Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Passport 2 Teen Pregnancy

Thanksgiving is coming up, and this year we're spending it with Boyfriend's family. Boyfriend's family is sort of spread out all across the US, but they are all coming together at his parents' house this year. We decided to forgo my family's dinner for his, since I will so rarely have the opportunity to see his extended relations.

I'm sort of psyched about this family dinner because there will be 4 kids there, ranging from ages 3-13, and I feel like family gatherings are really lame without kids to liven things up. When my mom's side of the family gets together, I generally tend to go off and play with the wee ones, because I find it less stressful and more amusing than talking to the adults. Especially adults who I am concerned might disapprove of me. And what's the fastest way to earn family approval? Why, being "good" with the kids, of course! I've got it all figured out...

Boyfriend has two young cousins who I met once, two years ago. We stayed with them for a few days during a christmas-time road trip. At the time, they were 11 and 9, so we had a lot of fun with them. They were super sweet and smart little girls, and their parents were also really fun and nice.

Cute Cousins 1 and 2 will be at this particular family gathering. But something has been nagging at me about seeing them, particularly regarding Cute Cousin 1 (the elder). Apparently, CC1's parents are some sort of hard-core Baptist. And last year, they took her on something called Passport2Purity. It is every bit as ominous as it sounds. Apparently, it's a kit that you buy to help you plan a weekend retreat with your son/daughter during which you explain the importance of abstinence and purity. From what I can see from the website, it emphasizes five main areas: Dating, peer pressure, purity, sexual maturity, the importance of god's word.

Okay, cool. You're a Christian, and you want your kid to not have sex. I get it. That's okay.

But what upsets me is that I can't really find any indication about whether this kit talks about safe sex. Including preventing pregnancy and STDs with methods other than abstinence. Or, if it does include these things, how accurately it discusses them. (I'm picturing a glossing-over that goes along the lines of: "You can use a condom to prevent pregnancy and STDs. But abstinence is THE ONLY WAY THAT IS TOTALLY EFFECTIVE. Also, birth control actually kills babies.")

My parents never gave me the sex talk. I believe I got it in the fifth grade from my sister, after she heard me singing Nine Inch Nails' "I want to fuck you like an animal." And even after that I was way confused for a while. When we got the internet in the eighth grade (remember when the internet was a novelty?) I had to turn to hard-core porn to figure out how the hell a penis could actually fit into a vagina (OH MY GOD IS THAT HOW EVERYONE DOES IT?) For crying out loud, my mom didn't even tell me what a period was. I had to figure it out from a Human Growth and Development class, which left me EVEN MORE CONFUSED (does the blood only come out when you pee?). And I didn't hit menarche until I was 15, so I was confused for an awfully long time. So, I really like the idea of having a talk with your kids about sex and sexual maturity. I think it could have saved me a lot of anxiety.

But here's the thing. There's a lot of things wrong with abstinence programs, mainly that they DON'T WORK (go ahead, Google it. It's old news, but someone just came out with yet another study confirming that they don't work). And as I implied in an earlier post, I feel like I've seen the effects of them first-hand. See, I have a theory that abstinence programs are not only damaging on their own, but that they tend to negate the effects of a comprehensive sex-ed program. In my high school, we had a good sex-ed program. The texts and teachers were honest. We got to anonymously ask whatever questions we wanted. We had sex-ed many years in a row, starting at sixth grade. A few times a year in high school, someone would drop a big box of free condoms in the locker room. But once a year, this lady came in from some religious group, and we were required to sit through this abstinence talk. I understand that this person's presence was an attempt to please the religious zealots in our rural community. But dammit if her talk didn't induce enough fear and shame to prevent us from buying condoms, or seeking birth control.

And guess what? A lot of girls got pregnant in my high school. A LOT.

This woman probably wasn't the sole cause of all those pregnancies. It was probably a combination of people like her and rural, uneducated parents who gave the same talks at home. Or who threatened to kick their kids out if they caught them fucking (stellar parenting).

But that "fear and shame" element is why hearing about this Passport2Purity program is bothering me. The program makes sex into a much bigger deal than it needs to be. It makes it into this big, scary, ominous thing that will either cause disfavor in the eyes of your god, or somehow decrease your value as a person. For chrissake, making the talk into an entire weekend getaway sends a pretty scary message all on its own, doesn't it? This "sex thing" is SO HUGE that we need an entire damn weekend to talk about it?

I'm upset that CC1 (and later, CC2) will have to hear about how shameful and dirty sex is. How it will make them lesser people if they fuck. How do lessons like this help girls who are victims of rape or sexual abuse? How do they help them make smart decisions about purchasing birth control? If CC1 happens to get molested at school, will she tell anyone after all she hears is that "God wants you to wait" and "Your future husband will be so disappointed if you aren't pure." If she hits 16 and decides to have sex, do you think she'll be more or less likely to run to the drugstore for condoms? Or ask her mom to take her to the gyno to get birth control pills?

CC1 is a smart girl. So I hope if those events do occur, she can see through the bullshit and make healthy choices. But my specific problem in this is that I don't think her world is set up to encourage this. Her parents are quite set in this thinking, her church is set, and until a few years ago, she attended a small Christian school. Now she attends public school, but it's in Mississippi. Not a very progressive state, I imagine, in terms of comprehensive sex ed. So I'm torn. I want to say something to her, anything, to help her out. But I know that it's not my place, and I could do real damage if her parents found out that I tried to undermine them. At the very least, I want to tell her that it's not dirty and she's not going to hell for it. I want her to have at least one person who tells her that. It would have been nice if someone I trusted had told me that when I was 13.


Anonymous said...

Totally agree with you. Abstinence-ed only does not work, and it is foolish to think so. Proper information and a healthy view about sex, along with encouragement to wait at least until you are older does work.

You are a smart and open lady. I likes ya! :)

Lucy said...

Follow your instincts and offer the girls friendship, a place to turn for open talk.
Good Luck!

White Trash Academic said...

Or, maybe try talking to the parents instead? You could test the waters of this convo by saying something about how you wished you had known more about sex because the abstinence only programs don't work according to the research (show studies?). Just a thought. If they shut you down immediately then just be there for the girl. One thing we also know from research is that some folks are more value-oriented so will not listen to rational explanations that directly contradict their beliefs.

Phoebe Caulfield said...

Thanks, everyone! I will certainly do a follow-up post after thanksgiving. Dollars to donuts I chicken out, though.

Creative Commons License

Rectory Entrance is licensed.
Don't touch my shit unless you ask.

Van Gogh's Ear Award