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Dangerous Liaisons

November 10, 2008

Recently, I was reminded of the possible dangers of the religion/sexuality connection after reading “Catholic School Uninvites Whitman” in my regional newspaper.

The “Whitman” the article refers to is New Jersey’s former governor, Christie Whitman, who had been invited to speak at Stuart Country Day School of the Sacred Heart’s annual “Women in Leadership Forum.” Who would be more qualified to speak about women and leadership than the Garden State’s first and only female governor?

Unfortunately, Diocese of Trenton Bishop John M. Smith didn’t feel Whitman was an appropriate choice because her pro-choice beliefs were “totally contrary” to the church’s teachings. In a communication written to the school, the Bishop stated Whitman’s presence could falsely mislead the Stuart community into thinking the school supported abortion rights. As a result, the headmistress of Stuart—a nun—uninvited Whitman.

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What’s a Teen Girl to Do?

October 15, 2008

For this blog, I’m pretending that I’m a teen girl. Yes, I’m really 78, but go with me.

I have to say, I have a few issues with you adults. Talk about being under the microscope and having everything constantly scrutinized: the way I dress, my body and my sexual behaviors!

One specific issue I have with you is how you talk about me. In The Truth About Teen Girls, Time magazine writer Belinda Luscombe talks about how some adults think teen girls are being “too sexy” and “too liberal with sexual favors.” Some of you even feel that we’re “sexually loose” because we’re copying what we see on TV or read about in magazines.

If that’s how you feel, why blame us? Why not look at yourselves and how you use sex to sell products? Don’t you think that has something to do with teens being so overtly sexual? Why not look at our culture and come up with some solutions instead of blaming us for mimicking what we see?

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Learning About Sex Before Learning to Read? Yes!

September 24, 2008

Before I became a sex educator, I taught children in the early grades how to read. One of the first things I learned is that development is key. You can’t teach children to decode or learn to recognize sight words and phrases unless they feel comfortable in their own skin. They need to have a sense of who they are as human beings.

This is why I support age-appropriate sexuality education for children that starts in kindergarten before formal reading instruction begins. I think it’s a good way to help them feel secure about their bodies and themselves. When adults hear about sex education taking place in kindergarten, many have no frame of reference. Some may recall the topics they learned as teens and shudder at the thought of little ones learning about condoms, contraception, abortion, rape and other explicit topics.

Recently, this topic was the center of attention in a TV ad in which Republican presidential candidate John McCain accused his Democratic opponent, Barack Obama, of supporting sex education in kindergarten. The narrator says darkly, “Obama’s one accomplishment? Legislation to teach ‘comprehensive sex education’ to kindergarteners. Learning about sex before learning to read? Barack Obama. Wrong on education. Wrong for your family.”

The McCain forces obviously believe that throngs of Americans will be shocked and outraged that anyone, particularly a presidential candidate, would consider talking about sexual health with five-year-olds who haven’t learned to read more than a stop sign.

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Imagine…

September 12, 2008

Imagine with me a series of conversations that might have occurred between a 17-year-old who is five months pregnant and her mother.

At age 12…
Mom:
Your Dad and I have strong family values about sex and sexual behavior.  Sex leads to pregnancy and your father and I believe that you must wait until after marriage before you have sex. You cannot have sex until you are able to support a child and you must not become pregnant until after you are married to someone you love. Understand?
Daughter: Is that all there is to say about sex, Mom?
Mom: That’s all there is to say about sex. Just be abstinent. No kissing, no holding hands, nothing until after high school and until you find your guy.  Promise me?
Daughter: I promise.

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Sex and the (Male) Politician

August 27, 2008

It’s safe to say that thousands of bloggers, members of the media and regular folks on the street have already weighed in on the affair former presidential candidate John Edwards had while his wife Elizabeth was recovering from breast cancer in 2006. You’re probably thinking, “Everything worth saying about this revelation has already been said.” However, I wonder how many parents have talked to their teenagers about it? And how many sexuality education teachers will be brave enough to bring up the subject when school resumes in September?

When I became involved in implementing sex education policy in the public schools in the late-1970’s, one of the arguments my opponents tossed at me concerned values. At public meetings they would ask, “How can you have such programs without teaching values?” It took me awhile to understand the broader meaning which I think was, “How can you have such programs without teaching our values? How can you teach about sexuality without specifically telling young people that intercourse before marriage is wrong, abortion is killing an unborn child, and homosexuality is an abomination before God?”

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Young, Hot and Bothered

August 21, 2008

A recent segment on NBC’s The Today Show focused on what parents could do to help combat teens’ boredom and keep them out of trouble during summer vacation. Judith Sachs, editorial director of ParentingTeensNetwork, appeared on the show to discuss “cures” for the problem. Volunteering, traveling with family, learning a new language and forming a book club were among the activities she suggested teens get involved in.

Studies have shown that teens with too much free time in the summer are more likely to experiment with drugs, alcohol and cigarettes than those who are engaged in structured activities. Surprisingly, sexual activity was not mentioned during the segment.

As I watched the show, I reflected back on a conversation I had many years ago with a Newark, N.J., school nurse. I had just started studying the dynamics of teen pregnancy and the nurse shared with me how she saw more pregnancies in September than in any other month. Some sociologists refer to this as the “summer effect.”

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The “N” Word

July 24, 2008

Most people around the world—a lot of children, too, no doubt—know by now what the Rev. Jesse Jackson recently said about what he wanted to do to two important, private body parts that belong to Senator Barack Obama.

The Times ran a recent column on the reasons why the paper did not use Jackson’s “n” word (for “nuts”) when first reporting the story. I was concerned with the column’s quote from a Washington state reader, who said that the paper is edited by “prudish kindergarten teachers.”

I beg to differ; most early childhood teachers are not prudish. The kindergarten and early childhood teachers I have trained are very familiar with young children’s body parts, particularly those that have to do with “peeing” and “pooping.” Many have to answer such questions as: Did her penis fall off? Will mine? What hole does poop come out of?

Not only are these teachers not prudish about body parts, many are comfortable talking about birth and babies. Kids in the early grades want to know: How did I get out of Mommy’s tummy? How do Mommy and Daddy make a baby?

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That “L” Word

July 11, 2008

If the “S” word dominated the first episode of The Secret Life of the American Teenager—as 15-year-old Amy gets pregnant after one-time sex at band camp with a boy named “Tricky Ricky”—the “L” word reigns during the second one. In it, Amy and 16-year old Ben fall in love.

After Ben tells his friends that he wants to marry and have children with Amy, they warn him that he’s too young and should see other girls. But Ben is satisfied with the nonverbal girl he calls “my little Amy.”

He doesn’t care about the gossip that she had sex with “Tricky Ricky.” At the end of a call, he says wistfully, “Now we can end our phone calls the way adults do, by saying ‘I love you.’” They do.

All this talk about love wouldn’t have interested me if I hadn’t just read Maureen Dowd’s recent Times column “An Ideal Husband.” It featured a long quote about marriage from Father Pat Connor, a 79-year-old, celibate Catholic priest from Bordentown, NJ.

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On Gloucester

June 25, 2008

“Hope is the best contraceptive.”

These words immediately flashed to my mind when I read about the pregnancy boom at Gloucester High School, in Gloucester, MA. I heard them some 20 years ago from Marian Wright Edelman, head of the Children’s Defense Fund, when she talked about high rates of teen pregnancy among poor, African-American girls.

She was convinced, and quoted research to prove it, that there is a strong correlation between poverty and teen pregnancy. In order to reduce the high rates, adults from parents to educators to policy makers must provide hope to poor girls that they can expect more out of life than having a baby.

Edelman’s words were strongly echoed by a classmate of the 17 girls at Gloucester High—none older than 16—who reportedly made a pact to get pregnant and raise their babies together. She said: “No one offered them a better option.” The local superintendent of schools backed her up when he said that jobs had disappeared in this mostly white, blue-collar city and that “families were broken.”

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