“Where do babies come from?” I remember my younger brother asking one night at the dinner table. Needless to say, I almost choked on my pasta but kept eating and pretended not to have heard anything. Suddenly my plate seemed so very interesting; I stared at it as I sensed my parents glancing at one another as they decided what part of this “secret” to disclose.
Presumably, all teenagers have similar memories of “The Talk” regarding their younger siblings or their own experience with their parents, and freshman year’s Sex Ed course probably rings a bell. These birds-and-the-bees conversations may be many things, but the outstanding descriptor for most teenagers is simply awkward.
Sex. Intercourse. Nudity. Reproduction. The Talk that makes teenagers squirm in their seats. Has anyone wondered why? Why does anything relating to the teaching of sex in education, its portrayal in art, and its mention in conversation evoke such a response from adolescents?
Teenagers are curious creatures by nature—both in their personalities and in their search for understanding of the world around them. In our society, discussions on sex, nudity, and the human body are generally touchy subjects between parents and children and students and teachers. Due to this stigma, friends, pop-culture and the Internet are often the avenues teenagers use to search for answers.
Coach Beth Preston, a physical education teacher here at Parkview, says, “[Teenagers] are misinformed, and they are probably most comfortable talking about [sex], if they are comfortable talking about it at all, with their friends.”
Few teenagers are comfortable candidly discussing topics regarding sexuality with parents or teachers, and this can often lead to distorted perceptions of sex. Oftentimes, high-school students believe most of their peers are having sex while actually only a minority are.
Then there’s the Internet—the place where anyone can find anything. A study conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation for teenage health found that more than half (55percent) of teenagers say they have looked up health information online in order to learn more about an issue affecting themselves or someone they know.
Unfortunately, the Web sites teens turn to for sexual health information often contain false information. For example, of 177 sexual health Web sites examined in a recent study featured in the Journal of Adolescent Health, 46 percent of [websites] addressing contraception and 35 percent of those addressing abortion contained inaccurate information.
Lastly, pop-culture doesn’t exactly have the most factual information about sex. A majority of mainstream music, for starters, utilizes sexual innuendo and references as a central theme, and television and movies are constantly depicting sexual and nude scenes as well. According to another study by the Kaiser Family Foundation, sexual content appears in two-thirds of all TV programs. Most of those pop-culture portrayals do not show the consequences of choices to engage in sexual activity, and this non-consequential portrayal of sex has a negative effect on teenagers’ perceptions of the facts.
Along with skewing facts relating to sex, pop-culture has also evolved to alter ideas of romanticism. At one time, chaste, Pride-and-Prejudice-type romances that are filled with courtly love, emotion and a certain sense of sweetness were popular and endeared. Today, the Breaking Dawn type love stories turn passion into something very sexual and physical. Which seems like it’s worth more? Society is becoming more and more obsessed with the idea of physical affection, and television shows and movies are amplifying that aspect to the point at which it has become for some people like drugs– addictive and necessary.
Pop-culture frequently glorifies sexuality, while in everyday society, sex is a forbidden topic. Essentially, this creates a complex which causes teenagers to be fixated with the idea of sex as well as find it taboo.
I recall the trip I took with my classmates in the eighth grade to Savannah. We visited an art museum that displayed nude portraits and sculptures. Of course, there were the obvious reactions of gawking, pointing and giggling, or pretending not to notice them at all. Looking back, I don’t remember one person who outwardly viewed the art as beautiful or interesting. We often lump together all aspects of sexuality when they might not be the same. Biology, art, and feeling are all aspects of sexuality that teenagers must know are separate entities. Else, teenagers might spend the rest of their lives peeking through their fingers at nude art and never really appreciating it, feel uncomfortable with the scientific aspect of reproduction and sex, and be overwhelmed with feelings associated with physical attraction. Biology and consequences need to be taught in school or by parents, while feeling and ideologies must be developed by an individual for himself.
It’s crucial for school systems to openly educate students on sexuality so that when the time comes, teenagers know exactly what they are dealing with and are comfortable talking about their concerns as well as responsibly deciding their paths for themselves. Where some teachers have an open outlook on the way they teach sexual education, others are still uncomfortable teaching the sexual education unit. Still others approach sexuality with the Mean Girls tactic– “don’t have sex or you will get pregnant and die”. Although the last may succeed in scaring a good number of teenagers with threats of pregnancy and contacting STD, it fails to convey facts clearly and presses societal restrictions on sexuality.
Abi Balajee, sophomore, states, “It’s important to know not just how biology works but how our bodies work. If teenagers don’t even know what their own body parts are called, we have a problem.” Although sexual education in the United States aims to open up the topic, so that it can be talked about in a less scandalous way, many teachers still use “scare tactics”. Balajee believes that “it’s important to give [students] the facts without forcing ideologies on us.”
Dillon Kasson, senior, states that sex should be “an individual matter, between teenagers and their advisors, not a public campaign.” Regrettably, teenagers are often uncomfortable with parents, and the media can be misleading. For this very reason, freshmen Elijah Fender and Imra Gillani agree that they were glad to have had the sexual education unit in health.
Fender says it’s important for schools to address sexual education “because family and parents [often] aren’t open enough and so people don’t get the wrong ideas about sex.”
Gillani stresses how important it is for students to know the facts. “Sex is needed. It’s not bad for you, but we need to know the consequences of our decisions, what those 15 minutes of fun can lead to. [Sex Education] needs to be honest and prepare you for what might happen.”
Sex is everywhere. “You hear it in songs. You see it on TV and in magazines. You see it everywhere,” Coach Preston says. This is precisely why understanding all aspects of sexuality is crucial. Teenagers should know that sex is a vital and special part of life that is not to be taken lightly, but it’s not something to be afraid of either.
Sex is a private matter, but it’s okay to be curious and talk about it in the right environment. Discomfort is only natural, but it’s also important to be educated and overcome the awkwardness that comes with discussing sexuality. Parents and teachers alike must keep this in mind as they address sexuality to their children and students.
Students must understand the nuances between art, science, and emotion so we can leave high school knowing the facts and make the right decisions for ourselves whether that’s abstinence or sleeping around. It’s our own decision. Adults need only inform us. The rest is on us, and it will probably be frightening and new, but that’s life.