Monday, December 24, 2007

Let's talk about sex

A study released Wednesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed that sex education in schools delays sexual behavior among teenagers. The study surveyed more than 2,000 students between the ages of 15 and 19, and found that girls who received formal sex education were 59 percent less likely to have sex before the age of 15, and boys were 71 percent less likely to have sex before age 15.

The education came from schools, clinics, churches or community organizations. The study also found that formal sex education also leads to safer sex. (Males were three times more likely to use birth control for their first sexual encounter.)

I’ve always been supportive of sex ed in schools, believing that having open communication promotes healthier behaviors among teenagers. Other recent studies on sex ed show that teaching teens to make responsible decisions could reduce the more than 750,000 teen pregnancies and the more than 9 million cases of STDs that occur yearly among Americans aged 15 to 24.

When I was teaching in China, we weren’t allowed to talk about certain subjects in class. Although nothing was ever written in paper, it was understood that Mao, religion and sex were taboo.

Here was my dilemma. My core group of students was between the ages of 15 and 16 year old. It was inevitable that the topic of sex and relationships would come up in class. Many of them saw me as a “big sister” instead of a teacher, and knew that perhaps this American girl would shed some light on teenage love and angst. I think some of the teachers forgot that these were teenagers living not quite in the age of innocence, but rather in the age of discovery.

My friend who taught older students knew his students wanted also to talk about sex and relationships. Both of us knew it was important to acknowledge the topic, but we also didn’t want to disrespect the school and the school’s values and ethics. We mulled over this topic for months. I had my students keep a journal, and over the course of the semester, I found that a good number of students began hinting about relationships, talking about “true loves” and “showing love to each other.” Again, I had a difficult time with this because I wanted to respect the school; I reminded myself that I was a guest, a foreigner, a teacher hired to teach grammar and the English language. But I also knew that I needed to step aside and look at the students as any other teenager. Teenage pregnancies, illegal abortions and STDs exist in China, and although the government may not admit to it, the rates are high among teenage girls.

My friend and I grappled with this throughout the semester, and finally when we were finishing the term, we decided to hold open lectures and invited students to ask us anything. We were careful not to overstep boundaries, but we were candid and honest. Sex ed isn’t about teaching kids how to be better lovers or having them memorize the content of Cosmopolitan’s “Hot Sex Issue,” it’s about teaching kids how to better love themselves and their bodies and to respect their themselves and every bodies.

1 comment:

zhx said...

I'm not so sure much of this sex education was coming from "churches", as the study claims, since churches tend to promote abstinence over safe sex, which of course leads to a whole lot of unsafe sex.

Sex education is invaluable. Had no idea that was an issue in China...