Little Bristol Palin weighed in on none other than Fox News recently to proclaim that abstinence-only is best but it is “not realistic.” Translated: “I’m 18 and a mom and hormones got the best of me and golly, maybe I should have known more about birth control.”
I happen to believe we can control our animal appetites and teens are not destined to be rutting maniacs. But I also am cognizant enough to know that humans are struggling, imperfect creatures. To paraphrase St. Paul, we have the best of intentions but still find ourselves doing things we wish we did not do.
But the abstinence-only vs. birth control-only argument is simply wrongheaded. We need both abstinence education AND birth control education. Yes, giving condoms to randy 15-year-olds without the strong message to keep their hands to themselves and their pants on is tantamount to handing a loaded gun to someone with suicidal ideation. But lecturing a randy 15-year-old not to have sex without adding, “But if you want to be an idiot and take the huge risks involved, you better protect yourself” and then teaching him how to do so is like driving him to Baby’s R Us and saying, “Have at it.”
Either-or approaches don’t work simply because we’re dealing with TEENAGERS. These are kids who don’t even remember to bring their lunches to school half the time, people. They are full of impulse and short on brains. That’s why they need “abstinence-plus” talks early and often.
The facts are these: Children should not be having children and that means, frankly, they shouldn’t be having sex. More facts: Children born outside of marriage fair more poorly on every single measure of “success” pollsters measure in this country. Even more facts: Young unmarried people (not just teens, either, but those 20-somethings as well, who have relationships without having sex are less stressed out and more secure in the relationship than those who let sex cloud the committment picture. How could that not be true – there’s no worry about pregancy, STDS, cheating, etc..
All that said, as Bristol Palin demonstrates, we’re talking about impulsive little imps in Sex in the City culture, which means upwards of 50 percent of these hormone-ravaged teens WILL have sex by the time they are 17. (And, if you’re poor, the percentage is higher at much younger ages, not surprising since poorer children have less parental supervision and lonliness can lead to sex. Ergo, grownups need to have intimate, serious conversations about the most intimate, serious act humans engage in. Preferably this talk comes from parents, but if it must be left to schools, we have to get past the condoms-on-bananas approach offered in 8th grade and fear not the giving of morality lectures.
So, how about this (and remember, teens are like dogs – they need lots of repetition): “Look, kiddo, your whole life is ahead of you. You have prom, graduation, college, scholarships, a winning career, travel to a foreign land and lots of fun to have. If you have sex before you’re ready to settle down with a baby, you risk losing all of that. This is because, even with birth control, you run the risk of getting pregnant because you’re young and no matter how many times the sex ed teacher tells you the correct way to put on a condom, chances are, you’ll forget in the heat of the moment. And even if you don’t forget, accidents happen. If you wait until your mind is as ready as your body, you’ll have a much better chance of surviving intact emotionally, physically and financially. If you don’t wait, you need to recognize you could wind up pregnant – or make someone pregnant – and that event will change your life forever. This will be even more true if you catch an STD, the gift that often keeps on giving long after you wish it would. So, knowing these risks, when you get into the position where your hormones are running wild, you need to ask yourself some questions: ‘Am I ready to be a parent? Is the person with me ready to be a parent? Do I really want to give up my guys’ night (girls’ night) for diapers, screaming babies and a life where Hamburger Helper is the best I ever get? If the answer to any of those is no, just say no.”
Will some teenagers still screw up? No doubt. But will more think about it before they do or even possibly NOT screw up? Absolutely.