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Sex Ed Can Make Things Worse

Kids need to know about sex, don't they? Parents are embarrassed to tell them, so the schools must, right?

Is that popular image a true one? There are clues that something is not right. A 1986 Harris Poll showed that some sex education actually increases the likelihood of students becoming sexually active.

Among a representative sample of 1,000 teenagers, there was a 44 percent increased likelihood of a student having intercourse if he or she had been through comprehensive sex education as opposed to no sex education at all. ("Comprehensive sex education" was defined as including four or more of the following: biological facts about reproduction; talk about coping with your sexual development; information about preventing sexual abuse; information about different kinds of birth control; facts about abortion, and facts about where to get contraceptives.) There was a 53 percent increased likelihood of intercourse if the student had comprehensive sex education as opposed to basic sex education.

This was a finding of astounding importance. Yet it was not even noted in the text. Why was there no call for a moratorium on the present sex education programs? Probably because it was contrary to the policy of the sponsor of the study, Planned Parenthood.

There are at least three explanations for what is happening: 1) Some sex education material is sexually stimulating. 2) All options are portrayed to be safe if you use the right technology. 3) The expectation by professionals is that adolescents will be sexually active, no matter what, and they convey this expectation to the kids.

Many of the proponents of sex education today are just plain deceived. They believe the lies and do not suspect the coverups. They are doing what they think is right or are swayed by professional peer pressure. Yet the results are already producing disasters in the lives of our young people.

Ignorance is not the solution. Rather we must convey accurate information and positive attitudes, encouraging the very best lifestyle. Traditional morality can now be taught with an exclamation point as the healthiest of all possibilities.

One partner for life is scientifically and mathematically unassailable as the clear ideal. Young people need to know reasons to strive for that goal and to avoid any compromise.
Many professionals look at the data on increasing rates of sexual activity with age as normative. They conclude that we must simply accept what is and provide training and technology to minimize teenagers' risks.

What is wrong with that approach? For one, we do not have to accept what is if it is not right. The high rates of teen smoking in the past were not used as reasons just to develop better filters and forget stop-smoking programs.

Second, the technology is faulty. Condoms used by young people under age 20 fail to prevent pregnancy in 18 percent over a year. There is preliminary data on the spread of AIDS that condoms will
fail at least as often.

Third, this approach also ignores the psychological repercussions of sexual activity. Lives can be broken if sex is treated as casual.

Many professionals and even some parents simply assume that chastity is impractical if not impossible. The message that the kids are getting, however, is that it is not even desirable, and they hurry to shed the "stigma" of virginity ("Mind-works," March 5).

What can we do?
* Do not be afraid to stand up for traditional morality. Do you want your kids involved in a series of temporary sexual relationships?
* Tell kids the reasons to wait. One partner for life is the healthiest option. Marriage between people who have waited for each other and have a relationship of complete commitment and trust is worth waiting for.
* Talk about the emotional consequences of sexual activity. The sexual relationship is meant to be permanent and exclusive. It can never be casual unless the psyche has been scarred.
* Remember that kids need affection. Many get into sexual activity because they long for parental warmth. Boys and girls need warm hugs and pats from Mom, Dad and other caring adults.
* Get involved. Find out what your schools are teaching.

Ross S. Olson, Minneapolis. Physician.

Published in Star Tribune May 11, 1991

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