her understanding of international issues.

I hope Texans will observe with wisdom and gather their facts before voting in the state's primary on March 4. Until then, there will be many testimonials for both Democratic candidates, but who is to say whether either candidate can stand up in November against the experience of Republican Senator John McCain?

Let's be sure we all do a better job of preparing and studying our Q&As.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Missing Mate

I am still digesting all the data from super Tuesday.

The news coverage tells me there is no clear indicator within the Democratic ranks on who will end up leading the party on the November presidential ballot. The coverage also tells me that despite a growing affection by Republicans for Senator John McCain as the party's front runner, there remains significant resistance to McCain among Evangelicals within the party.

So the historically minority candidates (woman and African-American) within the Democratic party will continue to make their respective appeals to differentiate themselves, while the white war veteran Republican tries to figure out if he needs Jesus to win in November.

The photos that supported the front-page newspapers of Feb. 5 underscore one point of differentiation between Hillary and Barack. During the Kodak moments when each candidate appeared to declare victory, Senator Obama proudly stands hand in hand with his beautiful wife -- what's her name?

On the other side of the Democratic victory isle stands Senator Clinton, glowing alone, like a black widow counting her inheritance or an estranged wife celebrating the divorce and her share of the pie. Where is Mr. Clinton, when it matters most for creating imagery and portraying the American family?

Perhaps, Hillary's entire campaign is an allegory of the demise of the American family and the values we used to consider important for leadership. Do we expect the leader of the free world to be capable of managing family matters first?

When it comes down to voting in the booth, how will the political positioning of a loving, well-packaged African-American couple play over the depiction of an intellectually astute, politically motivated female who was publicly scorned by her husband? Will such an image influence how people vote? Will people bring empathy or sympathy into their voting equation for Hillary or will concern instead cause them to pull the other lever for Barack?

On the Republican side, surely there is concern that the party's front runner fails to convince influential media personalities and Evangelicals that he is their man. The party needs to think long and hard whether it even has a candidate that can beat the enthusiasm the Democrats are generating for their party.

If Senator McCain carries the Republican banner into the November election, will the dissatisfaction of conservatives and Evangelicals deflate their energy level so much that they don't vote altogether? If that is possible, the Republicans in Washington better start packing their suitcases.

I can't wait until the candidates bring their court and spark in the Lone Star State.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Black or White, Man or Woman, Christian or Cult

This morning my 11-year-old son asked me who I would vote for, if the U.S. presidential election were today, and Hillary Clinton was running against Mitt Romney. I was driving my kids to school, and we were talking about super Tuesday and the important indicators that would surface by Wednesday, in terms of America's bent toward presidential preferences.

In recent days, I have been pondering how Americans might be sorting through their options. Clearly, this race presents us with a greater array of diversity, but also with a more obvious element of risk, depending on your perspective. Many believe a man is inherently better suited to lead our country, despite race. Many believe a woman is equally up to the task, despite political party. Many believe faith is not an issue, despite a candidate's connection to a cult.

When I was 11 years old, LBJ was beginning to lose his political grip on this country, as racial strife stirred an anxious generation caught up in waging war with the North Vietnamese abroad and with each other at home. In 1966, I told my kids, America would never consider a woman or an African American as president. In 1966, Americans would never consider a Morman as president. We were still recovering from the assassination of a Catholic in the Oval Office, the assassination of a black pastor in Tennessee, and the assassination of prayer in our public schools. The term Ms. was not on the public radar screen, and blacks were not on the public short list for lead roles in movies or on television.

Today, I have an 11 year-old asking me a question that was unimaginable when I was his age.

Today, America now demonstrates its embrace of diversity, by whatever factor you can measure it. It appears there are no longer lingering stigmas in this country about race or gender. However, I have a hunch that below the surface Democrats are quietly struggling about which is a better choice: a woman, or a black man. It appears there are no longer lingering stigmas in this country about faith. However, my hunch is that Republicans are quietly struggling about which is a better choice: a Morman, a Veteran or a conservative Christian. By tomorrow we will have a better indication what road we are on as a country.

The silent reaction to my 11-year-old son's question must have lingered too long. Before I could respond, my 15-year-old son offered up his answer for me: "If that were to happen, Papa would not vote at all," he said.

I think I will wait to see if the question is premature. I hope the voter turnout is strong.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Man of the House

I'm back from the black hole, and so maybe this year, my opinions will flow more frequently.

Each Thursday morning before dawn I try to meet up with a group of guys -- our men's fraternity -- to talk about manly topics. It affords us the time to encourage each other, to talk about what man-life is like in this modern world, where a woman is running for President of The United States.

Today, we spoke about the role of a man as a leader, and specifically being the leader in his home. This implies, naturally, that leadership is assigned primarily to one individual: the husband. The role of the wife, according to our model, is that of helper. Now, before you delete this post, hear me out a bit longer. Both parties are created equal, but for the health of the marriage and relationship, our premise is that one has to be the leader and one the helper.

As guys, our biggest struggle with being leaders in our own homes was with our wives. This was a unanimous position by the small group of men huddled around coffee and cinnamon danish. Each of us put our wife in the category of A-type personality. We all felt that in theory -- at least in heart -- our wives wanted us to take the leadership role in the home and the relationship. However, if we somewhere along the line, through our own passivity, gave it up, how can we get it back? More coffee, please. This is a challenging question.

Nationally, it appears that we have a compadre in former President Bill Clinton. Once the leader of our country, he publicly failed as a role model family leader. Now we see how his very A-type, intelligent wife, Senator Hillary Clinton, has managed to take that leadership position and run with the ball. Her end zone: The White House. For her it's the game of the century; a brass ring or nothing. No more second chances.

Unfortunately, for him, he's destined for second place, now during her campaign, and in the White House, if she wins. When a man gives up the lead role in a marriage, how does he gain it back with grace and authority, especially when its so very public?

It seems for Bill Clinton, you do it by aggressively attacking anyone who might put your wife's potential [Presidential] leadership at risk. Lately, it is confusing whether Mr. Clinton is supporting his wife, or supporting his own delusion that he is a leader. Poor Barack Obama. He does not know if he should position himself as a leader man-to-man or man-to-woman.

Is this leadership play by Mr. Clinton going to work for him, or be a disaster for both he and the Mrs. in their already dubious relationship? I won't even bother to guess what Hillary's campaign strategists are saying, but it seems to me that leadership, influence and authority might best be reintroduced through more subtle channels. And, our former president might do himself and all men a favor if he would deeply ponder how this situation came about.

As America had to live through the marital struggles of Bill and Hillary while they were in the White House, we may have to live through it again during their attempt to return home. Who is driving the car on this hopeful trip to Washington, anyway? It's a human script perfect for newspapers, news radio and television, without any help from striking writers.

My little men's fraternity is investing more into prayer than political posturing as we address this topic of being a man and a leader. I for one wonder if Bill Clinton, or any other man, can last long in the role as helper to a wife who is leader. What would Adam and Eve say?

Have we come a long way, or have we strayed a long way off?