Healthy Teen Sexuality

Teen sexuality is one of the greatest debates today successfully dividing American society into two distinct camps. There are two schools of thought regarding the healthiest way to approach teen sexuality. Should we teach teenagers how to properly protect themselves during sexual intercourse, and provide other tools for a responsible and healthy sexual attitude? Or, should parents, teachers and religious leaders provide minimal sexual education to teens, therefore reducing the risk of exposing teens to too much information, as well as encouraging abstinence until marriage?
American society has traditionally treated sexuality as taboo. In recent years, there has been a return to Victorian traditions and morals that stress sexual conservatism. Therefore, American society has maintained the position that sex is a sacred act not to be discussed, especially among impressionable teens. The majority of Americans believe that providing adolescents with birth control and empowering them with sexual awareness and knowledge encourages them to engage in premarital sex. This camp of traditional thinkers argue that limited sexual exposure and preaching abstinence will result in eliminating sexual activity among our nations' adolescents.
With a more open approach, considered more liberal in nature, teenagers are given the forum to openly discuss sexuality with adults. This more contemporary school of thought suggests that offering teens information about sexuality can prevent potentially disastrous situations like teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases among teens. Many western European countries practice an open approach to teen sexuality. European culture is notorious for their sexually explicit television programming, advertising, and cultural trends. Their blatant exposition of sexual themes in society sends a message that sex is a natural human activity, that when treated properly and in a timely manner, can in fact yield good results.
This May, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced that, from 1991 to 1996, the teen birth rate in the United States declined substantially. The decline took place for girls ages 15 to 19 in all racial and ethnic groups. But despite improvements, the U.S. continues to have a teen pregnancy rate more than twice as high as that of any other developed country. In fact, the teen pregnancy rate and the rate of sexually transmitted diseases among European nations remains significantly lower than those rates in the United States.
More than 40 % of young American women become pregnant before they reach the age of 20. More than 75% of these pregnancies are unplanned. One of every three girls has had sexual intercourse by the age of 15 and half by the age of 18, while 75 % of all boys have had sexual intercourse by the age of 18. Teen pregnancy costs the U.S. at least $7 billion annually.
Only one-third of teen mothers receive a high school diploma and 80 percent end up on welfare. The children of teenage mothers have lower birth weights, are more likely to perform poorly in school, and are at a greater risk of abuse and neglect. The sons of teen mothers are 13% more likely to end up in prison while teen daughters are 22% more likely to become teen mothers themselves. Statistics are from the American Medical Association and the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy.
Across the nation, programs are working hard to keep kids from having kids. Last winter we visited Wilmington, NC to show our audience one group that's fighting teen pregnancy with proven success. Find out more about this group, Girls Incorporated, and its centers around the country.
Most recently, To The Contrary has selected the Amandela Project based in Richmond, California, to examine the effects of using an open approach to teen sexuality. The Amandela Project is a teenage pregnancy prevention program that utilizes an approach similar to that of European philosophy. Facilitators of this project encourage adolescents to speak freely about sexual issues. Other features of The Amandela Project include parent facilitation, which assists parents and kids in opening the lines of communication on the issue of sexuality, and a mentor program, which matches positive role models with young teens. The Amandela Project emphasizes that the success of the program is dependent on the collaboration between the parent, child, and the community wherein one uniform and educational message about healthy teen sexuality is conveyed.

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