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Archive for Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Double Take: Parent asks about abstinence education

March 24, 2009

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Dear Dr. Wes & Kelly: With all the criticism of the pope’s comments about abstinence and HIV and the changes in our government, what do you think about abstinence education vs. teaching kids to using condoms or other birth control? My kids will be at that age soon, and I’m giving this a lot of thought.

Wes: It wasn’t enough for this column to get into an argument over sexuality with Phill Kline last year? Now you want us to take on the pope? I think I’ll pass.

It’s not because this isn’t an important issue. It is — especially when HIV prevention efforts are in a constant and desperate battle for the hearts and minds of the people. I’ll pass because the entire argument creates a false dichotomy in place of a rational view of how people are behaving and how they have behaved for all of recorded history. In other words, those who want to teach people to resist sexual expression should be smart enough to realize that real-life statistics are dramatically against them. Likewise, those who want to focus exclusively on making sex safer must realize that mechanical understandings of prevention without an ethical framework for decision-making lead to unsound reasoning and continued risky behavior.

While you might think this sounds a bit too philosophical, it really addresses the question you’re asking: How am I going to communicate my values to my children as they enter adolescence? You can sit down with your kids and say, “you must abstain from sexual contact until age X” or tell them that they can only have sex within a marriage and hope for the best. I know people for whom this has worked, and in some of those cases preserving sexual expression for a committed adult relationship has provided richness and meaning in their lives. Most, however, will not heed that advice. You can also sit down and teach your kids all the ways sex can harm them, from disease to pregnancy to emotional bankruptcy, and offer them strategies for how to cope with each. That also works for some. But until you can pull together all aspects of sexuality — the physical, spiritual, emotional and ethical values — and help your kids understand how they interrelate, you’re going to leave them vulnerable.

I also assume you’ve read this column over the years and know that we always recommend starting before the teen years to help build this philosophy. Kids don’t become ready to discuss sex at 13 or ready to date at 16 or ready to have a serious relationship at 18. They’re on journey of development, and you are their guide, so hopefully you’ve begun laying the foundation already.

I’m hoping over the next few years that those of us who believe in teaching a balanced perspective on sexuality can extend a hand of fellowship to both factions and move everyone toward the center. There we can consider the value of conscientious sexual expression along side the need to protect our children from the expectable indiscretions of youth. But you don’t have to wait that long. You have kids who need that lesson now. Enjoy your opportunity.

Kelly: Through the ups and downs of our chaotic teenage lives, there comes a point when we slowly but surely make the transition from a mere naïve child into a hormone-raging adolescent. And through this process, not only are kids adjusting to such a drastic transition, but their parents are as well. Although it may be embarrassing to even fathom talking to your children about sex, curiosity is going to get to them one way or another. During this time of sexual discovery, it’s important to help your kids through the process. Yet as a parent, you may find this difficult, being torn between whether teaching abstinence or providing your child with birth control and condoms will be more efficient.

While teaching your child about sex, it’s important to discuss the morals and values and what you expect from your children. If you prefer for them to be abstinent, then tell them. Realize that even through our melodramatic teenage lives, we do have a tendency to rebel toward authority. So I recommend not limiting them to only one option. As awkward as it may be for the both of you, I suggest you provide your children with condoms and birth control or a way to access them on their own. This does not necessarily mean you condone their sexual behavior and decisions, but it will allow them options, ensuring that they have the protection always available. At the same time, be sure to educate your children on the downfalls of engaging in sexual behavior. This should include but not be limited to early teen pregnancy, STDs and AIDS. Create awareness for your child and emphasis that there are consequences for his or her actions.

Yes, idealistically, abstaining from sex does sound perfect, but this perfect image could be easily shattered when you end up caring for your crying grandchild as your child struggles to finishes high school. You may have faith in your children that they will abstain until marriage. However, realize your child’s hormones are at an all-time peak. Is it worth the risk or is it better safe than sorry?

Next week: Stay in Lawrence and attend KU or not? What’s the best advice for high school seniors?

— Dr. Wes Crenshaw is a board-certified family psychologist and director of the Family Therapy Institute Midwest. Kelly Kelin is a senior at Free State High School. Opinions and advice given here are not meant as a substitute for psychological evaluation or therapy services. Send your questions about adolescent issues (limited to 200 words) to doubletake@ljworld.com. All correspondence is strictly confidential.

Comments

kmat 5 years ago

You are so correct Cappy.

I respect you gogo, but man I could never have done that. Couldn't imagine only driving one car my whole life and never getting to test drive it before buying. I'd be too scared of getting a lemon.

Out of curiosity, did your husband wait. If not, doesn't seem fair.

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gogoplata 5 years ago

I thought I'd take a lot of crap from my friends when I made that decision and I did take some. But most of the time people were respectful about it.

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Jersey_Girl 5 years ago

Wow, gogoplata. I am impressed that you waited until you were 28.

Cappy - no problems with that here.

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Kirk Larson 5 years ago

R_I The reason you would feel "cheap and used" is apparent in your use of the words "test driven", i.e. passive voice. You need to think of yourself as a test driver, active participant, not one who has things done to you. That's something girls need to be taught in sex ed, that they should play active roles in their sexuality and not just accede to the the boys wishes.

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gogoplata 5 years ago

I was 28 when I got married.

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Jersey_Girl 5 years ago

R_I - sounds like you've dealt with a Jersey Girl before if you think tramp and logic need luck.

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RETICENT_IRREVERENT 5 years ago

tramp, logic, Good luck. I have to take a shower and go take the spousal unit some flowers.

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Jersey_Girl 5 years ago

Hmm, I never have been able to say no to a ride on a Harley.

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supertrampofkansas 5 years ago

Tsk tsk. The game is afoot. Logic got his leadfoot out. Gonna have to up the stakes here and offer Jersy_Girl a ride on the Harley. No need to man the stick when you got a Harley revved up and ready to go.

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Jersey_Girl 5 years ago

LOL!!! logic, it's good to know that you know a quality driver when you see one.

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logicsound04 5 years ago

It's good to feel cheap and used every now and again. If I was going to be test-driven, I'd want Jersey_Girl manning the stick shift.

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Jersey_Girl 5 years ago

The only time I regret test drives is when it is with someone with only 4 cylinders. A good test drive requires 6 cylinders; a great test drive needs 8.

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RETICENT_IRREVERENT 5 years ago

jonas, Absinthe is an effective way to both pregnancy and STDs.

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jonas_opines 5 years ago

"True. So if you choose not to wait, I would say put on the love glove."

Yes, that's why we should include that as part of sex-education, with failure rates, etc. I've never understood the resistance to this idea, as it is still absolutely true to say that the only 100% effective way to avoid both pregnancy and STDs is abstinence.

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supertrampofkansas 5 years ago

R_I,

The tramp sees nothing wrong with being test driven. Hard to feel cheap and used when you are already cheap and used :-)

No problem here Jersey girl!

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kmat 5 years ago

I believe in test driving the car before signing the contract. My in laws and parents were so pissed when my husband and I moved in together, with no plans of being married. Waited 6 years to get married. We are the happiest couple I've ever met. Been together close to 20 years. Had a great time test driving before signing that contract and don't regret it in the least bit and encourage others to do the same.

The people I know that jumped into marriage (many of them because of sex) are all divorced.

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Jersey_Girl 5 years ago

So, gogoplata, if you waited, how old were you when you got married?

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gogoplata 5 years ago

That's your perspective, which you are entitled to, but it's clear that it actually is a big deal to a great number of people.

True. So if you choose not to wait, I would say put on the love glove.

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Jersey_Girl 5 years ago

R_I - and the problem is?

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RETICENT_IRREVERENT 5 years ago

tramp. Wow, but being test driven would make me feel so cheap and used.

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jonas_opines 5 years ago

"It really isn't that big of a deal to wait until you are married."

That's your perspective, which you are entitled to, but it's clear that it actually is a big deal to a great number of people.

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Jersey_Girl 5 years ago

I'm not married, never have been and I'm not sure I ever will be. And I'm darned glad I did wait until I did get married. If I do ever find someone I want to marry, you bet your booties I'm test-driving that sucker!

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gogoplata 5 years ago

I'm not saying we shouldn't teach people about condoms and STDs. I'm just saying that if you want to keep your children safe from disease and teen pregnancy, abstinence is the best. It really isn't that big of a deal to wait until you are married.

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Confrontation 5 years ago

"The comments about blaming the pope for STDs are retarted."

Retarted? That's too funny!

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logicsound04 5 years ago

"I’m hoping over the next few years that those of us who believe in teaching a balanced perspective on sexuality can extend a hand of fellowship to both factions and move everyone toward the center."


Alas, it seems like Dr. Wes is one of the people guilty of fostering the "false dichotomy" he referred to in the early part of his response.

There are no "two sides"--there is the abstinence-only movement, and there is the center. By and large, the people who object to abstinence-only education aren't saying we should go to the other extreme or that abstinence has no place in sexual education. The main issue is the failure to educate, thereby increasing risk, all in the name of preserving morality.

To be sure, there are extremists who believe that children are sexual creatures who should take a proverbial bite out of the apple at a very young age, but do not confuse those people with people who object to abstinence-only sex education.

The simple truth is that a valid sex education informs about all fundamental aspects of sexuality. Abstinence is part, but not all, of those fundamentals. Abstinence-only isn't really "education" anyway--it's more like conditioning.

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OldEnuf2BYurDad 5 years ago

"mechanical understandings of prevention without an ethical framework for decision-making lead to unsound reasoning and continued risky behavior"

Translation: Have enough of a relationship so that you can pass a sense of morality on to your kids, and then they'll make good choices.

Those who attack Dr. Wes are not paying attention to what he's saying. He's advocating morality, and telling parents that THAT is how you protect your kids. This is why abstinense ed is failing... even in Christian homes and among the "chastity contract" crowd.

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jonas_opines 5 years ago

oh. . . uh, nevermind, I just agree with G E.

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jonas_opines 5 years ago

"I know this is hard for some of you to believe but some kids actually listen to teaching about abstinence and wait until they are married to have sex."

No, that's not hard to believe at all. Are you suggesting that if they had informed views on abstinence alternatives they would be less likely to do that? If you are suggesting that they would, would you suggest that they do not know currently that there are alternatives to abstinence?

It may be difficult for some to believe, but very few people are suggesting that we not teach children about the benefits of abstinence, and I would say most think it should still be included in sex education. The problem is with the "only" that tends to come after "abstinence."

Unless you prefer the status quo, where kids get their alternative education from Nip/Tuck and Family Guy?

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G_E 5 years ago

"I know this is hard for some of you to believe but some kids actually listen to teaching about abstinence and wait until they are married to have sex."

No one was ever saying there weren't. Of COURSE there are going to be those who wait until marriage, just like there are those who actually wait until they turn 21 to drink.

But the fact is, like it or not, statistics show that by the time teens hit 19, 7 in 10 of them have had sex. With abstinence-only education, that's 7 out of 10 teens who are having sex with inadequate knowledge of methods for birth control and disease prevention. That is dangerous. And as someone who only grew out of the teenage years a few months ago, I can safely testify firsthand that abstinence-only education just doesn't work.

Plus, the whole "wait until marriage" mindset can be emotionally damaging, especially for girls. It perpetuates the notion that one's virginity is the only "gift" you have to give to a partner, and once it's gone, you're worthless; it leads to a lot of guilt and self-loathing after a sexual encounter, which is not exactly the purpose of sex. Teenagers and young women are already bombarded with negativity regarding female sexuality, and the idea of "your virginity is a precious gift" is making it worse.

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Agnostick 5 years ago

gogoplata (Anonymous) says…

"Don't commit adultry. But if you do be sure to use a condom."

---> Roman Catholic priests!

"Don't kill. But if you do be sure to only kill the intended target to avoid collateral damage."

---> War!

"Don't steal. But if you do be sure not to hurt the person you are stealing from."

---> Wall Street!

Gee, that was easy!

Next!

--Ag

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HermioneElliott 5 years ago

If you don't want to be Catholic no one is going to drag you into church. I proud of the Catholics who have lived their faith and been married as long as fifty years, faithfully, and not regretted it. I am not buying the argument, hormones made me do it.

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ocean 5 years ago

bong hits for masturbation!

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feeble 5 years ago

Agree with the above poster. Now, I may repeating a bit of mythology here, but I thought that while the Puritans were very conservative in dress, speach and action, they all had multiple children and lived in single bedroom homes. Do the math.

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gogoplata 5 years ago

I know this is hard for some of you to believe but some kids actually listen to teaching about abstinence and wait until they are married to have sex.

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Kirk Larson 5 years ago

I have maintained that by 5 or 6 kids should know where puppies come from. Then when they are a little older it's not a big leap to where babies come from. Think about where people learned about sex in the past. Mostly from living on farms and living with the extended family, 10 to 12 people, in a 3 room home.

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gogoplata 5 years ago

I'll teach my kids about sex and abstinence and birth control for when they are married. I'll teach them my values. But there is no guarantee that they will listen. We are all individuals. A kids poor choices are not always the result of poor teaching. Regardless of thier choices, I will always love them.

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Kirk Larson 5 years ago

What do you call parents who insist on abstinence-only sex education?

Grand parents.

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kmat 5 years ago

Reminds me of the commercials for the family in Arkansas with 18 kids. Their oldest was getting married and had never even kissed a girl before. His sex ed was his dad telling him it's kind of like Legos. How would you like it if the only sex ed you got before getting married was being told it's like putting Lego pieces together? And then after they got married, they had to listen to a CD from a minister who then told them how to have sex.

Teach your kids about sex and birth control. Teach them your values. If you've done a good job raising your kids, that's all that's needed.

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RETICENT_IRREVERENT 5 years ago

Jersey, You know God slew Onan for spilling his seed. Hey, who would voluntarily want to be slewed.?

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jonas_opines 5 years ago

R-I: Not recommending it, at least not for myself. One is enough for me.

cthulhu: Thanks for showing that I'm sub-average!
Weeping

/not true, ashamed of nothing

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Clint Gentry 5 years ago

"gogplata" you are teetering on the edge..."sin" is a word created by the religious to strike fear into believers, there really is no such thing as "sin". There is law of course, of which killing and stealing fall under.

So your attempt to conflate "adultery" and "murder" is a feeble attempt to tie "sin" and "law" together. Very poorly argued "gogoplata", and you are backing up an ex-nazi also, what a shame...

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Jersey_Girl 5 years ago

There is no reason the Catholic church couldn't come into the 21st century and allow for birth control methods such as condoms and birth control pills. I don't know if they still are illegal, but birth control pills used to be illegal in Italy. They had to be smuggled in and given away to women who didn't want to get pregnant but due to The Church's archaic ways, weren't supposed to use birth control.

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gogoplata 5 years ago

Why would the pope be in favor of teaching people how to sin in a safer way?

Don't commit adultry. But if you do be sure to use a condom.

Don't kill. But if you do be sure to only kill the intended target to avoid collateral damage.

Don't steal. But if you do be sure not to hurt the person you are stealing from.

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Jersey_Girl 5 years ago

Anyone have stats on divorce rates on those who marry young? Because the few couples I know who waited until they got married also got married at 21 or 22 because they were tired of waiting (and there are few couples I know that actually waited). And for those who want to avoid sex ed, be prepared for teenagers who believe they can't get pregnant the first time or if they have sex standing up or any other rididuculous myths people people believe when they are undereducated.

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RETICENT_IRREVERENT 5 years ago

Oh, and most churches don't want me to go in, you know, cause of the concealed carry thingy.

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RETICENT_IRREVERENT 5 years ago

cthulhu, But I'm claustrophobic. Couldn't handle time in a little box.

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cthulhu_4_president 5 years ago

RET: Africa and India are good places to start, not to mention the good ol' USA! Land of puritan values and prostitution! Yes in America, you can truly have your cake and eat it too! Fulfill your quota, and never leave the comfort of knowing that you are going to heaven as long as you spend the requisite amount of time in a little box in a church telling a stranger about all your sexual conquests while pretending to be sorry.

I should be a travel agent!

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RETICENT_IRREVERENT 5 years ago

cthulhu, 6.5? Where do I sign up for the entitlement program?

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Clint Gentry 5 years ago

I disagree "gogoplata", if the pope is using mental abuse to lead people away from truth, (condoms stop the spread of AIDS), then he should be held accountable. I'm not a catholic, so whatever he says is essentially garbage to me, but it's a shame that the catholic religion has caused more suffering on this earth than all the combined wars in history. Coming from a pope that was a Hitler youth, why am I not surprised?

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beatrice 5 years ago

I only have two words on abstinence only sex education -- Bristol Palin.

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gogoplata 5 years ago

What is the big deal about teaching both?

The comments about blaming the pope for STDs are retarted. The pope doesn't mean anything special to me so if you disagree with him fine. But he sure isn't to blame for individuals choosing to have unprotected sex. Hell, if they followed his advice the STD rate would fall to next to nothing.

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cthulhu_4_president 5 years ago

jonas, are you advocating “big love”?

I believe that Jonas is advocating the statistical truth that the average human on Earth will have 6.5 sexual partners within their lifetime.

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Clint Gentry 5 years ago

Again, the "Church" is looking to control human desires, and the secularists recognize these desires and attempt to work with them. That is why religion is dying!

The pope has only himself to thank...

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RETICENT_IRREVERENT 5 years ago

I don't know, throwing your entire life's happiness and satisfaction on a single person that at least at one point in your development as a person you have some sort of mutual attraction with, that seems like a rather risky shot in the dark.

jonas, are you advocating "big love"?

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KSManimal 5 years ago

The whole premise of "abstinence only" is flawed. It's based on the assumption that we should only teach people what they need to know AT THAT POINT IN THEIR LIVES.

We teach about voting before kids are old enough to vote. We teach kids not to drink and drive, before they're old enough to legally drink.

We teach about economics - home buying, saving for retirement, etc.,.....because those are skills people will need LATER in life.

We teach about heart-healthy diets and lifestyles far sooner than anyone will develop heart disease.

Yet, there are those (most illogical) people who insist we NOT teach a comprehensive sex ed curriculum. What's gonna happen? When those kids marry they will just miraculously have all the necessary information pop into their heads by divine intervention?

No, that won't happen. What will happen is the "sex is bad" mantra that was driven into their heads will still be there....and it'll poison their marriage. A good, realistic, and comprehensive sex education won't just prevent pregnancy and STDs...but also prevent divorce, porn addiction, and the furthering of unhealthy sexual attitudes.

If one wanted to 'set the record straight', so to speak, one needs only to look at teen pregnancy and STD rates, as well as rates of divorce and porn consumption, across the US and compare that to the kinds of sex education (or lack thereof) promoted in different places. All the bad stuff is higher in red states.....

But, I'll bet the abstinence-only crowd doesn't want to be bothered by facts.

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jonas_opines 5 years ago

"They're not taught to take chances. They're being taught to remain absitenent until marriage. They are also taught to remain monogamous for life within that marriage relationship."

I don't know, throwing your entire life's happiness and satisfaction on a single person that at least at one point in your development as a person you have some sort of mutual attraction with, that seems like a rather risky shot in the dark. I hear that, statistically, it can sometimes lead to things like abuse, despair, depression, suicide, even murder from time to time.

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Agnostick 5 years ago

And there's nothing really wrong with that, STRS...

*FOR CATHOLICS!*

News flash: Not everyone is Catholic. Not everyone will make those same decisions, for one reason or another.

That's why "Plan A" itself is not enough--it helps to have a "Plan B" and even a "Plan C."

After all, you really do want to reduce the number of abortions... don't you?

Or is that just an act?

Agnostick agnostick@excite.com

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SettingTheRecordStraight 5 years ago

Catholics aren't being taught to take stupid chances. They're being taught to remain absitenent until marriage. They are also taught to remain monogamous for life within that marriage relationship.

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Confrontation 5 years ago

"The Pope is no more responsible for the spread of HIV than you or I are."

I call bull on that argument. He's teaching his "followers" that condoms are evil, which implies that they'll go to hell for using them. Catholics are just as likely to be sexually active as atheists (even before marriage), but at least atheists aren't being taught to take stupid chances.

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G_E 5 years ago

Abstinence-only education does not work. Sure, some teens stay abstinent, but others are still going to have sex; no amount of "wait until you're married" preaching will change that. (Look no further than Bristol Palin.)

Without proper knowledge about birth control methods and disease protection, there is a high risk for pregnancy and STDs, which is far worse than having to have an awkward talk with your 14-year-old about condoms.

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jonas_opines 5 years ago

For my next trick, I will reach into STRS's empty post and pull thought from it! (as in real trick, thought is originally located elsewhere)

"There is no truth."

Actions lead to observable and predictable reactions.

"Everything is subjective and relative."

Everything but physical law, except per Theory of Relativity, as I understand it.

"Values are not based upon a standard."

Values are always based on a standard. That standard is not wholistically standardized.

"You have no right to tell me I'm wrong."

Unless I'm harming you in some way.

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Agnostick 5 years ago

And what's your excuse for failure, STRS?

What "standard" do you carry?

I won't argue whether you're "right" or "wrong"--but the numbers prove that current approaches aren't working. And numbers don't lie.

As for the argument itself, Dr. Wes nails it in the second paragraph--it's not an "either-or" argument. Promote secular abstinence in public schools, promote sacred abstinence in church, private schools and parents in the home follow one or the other, or both... and have birth control discreetly available, "just in case."

One safety net is good; two or three are even better.

The Roman Catholic Church, on the other hand, needs to be sitting out of any public "moral" arguments of any kind, for the next 100 years or so. They have no credibility. Let 'em all cloister behind closed doors with their flocks of sheep.

Agnostick agnostick@excite.com

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SettingTheRecordStraight 5 years ago

confrontation,

I'm not Catholic, and I don't listen much to the Pope, but it's irresponsible to blame one person for the decisions of another. The Pope is no more responsible for the spread of HIV than you or I are.

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Confrontation 5 years ago

At least Kelly had the balls to discuss the subject. It disgusts me how every feels like they have to bow to the Pope. The Pope is 100% absolutely meaningless to me. The fact that he's helping to increase the spread of HIV just shows how truly pathetic his thinking is, and how little he cares about other humans.

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SettingTheRecordStraight 5 years ago

Dr. Wes is the typical postmodernist - There is no truth. Everything is subjective and relative. Values are not based upon a standard. You have no right to tell me I'm wrong.

This thinking is why our society has wound up with more pregnant teens and more STDs, not less.

Follow Dr. Wes' advice to your peril.

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