By Ross Olson MD
I have received a copy of the Teen Health Packet including the booklet, "Totally Teen." The material represents a great deal of work and expense and for the most part is good sound advice. In fact, compared to many professional efforts on these topics, it represents significant progress towards common sense.
Yet there are problems that threaten its usefulness, like "a little salmonella in the salad," because the advice fails to adequately warn teens about the actions that most threaten their future. This is obviously not the intent of the authors, but represents an unconscious absorption of ideas from our cultural ethos. Let me go through in detail and attempt to show what I think the consequences will be if this advice is followed.
On page 4, under “Respect,” the tone is set in a section that sounds good only because we are so accustomed to it. The section goes like this.
"Everyone (you, your parent, your friend, your brother or sister) has a right to his or her own feelings, values, and beliefs. Respect other people's opinions even if they are different from yours. That means no put-down or trying to convince the other person that their beliefs are wrong. You don't have to agree with them, but try to see things from the other person's point of view."
If you have not seen it already, let me try to show how relativism does not work in real life. What if your friend believes that smoking is no big deal? Is it really respectful to let him or her think that all opinions are equal. Or what if a guy believes that if he buys a girl dinner, he is entitled to sex? Is that just another value? What about the person who thinks suicide is a reasonable option or that blowing up the school makes perfect sense? Obviously taking the advice in the "Respect" section literally conflicts with a lot of the other things in the booklet.
Can you be respectful and still think the other is wrong? Can you try to see things from the other person's point of view and still have a discussion based on facts and logic? I certainly hope so, and I also hope to model it in this communication. And for teens to learn to do this is probably a very important life-skill for their own good and the good of those they know. To pay homage to a trendy but flawed philosophy is doing no service to teens. This is true despite the charge, “You just think you are right because you are arrogant.”
The next section, “Feeling Different,” is another example of this principle:
"Think about it: Each of us has our own race, athletic abilities, academic strengths, body size and shape, kinds of clothes we wear, color and style of our hair, religion, attraction to people, family situation, family rules, and beliefs about the world. So, being different is normal. Who you are is complicated, and is changing as you are growing up."
Do you notice a mixture of biological characteristics and beliefs as well as things that are the result of people's choices -- not necessarily the teen but somebody’s? Yes, all these things may shape the teen, but they may not all be good. What if Dad is a pimp and a pornographer and Mom is a prostitute? Are we to say that all families are equal? Or what if the teen lives in a commune dedicated to the overthrow of the government by violence? Are all rules just as acceptable? I am being facetious, of course, but the point is clearer in the extreme cases. Is it the teen’s fault for being raised in a single parent home? Of course not and we will all do our best to make things as successful as possible, but nearly everyone now agrees that the situation is not ideal.
Most of the sections are good, those on self esteem, stress and the changes with puberty. Relativism surfaces again, however, in the section on masturbation. Yes, this is a controversial area, but if you are going to mention masturbation, you must also deal with pornography. Strong evidence exists that there is at least a susceptible group, basically of boys, who can become addicted to pornography and ultimately are tempted to act our their fantasies. To simply laugh it off is irresponsible as is done with this paragraph in the booklet.
“There are many myths surrounding masturbation. You may have heard that it leads to insanity, stunts your growth, stunts the size of a boy’s penis (or makes it fall off), causes blindness, causes hair to grow on the palms of your hands or will make you a pervert. Don’t believe these myths.”
It made Ted Bundy a pervert and a mass murderer! Most sex crimes have some connection with pornography. And there are countless other people who experience effects that are not as dramatic but do eventually interfere with normal sexual adjustment. These people are admitting it in programs devoted to sexual addictions. Because of the quantum leap in availability of pornography, this is a crucial issue for teens.
Maybe it cannot be completely blocked, and indeed TV and movies have brought the formerly X rated into the mainstream, but at least adolescents need to understand the issues. We have gotten beyond “if it feels good, do it” in the realm of drugs, but we often lose our nerve and fail to blow the whistle if lots of people are involved in an activity. See the article and links posted on my website at http://www.rossolson.org/pornography/whats_wrong_with.html
(Or go to www.rossolson.org and then to “Pornography.”)
The booklet goes on to a long series of attractively formatted and appropriately written pages of good advice on acne, diet and exercise, smoking, drugs, alcohol, guns, safety, body piercing, tattoos, depression, suicide, appearance and relationships. And, by the way, for those who are attempting to pigeon-hole my opinions, I do not like guns and agree that a gun in the home is a potential disaster – perhaps used by accident or with anger or in despair. Those problems are not a result of the guns but the guns make the manifestations of them much more deadly.
But the underlying philosophy reveals itself again predictably in the advice on sexuality. First of all, I am very glad to see strong emphasis given to abstinence. A little over a decade ago this was felt by many in authority to be a wrong-headed approach. When an abstinence program was proposed to a suburban Twin Cities School District in the late 1980’s, the superintendent said, “This program will be offensive to sexually active teens.”
But despite the progress, I was very disappointed to see that the advice missed the crucial point around which physical and mental health hinge. Look at the paragraph.
“So, when abstinence is difficult, remember what’s in it for you:
*Respect from family and friends and yourself
*Time to make sure you’re ready, you’re with the right person, you know and trust your partner, and you’ve learned the difference between love and sex.
*Better relationships without the confusion that comes with sex
*Freedom from worry about pregnancy and sexual diseases, including AIDS
*Freedom from regrets that you didn’t wait for the right person or the right time
*A fit with your values and the way you see yourself”
Has anyone noticed what is missing? It beats pretty closely around the bush but never says, “Wait until marriage.” Why is that? There are many reasons possible. Some might say, “Well half of marriages end in divorce,” but that would be all the more reasons to go into the importance of making the right choice of a partner and keeping the promises that are made at the outset of a marriage. (And by the way, this generation of teens includes many victims of the sexual revolution and they want to see a return to faithfulness in marriage.)
I have tried to put this concept very descriptively in presenting to School Boards as “one partner for life.” When saying this to the then health coordinator for the Minneapolis Public Schools, I commented that if a person remained sexually abstinent (and did not shoot drugs) and waited for a partner who had also done the same and they then entered into a permanent and exclusive sexual relationship, except for rare transfusion accidents, they would not get sexually transmitted diseases. She responded, “Well, that’s your opinion.”
But, of course, that is not an opinion, but a fact – a logical and mathematical fact. One partner for life is safe, and also mentally the healthiest. Any more than that introduces risk. And, of course, a relationship that starts with sex before commitment invariably breaks up. Living together increases the risk of impermanence rather than easing into marriage.
To a curriculum director for the same district, it was a moot point. She said that it sounded like I was talking about marriage and everyone knew that marriage was an instrument of male domination. It seems to me that all suffer in broken relationships but women suffer most. And, by the way, domestic violence against women takes place more often in broken relationships –- ex-wife, ex-girlfriend -- as opposed to within marriage. And many women who stay with an abusive man did so because the relationship began with sex and they bonded with him before they knew the danger signs. This does not explain all but does explain many if not most cases. See the book Fatherless in America by David Blankenhorn and the article http://www.rossolson.org/violence/violence.html (or www.rossolson.org and then click on “Violence.”
Some oppose the promotion of marriage to teens because it will usually be such a long wait and it is asking too much to expect abstinence for so many years. It seems to be assumed that teens cannot control themselves. But this collides with the valid advice about date rape – that it is wrong and should never be done. I guess the worked-up guy is expected to exercise control after all! And good advice is also given for avoiding dangerous or tempting situations. What about the advice that there are other ways of being close and romantic that do not involve genital contact. (Thankfully the booklet did not include anything about the misguided concept of “outercourse” which was basically anything BUT intercourse – and naturally would lead to more of that, not less.)
Some say that we cannot mix morality and medicine. This perhaps grows out of the notion that values are individual tastes akin to those for food or clothing and have nothing to do with real consequences. Yet moral principles are held and enforced by all cultures that survive. If free expression of violence, or greed or sexual impulses were allowed, society would be disrupted and individual lives ruined.
A number of years ago I catalogued and responded to all the objections I had heard against promoting abstinence and placed them in a article called “Is Chastity a Medical Issue?” It can be found at http://www.rossolson.org/chastity/medical_issue.html
Or www.rossolson.org click on “Chastity.”
The final manifestation of the underlying philosophy shown in this booklet is one that is so emotionally charged that it has become impossible to have rational or scientific discussions of it. At this point, the few who have read thus far will leave, if not physically, at least emotionally. That is because the issue of homosexuality has been tied to civil rights and human dignity. Because of this, respected psychotherapists are charged with unethical behavior when they treat homosexuals who want to change their orientation and are successfully changed. Meetings, such as the NARTH conferences, are threatened with violence. To point out some of the negative consequences of homosexual behavior is defined as hateful.
The booklet says:
“Is it normal to be gay or bisexual? Yes. Though it is more common to be straight, people who are gay or bisexual are happy, successful in school, find work they enjoy, spend time with good friends and have normal lives.”
“If I am gay, will I be accepted? Some people will accept you and some people won’t. This can hurt, but after a while it hurts even more to not be yourself. Unfortunately, prejudice and discrimination are a part of our world. People often fear what they do not understand and hate what they fear. Homophobia is the fear of being gay and it creates prejudice toward people who are openly gay or bisexual. However, these prejudices are losing their power as more people say, “I’m gay and I’m okay,” or “My friends are gay and they’re cool.”
Although acceptance of homosexuality seems humane and caring, there are disturbing pieces of information that periodically poke through the fog of censorship. This has been covered very scientifically and sensitively by Psychiatrist Dr. Jeffrey Satinover in his book, Sexuality and the Politics of Truth. This is not a fringe book or a hate treatise but the caring work of a profound thinker who feels that a great disservice is done to individuals and to society by our present thinking and approach.
An article that gently questions the sanguine acceptance of politically correct opinions is http://www.rossolson.org/homosexuality/just_suppose.html
Or www.rossolson.org and then “Homosexuality.” Also posted are very disturbing articles on the attempted normalization of adult-child sexual contact by activists using the very same arguments as those used for homosexuality.
I am attaching a very important summary by NARTH of the factors involved in the development of a homosexual orientation which give a perspective from which the proper approach is seen to be very different from that in vogue today. For those who are revolted by this material, I ask that you put it away, cool off and then look at it again. What is popular is not always true and the truth is often distinctly unpopular.
Finally, to the resources suggested for teens, may I add a few more?
Medical Institute for Sexual Health
(Joe McIlhaney MD)
PO Box 162306
Austin TX 78716-2306
Publishes Sexuality and Sexually Transmitted Diseases Sex: What You Don't Know Can Kill You.
National Abstinence Clearinghouse
801 E. 41st Street
Sioux Falls SD 57105
Publishes research, sponsors conferences and speakers.
Links to many other resources.
National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality
16633 Ventura Boulevard, Suite 1340
Encino CA 91436-1801
Research on origin, prevention and treatment of homosexuality