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The Answer Blog

Sexuality Education

Wanted: A Few (More) Good Men to Teach Sex Ed

October 1, 2010


This is not about the 1992 Tom Cruise film A Few Good Men. It’s about the need for more good men to teach sex education. We need these men to serve as role models for male students, showing them the importance of talking about sex responsibly and comfortably with their girlfriends, boyfriends, wives, partners, and, eventually, sons and daughters.

There was good and bad news in a report about sex education and U.S. teens released last week by the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS). The good news? Before turning 18, nearly all teens — 97% — get some formal sex education in schools or other places, such as churches or community centers. (That’s progress, although the report doesn’t detail the accuracy or quality of the instruction.)

But a serious problem is that “more females than males have received formal instruction on how to say ‘no’ to sex, and more younger female teens than younger male teens have received instruction on birth control methods,” according to the report. Further, males get far less information from their parents than do females. The report’s author, Dr. Joyce Abma, a demographer with the NCHS, said the reason for the discrepancy “could be reflecting society’s regarding teen girls as needing to protect themselves more and prevent negative consequences.”

There might be another factor at play: Teen guys in schools see and hear adult women far more than adult men talk about sex.

“We need to groom good male sexuality educators. Good ones are so rare,” said Linda Morse, who recently retired after 30 years as the coordinator of School Health and Physical Education Standards at the New Jersey Department of Education.

I asked Morse for reasons why there’s such a dearth of male sexuality educators. Her reply can be summarized as the fear factor: men’s fear about teaching sex ed and administrators’ fear about giving them opportunity. She says that over years of her observations, male teachers are afraid of having to talk about sexual topics, such as family planning, risk reduction, safer sex, or gender and sexual orientation issues.

Morse says she has seen many male health/physical education teachers choose to attend a six-hour volleyball workshop rather than one on sexuality that requires less time. She believes that all sexuality educators need to understand their own sexual identity and “develop a comfort zone with students that is intimate, but not too intimate, and personal, but not too personal.” Further, “teachers of sexuality education must be prepared for all kinds of questions at any time and must be prepared to address parental concerns.”

Some men may find dealing with intimacy and the personal challenging, because they have not been raised to do it. Morse says that most male teachers “feel extremely competent and comfortable writing lessons on weight training, basketball and fitness, but not at all comfortable about addressing issues of sexuality.”

“This may be because experienced male health and physical education teachers often aspire to become athletic directors, principals, or supervisors and take graduate courses in management and leadership rather than health education. On the other hand, females are more apt to pursue graduate level work in health, family life, and sexuality education because they plan to stay in the classroom,” she says.

Administrators often make decisions that limit the number of men who get a chance to teach sexuality education. It begins early, in grades 4-6, when school nurses are called upon to teach the “clinical” aspects of sexuality, such as puberty education. Almost all are female.

Morse points out that some high school supervisors and principals are nervous about assigning young men to teach sex education. They have concerns “about pre-services or novice teacher’s teaching to students who are potentially only three to four years younger than they are and in fact ‘datable’ outside of school.”

Clearly, we have a problem here.

Morse’s perceptive analysis goes a long way to explaining the dearth of male sexuality educators. It also explains why young men may not feel comfortable talking to a male parent or asking a male teacher for in-depth information in order to make responsible, healthy decisions. They do not have the necessary role models.

To discover how we can encourage more men to teach sex education, I spoke to Hank Kearns, who taught the subject at Northern Burlington County High School for 35 years. He became a sexuality educator quite by chance: He was “assigned” senior health in his first year of teaching.

“I saw myself as not just a sex ed teacher. I saw myself as a health educator with wellness as my focus. But sex ed was a factor in all areas of wellness: social, physical, emotional, intellectual, spiritual and even financial,” he said.

I asked Kearns why so few men become sex educators.

“My gut response is that in order to teach sex ed, one has to be willing to make oneself vulnerable to questions, situations, and topics that men are uncomfortable with,” he said.

Kearns said he would tell prospective male sex educators that “teaching sex education helps you to become a better man. In the process of teaching, you have to learn it twice, once so you understand it and a second time you have to learn how to teach it. When you immerse yourself in that process of teaching, you understand [sexuality] on a much deeper level.”

Our society can reap rewards if we motivate more men to teach sex ed. There would be more information from the male perspective; more shared responsibility in sexual matters between partners; and more frequent and deeper conversations between fathers and sons about sexuality.

After all, conversations between the genders are an important key to a satisfying sexual life. It does take two to tango.

Oh, Bristol and Levi Are Getting Married, but Should We Really Care?

July 15, 2010

I overslept yesterday morning and paid a price. Usually I get up at 6:30, catch the opening of the TODAY Show, and am out the door for a run. Not yesterday: I walked into the kitchen and flipped on the TV just in time to catch the 7:30 segment on Bristol Palin and Levi Johnston’s announced engagement (nice, big ring) and impending marriage.

I didn’t intend to start my day with this “exclusive” from Us Weekly, and for a moment I thought I’d tuned in to a story from The National Enquirer rather than NBC.

Then I remembered that Gail Collins had indicated last week in her column, “My Boyfriend’s Back,” that a reconciliation was imminent, and she wisely warned other young women, “Don’t have unprotected sex with your boyfriends, girls. Look what he might turn into,” i. e. someone so taken with celebrity that he will do anything to make sure he remains in the spotlight. However, she never went so far as to talk engagement or impending marriage.

So, I put down my running shoes and listened instead to Matt Lauer interview the

publisher of Us Weekly, who was about to burst for joy at her magazine’s great scoop.(I must admit that the cover picture of the threesome was winsome and quite gorgeous. Tripp, where did you ever get those luminous blue eyes?). I listened while they discussed the couple’s decision to go ahead and get engaged “without her parents’ permission (!),” their decision to practice abstinence-until-marriage (!), and their plans to “see a marriage counselor once they were married (!).”

About my first exclamation mark: The couple’s proclamation that although they posed for pictures and gave the scoop to Us, they needed to ask her parents for permission to marry seems ingenious to me. In the 21st century, most young adults in America (Bristol is 19 and Levi 21) are making this critical decision on their own. Of course neither Bristol nor Levi have any visible sources of income, unless you count her speaking fees and freebies such as the Us Weekly photo shoot, so perhaps it really is essential that they get her parents’ permission before planning what will surely be one of the celebrity weddings of the year and living happily ever after.

My second exclamation mark: I just don’t know how any young person who’s had an unplanned pregnancy can pretend to be a poster child for abstinence-until-marriage. It boggles my mind; at the very least, it is silly and contorted to take this position, and it sends a totally mixed message to other teens.

I’m aware that Bristol has teamed up with The Candies Foundation and, for a rather high fee, speaks to young women around the country on the advantages of abstinence-until-marriage. Why is virginity such an important issue, particularly for young women? Most young people have sex before marriage. There is nothing shameful about this conduct, unless sex is forced or unprotected and unless a person violates a religious principle that requires one to abstain until marriage-but that is a personal matter.

I would prefer that Bristol talk about how condoms can break, how it can be difficult to negotiate with your partner to use them and how, in the heat of the moment, a lot of young people don’t use them. Points like these, I think, would really be helpful to a teen audience.

My third exclamation point: the need for an early visit to a marriage counselor reminded me of a friend who, many years ago when trying to juggle the lives of five very active children, said she needed a live-in-driver. I have always thought this was the smartest idea I’d heard to help harried young women with children keep their sanity.

When Us Weekly mentioned that Bristol and Levi were going to see a marriage counselor once they married, I wondered if marriage counselors rather than live-in-drivers are the way to go for this generation. Periodic visits to a marriage counselor are wise, but I wonder if in Bristol and Levi’s case, with so much early stress in the relationship, the visit should precede rather than follow the wedding.

When the segment was finally finished and Lauer had moved on to another topic, I picked up my cup of coffee and glanced at my local paper, The Times of Trenton, and read the headline: “In India, divorce or die.” It turned out to be a rather fascinating segue from the Bristol/Levi tale.

This story centered on a newly married young couple, Ravinder Gehlaut and Shilpa Kadiya, who are in mortal danger of being killed because of an ancient mediaeval custom requiring that members of the same clan not marry. (Clan in India is not to be confused with caste. These two are members of the same caste.)

The marriage of the young couple had been arranged quite properly by their families as required under Hindu law and took place in March. Then the older male elders of the village, frustrated and angered by rapid social change, intervened and ruled that Ravinder and Shilpa were members of the same clan, making them brother and sister to each other, although they were not related by blood. The elders said that the couple had “dishonored the village” and demanded that they divorce. Although Shilpa is pregnant, the elders insisted that she marry another man. The couple refused and after warding off the blows of an incensed mob, fled the village. They are presently hiding out among Ravinder’s extended family, but fear constantly for their safety.

No glossy magazine cover for these two. They are fleeing for their lives.

These two unions represent extremes along the bell-shaped curve of marriage. Somewhere there must be a middle, where we stop fawning over every little move that celebrities make and where we offer, through the U.N. or our foreign policies, to provide protection to young couples whose lives are endangered by ancient rituals.

My head is still spinning from all that I had to think about with Bristol and Levi and my heart still hurts from reading about the plight of the young Indian couple.

Perhaps the only and best thing I can do is to make sure my alarm is set properly tonight, so I will not oversleep again tomorrow.

The ‘Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’ Hits Close to Home

June 26, 2010

I first saw the book in my 16-year-old grandson’s hands. The cover image and colors—blazing yellow and orange with a lime green dragon—caught my attention more than the title, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. I didn’t ask my grandson about the story, but I assumed that since his mother writes young-adult fiction, it was perfectly okay for him to read.

The next time I heard about the book—the first in a trilogy by Swedish author Stieg Larsson—was when my 42-year-old son-in-law raved about the novels, adding how sad it was that Larsson had died shortly after turning in the third one, never living to see his work’s international success. I was puzzled as to why a 42- and 16-year old would be reading the same books.

I began to focus on the first book and comments from my adult friends who’d read it. Most said The Girl was “a page turner” that you couldn’t put down. Then I finally woke up and realized that it had been a New York Times bestseller for 43 weeks! Certainly, I’d been asleep at some switch.

When a friend who’d read the book told me that the movie version was playing at a local theater, I immediately made plans to see it with my husband and neighbor. As I bought the tickets, I asked the young man at the box office the movie’s rating. (Because my grandson was reading the book, I assumed it was probably PG.)

“It doesn’t have a rating, but if it did, it would probably be R,” he said.

“Oh, some sex and violence,” I replied, and went into the crowded theater.

Sex and violence indeed.

About 30 minutes into the two-plus hour film, the scenes of graphic sex and violence began. Twenty-four-year-old Lisbeth, the central character, is forced by an older man, who has newly become her “guardian” and controls her money, to perform oral sex on him in order to get the funds she needs to buy a new computer. She needs this computer, because she had been violently attacked by some young male thugs in a subway tunnel who smashed her laptop. The computer is the most important object in her life, because she’s a brilliant hacker and techie.

After she is coerced into oral sex with her guardian, he writes her a check for a sum far less than what she needs to buy a new laptop. We view her washing the semen out of her mouth.

The young woman—who we later discover is the girl with a dragon tattoo down her entire back—is forced to have more sex in order to get the balance of the money. She goes to her guardian’s apartment, where he throws her on the bed, manacles her hands, gags her with duct tape, and proceeds to perform what looked to me like both vaginal and anal sex on her nude body. We see her afterward, barely able to walk to her own apartment and away from the scene of the rape.

What surprised me is the next scene of sexual violence, where Lisbeth gets revenge on her attacker. Returning to his apartment, she uses a Taser gun to stun him, removes his clothes, gags him, manacles his wrists, and inserts an object into his anus. She goes one step further by applying tattoos to his torso that read (correctly), “I am a sadistic pig, a pervert, and a rapist.”

Sex and violence are equal-opportunity employers in this film.

We learn that the film’s focus is the investigation of a series of unsolved murders of seven women who were sexually and violently tortured before their death. We also discover that Lisbeth grew up watching her father repeatedly abuse her mother.

When I asked my friend why she recommended the movie to me, she said it was because the subtext of The Girl was Larsson’s deep concern with violence toward women in Sweden.

I discovered that Larsson put a fact about violence against women in the beginning of each section of the book: “Eighteen percent of women in Sweden at one time have been threatened by a man,” “thirteen percent of the women in Sweden have been subjected to aggravated sexual assault outside of a sexual relationship,” and “ninety-two percent of women in Sweden who have been subjected to sexual assault have not reported the most recent violent incident to the police.”

As we all know, violence against women knows no boundaries. Here in the states, one in four women experience domestic violence.

After seeing the film, I asked my son whether he knew about the many scenes of violence and violent sex in the book his son was reading. He said he didn’t know about them while his son was reading the book, adding that his son had told him that he wouldn’t like the book, because “he knows how adverse I am to violence, particularly in the movies.”

However, later when recovering from a virus, he did read it in order to learn what his son had read.

My son said that he and his wife had talked independently to their son about the violent sex scenes. “I told him that the author was trying to make a strong point about how abhorrent he found sexual violence toward women to be – and that the author chose to be very graphic in making that point,” he said.

He added, “I asked [my son] a rhetorical question, ‘Did the author need to be so graphic?’

I told him ‘perhaps not, but he was the artist, the creator, the writer, not me, and he may well have felt that he needed to shock Swedes, who may have been unaware about the high incidence of sexual violence toward women in that country.’ Then together we discussed the power of fiction.”

I thought about older teens that might see an R-rated movie like The Girl without their parents. What messages about sex and violence would they came away with, if they couldn’t process what they had seen with a parent or other trusted adult? If my grandson got his hands on the book, what was stopping other 16-year-olds from doing the same?

How many teens are reading this book and seeing the movie without benefit of clarification or discussion?

I realize that many teens have seen online pornography and may be somewhat inured to scenes that seemed so shocking to me. I don’t want to discourage teens from reading books, and I don’t believe in forbidding them to read adult books with violent sex scenes.

I don’t advocate censorship. But I would urge parents to make sure they talk to their adolescents about the scenes they may be reading and viewing.

Parents and educators should talk to young people about sex and violence, which tragically often intertwine, and not shy away from the subject. They can acknowledge that violent sex exists in novels, films, and the world at large—just as evil does. But they should make clear that sex should include tenderness, love, and affection, and we can work together to lessen sexual assault here and abroad.

As I mulled over the film’s graphic content, I remembered that June 6th was the 42nd anniversary of Robert F. Kennedy’s death. A favorite quote of his came to mind: “Let us dedicate ourselves to what the Greeks wrote so many years ago: to tame the savageness of man and make gentle the life of this world.”

His wise words might form the basis of a parent-teen discussion about The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

I imagine that Stieg Larsson would have liked that take-home message.

Yeardley Love and George Huguely: A lesson in What Love Is Not

May 27, 2010

I can’t get the picture of her out of my mind. Perhaps it’s because her eyes really sparkle like stars in the pictures of her in the media. I can’t forget the lovely words friends and family have spoken about her: She was an angel; she was the kindest, sweetest person; I don’t know how we are going to live our lives without her; her death is beyond belief.

I am not the only person to feel this way: 2,000 people attended her funeral last week.

In case you didn’t hear the story, this beautiful young woman is Yeardley Love, a 22-year-old senior at the University of Virginia who played on the women’s varsity lacrosse team and was murdered last week on the eve of her graduation. Her ex-boyfriend, George Huguely — a fellow senior from Chevy Chase, Md., who played on the men’s lacrosse team — has been accused of her murder. The two were in a relationship, but had just broken up, according to what Huguely told the police when he was arrested. Now Love is dead and buried, and Huguely is in jail awaiting trial for her murder.

Love and Huguely: Even their names indicate irony. She was truly beloved by her friends, family, and fellow team members. “She exuded goodness,” Love’s prep school lacrosse team coach said. “She was a good-natured and good-hearted individual.” Huguely, whose name just looks like “huge,” weighed over 200 pounds. According to press reports, he allegedly “kicked his foot through her locked bedroom door” and “shook Love while her head repeatedly hit the wall.”

yeardleylove051110_optHuguely had previous run-ins with the law. Eighteen-months ago, he was arrested for “public swearing, intoxication, and resisting arrest” outside a fraternity house at Washington & Lee University. The arresting officer said: “He was by far the most rude, most hateful, and most combative college kid I ever dealt with.”

He threatened to “kill everyone” at the local police department.

With this story haunting me, I walked by a newly opened store in the heart of Princeton the other day that had a banner across its front door proclaiming, Lacrosse Unlimited. A large poster of a player wearing a protective face-mask that made him look like a knight in armor asked passers-by, “Are You Warrior Material?” The tragic story of a lovely young woman from Virginia has its ironies, I thought, even in New Jersey.

I’m not going to place the blame for this horrible murder completely on the sport of lacrosse, although I think competitive sports can give the young adults who play them a sense of invincibility and outsized power. I remember the trouble that members of the Duke lacrosse team got themselves into a few years ago, principally because of excess drinking. One of the press reports about Huguely said that he had been drinking the entire day leading up to the moment he allegedly smashed his way into Love’s apartment and killed her.

In the aftermath of the story, I’ve heard reports that the University of Virginia president is considering ways to prevent such tragedies from occurring on campus again by developing better communication between law enforcement officers and campus police. Had the campus police known of Huguely’s previous altercations with the law, would they have better kept an eye on him, especially if they saw him drink to excess? Knowing of his recent breakup with Love, would they have moved in to protect her? Obviously better communication between law enforcement groups is always helpful.

huguelyGEORGEmug051110_optBut does this strategy get to the heart of the matter? I’m not sure. For me, the heart of the matter is having young people on college campuses — and in high schools — learn more about healthy and unhealthy relationships. Students need to know what constitutes a good relationship and a bad one and how they — and women, in particular — can get themselves out of bad, potentially violent ones. Many of Love’s friends said that she didn’t know to whom or how to report Huguely’s abusive behavior, and they didn’t know if they should have reported it to authorities.

The University of Virginia and other universities should institute workshops for all students called “Healthy Relationships” that cover what constitutes abusive relationships and where to seek help. Speakers should be invited to campuses to discuss the relationship aspect of students’ lives, which are in every way as important as their academic subjects.

As a foundation for this series, I recommend a curriculum called Unequal Partners, developed by Peggy Brick and Bill Taverner at the Center for Family Life Education at Planned Parenthood of Greater Northern New Jersey. Says Brick: “Our Unequal Partners is full of ideas for evaluating relationships. It really gets students thinking about what they really want in a relationship, [and] when a partner’s behavior is NOT acceptable.”

Taverner said that he has used lessons from this curriculum with undergraduates at Fairleigh Dickinson University. One lesson that he used, “Warning Signals,” really caught my attention. If Love had been part of a required workshop about warning signs of violent relationships, would her life have been saved? If she had participated in a role-play on how to get out of a difficult relationship, would it have made a difference? Had she learned to whom she should have reported Huguely’s excessive drinking and flares of anger, would she still be alive?

Many New Jersey high schools wait to offer sex education classes, including those with an emphasis on relationships, in the last semester of senior year. This timing has often troubled me, because I think it reveals administrators’ and school boards’ inherent fear of offering this subject so critical to the lives of young people. It comes too late to be of good use. By waiting until the bitter end of high school, supervisors think they can fend off negative reactions from a few parents and tell them that they are simply preparing students for college.

Perhaps waiting can pay off this year, especially if Yeardley Love’s tragic story can become a teachable moment. If used properly by educators, her story can lead to rich discussions about relationships: the good ones based on love and respect; the bad ones based on verbal abuse and disrespect; and the ugly ones, where alcohol and extreme violence can lead to catastrophe. Students can talk about this abusive relationship turned tragic and learn about what love is and is not.

If educators and parents pick up on the sad, sad story of Yeardley Love and talk openly and honestly with young people about the ramifications of abusive relationships, then this lovely young woman with eyes that sparkle like stars will not have died in vain.

As for the poster in the window about “Warrior Material,” whenever I see it, it will give me chills.

The Eternal Allure of Judy Blume, a Jersey Girl

May 12, 2010

Author and literary celebrity Judy Blume will receive an honorary Doctor of Letters at the Rutgers University commencement on May 16. Blume, a New Jersey native, spent her childhood in Elizabeth making up stories inside her head, she once said.

I’m too old to have read Blume’s books growing up, but I spent last week reading through the ones that form the basis for this prestigious honor. Like a lot of people who can’t stop eating popcorn, I found it very hard to stop reaching for the next book.

I only read five of the 25 books for young people that Blume has written over the past 40 years. Reading Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret; Deenie; Double Fudge; Blubber; and Forever doesn’t exactly made me an authority on her enormous appeal — but it gave me some good ideas about why Blume has millions of fans around the globe.

Blume published her first book in 1969; one year later her first novel, Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret, was selected as one of the Notable Books of the Year by The New York Times. From that moment on, Blume published books at a prodigious rate and raked in the honors, including the American Library Association’s Margaret A. Edwards Award for Lifetime Achievement.Numbers underscore the power of her reach: More than 75 million copies of her books have sold worldwide; her work has been translated into more than 31 different languages; and thousands of readers’ letters arrive in her in-box each month. Blume has also written novels for adults, all three of which — Wifey, Summer Sisters and Smart Women — rose to the top of The New York Times’ best-seller list.

Despite all her achievements, Blume’s work has not been without controversy. She is willing to tackle tough subjects that young people find deeply interesting, including bullying, divorce, friendship, racism, religion, and sexuality. And she has drawn the ire of conservative groups, who feel she is a “moral relativist,” because she does not condemn young people’s sexual feelings and behaviors.

Naturally, I read three of her books that feature sexuality to determine if topics once considered controversial in the ’70s continue to be so today. Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret is the Bible for adolescent girls awaiting the arrival of their first period. Menstruation is the topic of the day for Margaret and her small group of friends. Each wonders if she will be the last to experience this significant milestone on the path to womanhood. Margaret is so concerned that her friends will precede her that she calls on God to help her in the race. There is nothing in this delightful story that could possibly be considered controversial, and its health information is still accurate.

Blume picks up the pace in Deenie, where she brings up masturbation. Deenie, the protagonist, is an eighth grader who has to adjust to a recent diagnosis of scoliosis. One day, she drops an anonymous question in the box of her gym teacher who reads it out loud to a circle of girls during class. “Do normal people touch their bodies before they go to sleep, and is it all right to do that?” Of course, Deenie is asking about herself.

Fortunately, Blume gives Deenie and her classmates a sensible and knowledgeable teacher who not only gives her female students the correct name for this activity, but responds, “First of all, it’s normal and harmless to masturbate. The myths some of you have heard aren’t true…. It’s very common for girls as well as boys, beginning with adolescence.”

Although talking openly about this topic may have been controversial in 1973, when the book was published, it certainly shouldn’t be now, when masturbation is more readily accepted for kids and adolescents. But the topic does often draw the lightening.

It is with Forever that Blume’s critics struck pay dirt. I suppose the words on the back jacket of the book can immediately raise hackles: “Awkward, sweet, passionate, innocent, secretive…Do you remember your first time?” That is just the beginning. The book tells the story of a high school senior’s first love and first sexual experience. Katherine’s relationship with Michael is told thoughtfully and sensitively, and their relationship grows over time until they decide they want to have sex with each other.

Forever may have been controversial in 1975, but it seems surprising that it was banned as recently as 2005 and made it onto the American Library Association’s top 100 banned books list. It seems strange to ban this little book, given the fact that kids as young as 13 and 14 are “hooking up” today without knowing each other for very long. (The average age of first intercourse in the U.S. is 16.2 years of age, and the media in our hyper-sexualized society constantly reports on the sexual misdeeds of prominent politicians and sports figures.)

Besides writing honestly about issues vital to kids, Blume’s great appeal is her intuitive understanding of young people. It’s clear that she really likes and respects them, and I’m certain that some of her readers feel that she knows them better than their own parents and teachers. Because she respects them and helps them figure out the world, they have honored her with their trust and loyalty.

Blume’s young characters are memorable, her parents are smart, capable, and loving, and her grandmothers take the cake. In years past, when I read the books to my youngest daughter, I never paid any attention to the grandmothers — but this time I read about them with great interest. Most not only adore and are adored by their grandchildren, but they are hip, funny, sharp, and often sexy. At least two of them, widows at the beginnings of the book, find new love by the books’ end. In Forever, Katherine’s grandmother — who after meeting Michael assumes her granddaughter is going to have sex-cautions her to be careful about pregnancy and disease. These grandmothers are my new role models.

Cheers, then, and lots of them, to Judy Blume for her enduring talents. She made up stories in her head and then wrote them down forever touching the lives of millions of children and young people. I know that someday my great, great, grandchildren will be enjoying her stories and that gives me a wonderful feeling of touching the future.

What Regan Hofmann Can Tell Us about HIV, AIDS … and Life

March 17, 2010

She walks into Boro Bean, a small coffeehouse in Hopewell, N.J., and you can’t decide if she’s a ray of sunshine or a beam of moonlight. She shimmers. She has long blonde hair and wears brown, high-heeled boots. Tall and model-thin, she is elegant even in torn jeans – and suddenly it seems like everyone who’s staring at her wide smile and blue eyes feels better. She is so alive.

This is Regan Hofmann, who has been living with HIV for 14 years.

Hofmann grew up in Princeton, N.J., and graduated from the private, co-ed Princeton Day School and Trinity College in Hartford, CT. Soon after, she married and moved to Atlanta, GA, with her husband, where she was hoping to find a writing job. Then the marriage failed.

After her divorce at 28, Hofmann started dating a man.

“I had sex without a condom twice,” she says.

She never imagined her boyfriend was HIV positive.

“He seemed so clean and safe. He had a nice family. He sang to me and let me drive the boat, with his arms wrapped protectively around my shoulders, when we went waterskiing,” she said.

He was the kind of man she’d bring home to her family. She didn’t know that he had a sore on his leg that would not heal. He did not know the implications of his sore.

But Hofmann knew that shortly after unprotected sex – when she and her boyfriend were in the process of breaking up – she had a swollen lymph node in her upper leg. She went to the doctor, who gave her an HIV test.

He gave her the results with these words: “I don’t know how to tell you this, so I am just going to tell you. Your blood work shows that you are HIV-positive. I am so sorry.”

Back then, Hofmann considered HIV a death sentence. But instead of “planning for my impending death and a graceful demise with a service of song, dance, drink, and celebration,” she is now “completely and thankfully healthy.”

She estimates that she has consumed over 48,000 pills over the past 14 years – mostly protease-inhibitors, which have kept the virus at bay. Today, her regime is down to three pills a day.

She has never had a negative reaction to the drugs or suffered ill effects from HIV. She sums up her good health by saying, quite calmly, “You can have a normal life with HIV.”

ReganHofmann_optHer ex-boyfriend died five years ago from complications of AIDS. Hofmann says he didn’t know he had the virus or that he was passing it along to her. She says he was not “a gift-giver” – a person who knowingly and intentionally passes along HIV.

Hofmann tells her story in an exceptionally well-written book, I Have Something to Tell You. It reads like a novel and is selling well. (”Even my plumber has read it,” she confides.)

She says that writing the book – and more importantly, telling the truth about life with HIV – was “a new beginning.” It led her to become an activist and gave her life a mission: “to tell everyone in the world willing to listen how to prevent getting HIV, how to get tested, how to get proper treatment in order to live, and how to change the insulting stigma so often associated with the disease.”

Hofmann fulfills her mission in several ways: She is editor-in-chief of POZ, a national magazine for people living with HIV and AIDS. And she recently joined the board of directors of AmfAR, The Foundation for AIDS research, by far the most important organization of its kind in the U.S.

Despite years of hard work, Hofmann worries she’s not doing enough. She’s deeply concerned about the current state of the pandemic.

“The world and America are suffering from ‘AIDS apathy,’ ” she says.

The numbers she reels off are proof that there is no reason for complacency: Every nine seconds, someone in the world is diagnosed with HIV; 33.4 million people are estimated to be living with the virus, and 25 million have died from AIDS to date. The numbers, she says, “make the HIV/AIDS pandemic far and away the worst medical catastrophe to have visited humankind since the Black Death struck Europe in the 14th century.”

Hofmann is concerned about the disease’s effect on women, particularly African-American women. AIDS is the number-one killer of women between the ages of 15 and 44 worldwide; in the U.S., 27 percent of people infected with HIV are female and disproportionately African-American (although the good news is that African-American men are more likely to get tested than other racial and ethnic groups).

“Women are not in a position of power when it comes to sex,” says Hofmann, when asked about the discrepancy in numbers. She talks of women she has seen in her travels who are caught up in the sex trade.

“They have sex to make money to buy food to feed their children. They make more money if they have sex without a condom – almost five times more than if they have sex with a man who uses one,” she says.

She sees the development and use of microbicides as one of the most promising preventive interventions to emerge over the past decade. She says they are an effective weapon against HIV/AIDS for young girls forced into early marriage in sub-Sahara Africa and other parts of the developing world. These young women are often infected by their older husbands, who have had unprotected sex with HIV-positive prostitutes.

Hofmann’s activist work has taken her as far away as Vietnam and as near as Greenwich, CT. She remembers a visit to a Greenwich middle school, when a supervisor warned her not to answer any questions about sex, and a 12-year-old male student asked her if it was safe to keep a condom in his wallet. Hoffman plowed ahead and answered him: “Just make sure that you check the expiration date on the condom and don’t use it if it has expired.” The student shot back: “Oh, I’ll get to it long before it expires.”

Hofmann is frustrated with Americans’ views about sexuality education. She quotes her mother: “Condoms are like Band-Aids and gardening gloves: they’re just a protective device.” She wishes that every parent and teacher would use this wise analogy.

She has wonderful ideas for HIV/AIDS prevention. She’d like to see HIV-prevention ads run during halftime of the 2011 Super Bowl.

“Why can’t we discuss how football and the leadership idolatry it creates be leveraged to help educate American youth about sexual health?” she asks. “Give us one cool player from each team mentioning the use of ‘safe sex,’ and maybe a cheerleader or two, and that should get the nation’s attention!”

She favors teaching young people decision-making skills in sex ed, so that in the heat of the moment, they will have the skills they need to discuss using condoms or not having sex.

“Courses have to be much more explicit than most presently are, and young people need to practice putting condoms over rubber penises in the classroom. They also need to learn to put them on in the dark,” says Hofmann.

“Sex isn’t just kissing or intercourse; it’s everything in between,” she adds.

For Regan Hofmann – whose story has given her a global vision and global work – preventing HIV is about self-esteem, human rights, and personal dignity. She will spend her life doing everything in her power to removing its stigma and stop the virus from infecting more women and men.

That is what Hofmann has to tell us.

Will we listen?

Oprah Winfrey’s Words of Wisdom about Sex

February 17, 2010

I’m grateful to Oprah Winfrey lately and here’s why: She saved me from writing another column about John Edwards by interviewing Bristol Palin about her recent vow of chastity until marriage.

I first wrote about Edwards in August 2008. Back then, he admitted to his affair with Rielle Hunter while his wife recovered from breast cancer. As is old news now, Edwards’ fathered Hunter’s baby, although at the time he denied paternity. (He also gave an improbable excuse for his behavior: that his wife’s cancer was in remission!) I used his affair as an example of how educators can use current events to discuss sex, love, relationships, contraception (or lack thereof), values, and morals as impromptu lessons, if they have the courage to depart from the prescribed curriculum.

Edwards recently finally came clean and admitted that Hunter’s child, Quinn, was his daughter. I figured that, once again, I had to write something more about his shoddy behavior, perhaps this time encouraging parents to use his sudden reversal as a way to talk about sex, and pregnancy and its lifelong consequences with their preteen and teen children. But I didn’t really want to give Edwards more attention.

Then, mercifully, along came Oprah and her interview with Bristol Palin, daughter of Sarah Palin, now a brand-new Fox News commentator. On the Oprah show, teen mom Palin—now 19 and the mother of year-old Tripp—again promised in front of millions of viewers to abstain from sex until marriage. Winfrey asked Bristol, “I am just wondering if that’s a realistic goal.”

Oprah told Bristol that she was “going to give you a chance to retract or ease that statement if you want to and not say categorically, ‘I’ll never have sex until I’m married.’ But if you want to hold to that, may the powers be with you. So, you’re going to hold to that?”

Bristol did not waver.

Oprah is on to something: Abstinence before marriage is no longer a viable option for almost everyone, if it ever has been. In the 2007 study “Trends in Premarital Sex in the United States, 1954-2003,” which appeared in Public Health Reports, Dr. Lawrence B. Finer, author and research director of the Guttmacher Institute, concluded that “premarital sex is normal behavior for the vast majority of Americans and has been for decades.”

In fact, my generation may have been the last to follow the stricture “don’t have sex until after the ceremony” along with the words “you are now man and wife.” In my era, the early 1950s, young women were supposed to be virgins on their wedding day—although there was no such prohibition for young men. Most of my friends and classmates got married immediately after graduation, and a friend once confided, “We’re getting married so we can finally have sex.” I often wondered how fulfilling many of these relationships turned out to be, as they focused so relentlessly on this one aspect of marital life.

Oprah—wise woman that she is—really pressed her point when she said to Bristol, “Why set yourself up that way? It may be ten years before you get married. Why set yourself up so that everybody you go out with, you date—the media is going to be looking at that person, trying to get that person to sell you out, to say, ‘Did you have sex or not?’ It is nobody’s business when you chose to have sex.”

Dr. Finer also showed wisdom when he wrote that because of his findings, our society should stop focusing relentlessly on preventing premarital sex and promoting chastity. Instead, we should ensure that young people like Bristol get all the information they need to protect themselves from pregnancy and disease when —not if—they have premarital sex.

I would also add that we need to discuss sexual intercourse as just one aspect of many that make up an intimate relationship, and perhaps not the overriding one. True, sexual compatibility is an important ingredient in relationship and durable marriage, but it is often learned over the course of many months and years. This is a fact that young people need to know before they rush headlong into a sexual relationship-set up as the be-all and end-all of teen relationships—after knowing someone for a scant three months.

Sex is a primal force in human relationships, but other attributes are important, too. A recent eHarmony ad talked about the importance of intelligence and values in relationships. That’s more like it, I thought. We should concentrate on these attributes and not exclusively about sexual intercourse. It was, after all, the lack of both intelligence and values that brought John Edwards’ political career to an end and untold pain to his wife, mistress, and four children.

But to get away from the singular act of sexual intercourse and focus on relationships would take a sea change of huge proportions in our society—since we all know how fixated our culture is on sex. (And I write this just as the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue hits the stands.)

As for politicians, I would like to see them relax, take a deep breath, and drop their concern about wiping out premarital sex among older teens. Rather, I would like to see them shift their thinking—and funding—from abstinence-only-until-marriage programs to comprehensive sex education, which gives young people complete information about the elements of healthy relationships plus knowledge about unhealthy relationships, sexual abuse and violence, and the latest information about pregnancy and disease prevention.

Bristol Palin was in a tight spot when Oprah interviewed her. Her mother sat right next to her, which must have been intimidating. Sarah Palin is the darling of the dwindling abstinence-only movement, and her daughter certainly couldn’t have spoken against the effort with her mom sitting cheek by jowl.

But I hope in the years to come, she will remember and take Ms. Winfrey’s wise words to heart. I wish her luck in forming her own conclusions—free from political ideology—about when and why to have sex in the future.

Perhaps we should name Oprah “Sex Educator in Chief of the U.S.,” and have her talk more about this tough topic. Perhaps she should invite Edwards on her show and try to knock some common sense into his head. But on second thought, maybe she shouldn’t, because then I would have to write another column about yet another male politician behaving badly—and I really don’t want to do that.

Taking Issue with “Sex Ed in Washington”

February 4, 2010

My phone rang more than usual yesterday, and my e-mails were filled with rallying cries. The reason? “Sex Ed in Washington,” a New York Times column by Ross Douthat.

Friends who know my history in sex education urged me to “write a letter to The New York Times,” “write an op-ed,” and “please just do something to answer him back.” In fact, one friend simply wrote, “GO GAL, GO!” (The last time I heard those words was over 12 years ago when I was at the 19-mile mark of the New York City Marathon.)

Not wanting to lose friendships, I’m taking up the challenge of refuting Douthat’s subtle attack on sex education. He pretty much damns most sex education programs currently practiced in the U.S., calls for the end to federal funding streams that support them, and suggests shifting responsibility for deciding their content to localities and states.

First, Douthat claims that while federally funded abstinence-only-until-marriage programs have not shown any positive results in reducing teen pregnancies, neither have what he calls “contraceptive-oriented programs.” Comprehensive sex ed programs teach both abstinence and contraception.

This is his “a pox on both your houses” argument. But I think it is clear that abstinence-only-until-marriage programs should bear the brunt of what is wrong with many current sexuality education programs in America.

The federal government has funded abstinence-only-until-marriage programs for almost 20 years and only awarded money to programs that adhered to a strict set of eight guidelines, one of which is to teach only the negative features about contraception.

Some 14 states—including California, New York, and New Jersey—refused to take any abstinence-only money for their public schools, because state education officials believed that these programs lack integrity and are not in young people’s best interests.

The U.S. still has the highest teen pregnancy rate of any Western industrialized nation. True, the rate has plummeted in the last decade—although rising again in the last two years—but researchers attribute the success more to comprehensive rather than abstinence-only programs and teens using contraceptives more consistently.

A half-billion dollars of taxpayer money has been spent on abstinence-only programs, and proponents have come up empty-handed when asked for research proving their programs’ effectiveness. Although comprehensive sex ed programs have never received federal funds and have had to rely on private research funding, prominent researcher Douglas Kirby, Ph.D., found that some programs that teach both abstinence and contraception are effective in reducing teen pregnancies, the number of sexual partners, and the onset of teen sex.

Douthat claims that what’s taught in the classroom takes second place to family values, culture, economics, parental examples, friends, after-school activities, and “the cross-cutting of wealth, health, and self-esteem.” He claims popular TV programs like MTV’s Teen Mom have a more profound effect on young people than what they learn in school.

This is a “throw up your hands and do nothing to improve school programs” argument. Of course young people’s sexual behavior is affected by out-of-school factors that school programs cannot totally overcome. Our kids grow up in the most sexualized society on the planet, and many adults are schizophrenic about sex. On the one hand, we use sex to sell every product in sight, and on the other hand, we refuse to give young people high-quality sex-ed programs that will help them make smart, responsible decisions. (This is not quite the case in New Jersey as in other states.)

Further, if students’ math scores are low, we don’t throw up our hands and toss the subject out of the curriculum. Instead, we convene experts to study the issue and implement their recommendations. We do our best to strengthen programs, because we understand that they’re vital to help young people succeed. Why can’t we do this for sex ed?

Douthat goes on to argue that Washington should no longer fund sex-ed programs, but if the federal government continues to do so, “the funds should be available to states and localities without any ideological strings attached.”

This is a “change the rules that we used to like” argument. Taxpayers have already spent over half a billion dollars to support failed abstinence-only-until marriage programs and not one single penny on what Douthat calls “contraceptive-oriented education” programs. Now is the time for us to look at the efficacy of a different type of program—one with proven success in reducing teen pregnancy.

President Obama’s budget and the House of Representatives’ version of the health care reform bill include funds for comprehensive sex education programs for the very first time in the nation’s history—and none for abstinence-only programs. Change is in the air, and abstinence-only folks are needy and greedy for more federal dollars.

Proponents of abstinence-only programs may be feeling bereft. I don’t blame them. Perhaps they will now experience the same feelings of exclusion that proponents of comprehensive programs have felt for years. But at the height of the abstinence-only movement, no columnist—or anyone else, if I remember correctly —suggested that Washington stop funding sex education programs, or that programs be competitive with “no ideological strings” attached.

As to Douthat’s suggestion that localities and states should make decisions about the content of sex-education programs, I don’t think this is the moment to turn all programs back to the states. Historically, local and statewide controversies have often kept young people from accessing life-saving health education.

Douthat claims that there are “competing visions of sexuality” in the U.S.: “permissive and traditional,” and that they will “probably be in conflict for generations to come.” In other words, it’s his “no common ground” argument.

Many in the media like to paint abstinence-only and comprehensive sex-ed supporters in black and white. They fan the flames of controversy by using words that Douthat uses, like “permissive” to describe those who support comprehensive sex ed programs, and “traditional” to describe those who favor abstinence-only. Guess who loses when words like “permissive” are used?

There is a sliver of common ground to stand on in this culture war. Any sex education program worth its salt should cover abstinence and provide correct information about contraception. Programs should be balanced. Abstinence, last I looked, is a very good form of protection from unplanned pregnancy and disease. It is not if you teach about it, but how you teach about it that counts. Scare tactics don’t work, but intelligent strategies do.

Unlike Douthat, I do not believe the sex-ed battles will continue forever. I am frankly tired of them and ready to extend an olive branch to abstinence-only supporters in the spirit of conciliation that President Obama urges us to foster. Perhaps together we can develop new programs that use sound research and will put the health and well being of our children and adolescents first. For starters, we should ask kids themselves what they want to learn about and when, since they often report that their sex ed programs are “too little, too late.”

No, Douthat’s column has not changed my mind about the importance of sex ed and what’s needed in the future. Thanks to my friends for urging me to write a rebuttal.

Celebrating the Birthday of a Sex Ed Heroine

January 15, 2010

Susie N. WilsonHappy Birthday, Susie!

Things were a little different in 1930. The US had 48 states, and a population of nearly 123,000,000. Milk cost 14 cents per quart, and bread, nine cents a loaf. But, to be honest, times were pretty hard then.

President Herbert Hoover was facing a national debt of $16 billion and skyrocketing unemployment as the Great Depression intensified. For those who were fortunate enough even to have a job, the average annual salary was $1,368.

In one very special way, however, 1930 was a pretty wonderful year. For on January 17th, 1930, a sex ed heroine was born: Susan Neuberger Wilson. We at Answer would like to celebrate our dear friend by commandeering her blog today and sharing a bit about her amazing history and accomplishments with you.

Susie was raised in New York City, attended the Brearley School and then Vassar. She worked after college as an education reporter for Life magazine in New York where she met foreign correspondent, Donald Wilson, whom she later married.

Susie and Don moved to Washington, where he became President John F. Kennedy’s deputy press secretary and later the deputy director of the US Information Service. Susie’s close relationship with Robert and Ethel Kennedy had a significant impact on her, especially a trip she took with them in 1962 to some of the poorest parts of Asia. Susie returned fired up about taking action, and began tutoring lower-income children in Washington. She earned a master’s degree in early childhood education, and was instrumental in helping to start the first school for White House children.

Over 40 years ago, she and Don moved to Princeton, and Susie, a mother of three, remained active in childhood education. But 1978 became another significant milestone for her, when she was appointed to the New Jersey State Board of Education. Susie famously asked the commissioner of health at the time at what age he thought children needed to know how their bodies work. When he could not provide her with an answer, a sex ed force to be reckoned with was born.

Susie’s fight for age-appropriate, medically-accurate sexuality education in public schools opened her to vitriolic criticism from opponents to comprehensive sexuality education. Unfazed and determined, Susie continued the fight—and New Jersey is now a model state in the provision of comprehensive sexuality education in the United States. Susie devoted 23 years to the Network for Family Life Education, now Answer, as the executive coordinator, and remains extremely involved as our most trusted advisor. Susie’s passion extends far beyond sexuality education to women’s health and rights, and she continues to lobby legislators actively at the local, state and federal levels for their support. A brilliant, compelling writer, Susie’s blogs, Sex Ed Honestly and Sex Matters, never cease to make us think or challenge us to be better people.

Beyond her vastly impressive resume, Susie is also someone to be appreciated quite simply for who she is. Spending time with her is like enjoying a seven-course meal—each moment is to be appreciated slowly, has many layers to it and leaves one feeling sated for the time being but wanting more. Chances are Susie will begin her 80th birthday as she does every other morning—by running six miles. My hope is that she will take some time out during this special day to reflect on the wide-reaching impact she has had on sexuality education and women’s rights for more people than I think she can even begin to imagine—just as I know that, rather than rest on her laurels, she has already begun her “to do” list for all the work she intends to accomplish in the decade to come!

Happy birthday, dearest Susie, with deepest gratitude from us all!

If you would like to leave Susie a birthday greeting, simply click here to register as a member of the Answer Web site and leave your comments.

Tiger Woods’ Holiday Gift to Parents: Making It Easier to Talk About Sex

December 30, 2009

Dear Parents:

I don’t believe that you can find any more excuses to not talk about sex with your preteen and teenage children. Tiger Woods—by committing serial infidelity and having his appalling sexual behavior splashed all over the media—has handed you the perfect opportunity to talk about sex with your children, draw lessons, and offer your opinions and values about the scandal.

This opportunity is almost too good to be true. Who would have thought that Tiger—the seemingly perfect American Idol and man of impeccable morals—would help parents break the ice about sex, a topic they often avoid. Well, Tiger’s transgressions have given you a great chance to finally have “the Big Talk,” and also talk with your children about what constitutes really bad behavior by a husband and father.

I know that many fathers—and mothers to a lesser degree—may have knees of jelly and suffer from mouth-stuck-to-the-palate syndrome when they know that the subject is sex. But this conversation does not have to be about the S word. It should primarily be about the V word: Values. This may make it an easier conversation than you think, but talking about values with your children also requires courage.

I learned the importance of the V word in conversations about sexuality from Richard Cross, a wonderful medical doctor, professor, and sex educator who lived in Princeton until his death some years ago. Dick, who specialized in community medicine, had a distinguished career as a professor at the UMDNJ-Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in New Brunswick. He believed that all conversations about sex should include discussions about personal and societal values and not only focus on the clinical aspects of sex.

One of Dick’s claims to fame was the development of the first-ever sex education course for medical students and other health professionals offered as part of a medical school curriculum. Still called Sex Week at UMDNJ in New Brunswick, it remains an annual 40-hour course to “prepare students—regardless of their planned specialty—to deal with patients’ sexual concerns and…how to take a patient’s sexual history.” During Sex Week, students met in small groups and spent a lot of time discussing their values about the topic.

Dick would probably smile to know that I am pairing him with Tiger Woods since, to the best of my knowledge, I never saw him with a golf club in his hand. But I think he would endorse the idea that the golfer’s sudden free-fall from grace offers a great moment to discuss such values as honesty, respect, faithfulness, loyalty, trust, and love.

I believe Dick would want to tell you, as parents, to be completely honest and tell your children the truth about Tiger Woods’ behavior: Tiger Woods—a married man and the father of two young children—had a series of sexual affairs with a surprisingly large number of single women almost from the beginning of his marriage. Of course, Dick would say that parents should be prepared to answer their children’s specific questions, including “what is sexual intercourse?” and “what is an affair?”

Dick would also recommend that you say how you feel about Tiger’s infidelity and dishonesty. This requires getting your own values straight about sexual behavior within and outside of marriage. Here’s a father-and-son scenario that helps make my points:

Son (who is around 10 to 12 years old): Dad, what’s a cheetah?

Father: A cheetah is a wild animal, like a leopard or tiger. Why do you ask?

Son: Well, some guys at school were talking about a newspaper headline that said, “Tiger is a Cheetah.” I think the Tiger they meant is Tiger Woods.

Father: Yes, the use of the word “cheetah” is a play on words; what they mean is that Tiger is a “cheater.” It is spelled differently.

Son: So, Tiger Woods is a “cheater” the way someone who plays football or any sport can cheat during a game? How did he cheat at golf?

Father: Tiger Woods didn’t cheat at golf. He cheated on his wife, Elin, by having affairs with other women while he and Elin were married.

Son: What does “having affairs” mean?

Father: In Tiger Woods’ situation, having affairs means that he was having sex with women other than his wife. We call this “extra-marital” sex, or sex outside of marriage. When Tiger got married, he most likely took a vow to remain faithful to his wife, which meant that he promised not to have sexual intercourse with any other woman. He was unfaithful to her.

Son: When you married Mom, did you take the same kind of vow?

Father: Yes, I did. Your mom took the same vow saying that she was going to remain sexually faithful to me during our marriage, and I vowed to remain sexually faithful to her. Most of your friends’ parents took the same vows when they got married. Sadly, some adults do not remain faithful to their partners, despite the words that they say to each other. Tiger is definitely one of these people.

Son: How do you feel about Tiger Woods now, since he had affairs with other women?

Father: I still admire his prowess at golf. He is and probably may always be the best golfer in history. But I do not approve of his behavior at all and am disappointed by his lack of honesty and fidelity to his wife and his lack of respect for his little children and his marriage vows. Since I believe that a person’s character and values are as important as his or her accomplishments in life, I shall never have the same respect for Tiger Woods I once had. He is no longer a hero to me.

Son: I think I’ve got it straight. Thanks, Dad.

Father: We’ll talk more over the coming years about values, like honesty, respect, caring, love, and responsibility. But it makes me feel good to know that you can ask me tough questions about subjects like sex. Anytime you have another question, I will do my best to answer it.

Ideally, Dads and Moms should bring up Tiger Woods before their kids do. His story cannot be avoided: it’s on the cover of every magazine, and he’s the endless subject for commentators on cable news networks, late-night talk shows, and the Internet. Your kids must be itching to talk about Tiger, and have their questions answered and confusion wiped away.

I don’t think that Tiger’s behavior, reprehensible as it is, should be the only aspect of the scandal in family discussions. The women who had sex with Tiger were not, by and large, innocent bystanders. They were part of the problem, and they caused pain and suffering by their willingness to have affairs with Woods.

They strike me as women who hunger for celebrity and money. Some were naive to think that Tiger might leave his wife and small children for them, and some fancied he was in love with them, even though he was recently married. I found their stories and denials on the talk shows disheartening, even pathetic. They had so little self-esteem. Why, I wondered, couldn’t one of them have said no to Tiger and sent him packing? If you have teen daughters, you need to talk about why these women were so needy and willing to do whatever Tiger asked.

The Tiger Woods story is the surprising holiday gift of the year. It can help us all think more deeply about our values and sexual behavior. Perhaps if Tiger had had the chance to talk and think deeply about sex and values earlier in his life, things might have gone differently for him.

Best wishes, parents, and let me know how your discussions go. Happy new year, too.