It has been several weeks since my last blog entry. So much has been happening!
Of course, every one's attention right now is focused on the troubled economy. Before all the bad news, REAL sexuality education became a political issue in the presidential campaigns. One candidate accused the other of wanting to provide sexually-explicit education to children in kindergarten. Turns out, the other candidate is a supporter of COMPREHENSIVE, age-appropriate education, which does start in grade K with education about personal safety and abuse prevention. This is a terrific discussion to have in the public arena, but, understandably, debate has moved to matters of high-stakes money matters.
The AIDS Walk of Oklahoma City was held on the first Sunday in October. Although it was successful, and we had more compassionate volunteers than ever, it is evident that HIV disease is once more out of the spotlight. For a short time, the presidential candidates discussed the reality that although the U.S. has become a leader in funding international HIV services, it has been dreadful at addressing the domestic epidemic. This is such an important issue, but one that is taking a back seat to the financial crisis. It is very difficult to get people to understand the critical role that increasing public health plays in stabilizing economic, social, and political problems.
I have lost count of the numbers of college students I've met who don't even know the basics of sexual health. It is not their fault. The only prior "learning" opportunities they've had are from popular movies, here say, entertainment-oriented websites, and television. Those who received abstinence-only until marriage education learned cutsie phrases, a million ways to say no, and all the horrible things that happen to people who have sex unless they are married, but most did not learn how and why their bodies work the ways they do, how to build good communication in relationships, or anything at all about gender and sexual diversity. And these are young adults who have decades of potentially life-changing choices ahead of them!
Last month, I met with teens in a juvenile detention facility. In one group of females, there were three young women who were already moms and who could not stop talking about how they couldn't wait to be released so they could have a baby of a different gender. Their focus was on wanting at least one boy and one girl - not on how they could become better mothers by continuing their education and improving their chances for a secure future. A small group of young men, on the other had, were focused on having as much sex with as many people as they could when they were released. They seemed to be more interested in boasting about sexual conquests than in learning about sexual health.
Is abstinence-only until marriage going to work for these kids? What's the bottom line - that they don't have sex when they get out or that they understand the concepts behind family planning and disease prevention? I can only speculate on what the presidential candidates would have to say about it.
Back in September, I was interviewed by a local television station about a new website that offers testing for sexually transmitted infections and that would issue to customers who were "disease-free" an ID card that they could show to potential sex partners. This isn't the first time an aspiring entrepreneur has tried this business model. The idea behind the website, other than making money, is wrong on so many levels. I wonder if anyone will actually fall for it. Given the low level of sexual literacy in our country right now, I'm frightened of the possibilities. The reporter interviewed several "people on the street" who fortunately viewed the website offer with suspicion.
I had an interesting experience with a another group of teen boys this week. A while back, one of the boys asked how much it costs to raise a baby "nowdays." So during our meeting this week, we brainstormed all the possible expenses associated with raising a child. Then, in small groups, the boys estimated how much each year of parenting would cost. I was fascinated to see the huge amounts the boys came up with. We then compared their guesses with estimates from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to see that, yes, parenting is not a role to take-on casually. It is a commitment of not only emotional resources but also of financial resources. I wish I would have done this activity with the girls at the detention facility.
By the way, the report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimated that raising a child through age 18 requires an average of nearly $11,000 per year.
And finally, something completely different. I asked about 130 college students to complete a personal assessment on gender and on sexual orientation as part of our exploration of adult sexual development. Two things really stood out while grading the assignment. First, I was taken by surprise at the number of students who wrote that they "didn't agree with homosexuality." That is a curious comment. It never occurred to me that sexual orientation, a fact, would be something with which people could agree or disagree. One student even wrote that she teaches her kids that "they are straight and will always be straight." I wonder if she had abstinence-only until marriage education in school.
Second, it was clear that the students who had the most broadminded views of sexual orientation were the ones who had a gay or lesbian friend or family member or who were gay themselves. That does not surprise me. Sexual orientation is one of the least likely issues to be discussed in school sex ed classes. That is sad - for gay students in the school, for gay friends and family, and for our society as a whole. Denying the existence of an entire group, or labeling their sexuality as disagreeable, is something that worries me. Kind of like how the current status of sexual health education worries me. It is almost as if we've gone back in time and will have to start again from scratch.
But I'm up for it. Are you?