Before I had kids I occasionally imagined myself having talks with my future daughter about sex. I would be honest and wise with just the right amount of tactful candor. Her teenage self would let me lie on her bed and we’d share our thoughts. She’d be interested in my life experiences and I’d be the one she’d come to if she had any questions or needed help. In two words: Totally Unrealistic.
Then I had two boys and quickly realized I didn’t have any interest in talking to them about sex. I know someone has to do it and maybe it will be me, but shouldn’t a boy talk to his father about such matters? I know my husband doesn’t relish the idea. I think his pre-kid fantasies, if there were any, consisted of long family backpacking trips in which no one complained. Also falling into the category of Totally Unrealistic.
I started thinking about this sex-talk business over the weekend when I read this blog post at Feminste about the federal government’s Web site, 4parents.gov. It’s designed to give parents advice on how to talk to teens about sex, or rather, about not having sex. The site has people in a lather and not the good kind.
Here’s the story. In 2005, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services created the site for parents on the topic of sexual abstinence before marriage. Mind you, HHS is the nation’s principal agency for protecting the health of all Americans. It is home to the Food and Drug Administration, the National Institutes of Health, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
So it’s not surprising that feathers got ruffled when this supposedly science-based institution came out with a bunch of faith-based bologna. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, nearly 150 advocacy groups including the ACLU, Human Rights Campaign, and Planned Parenthood, argued in a letter to HHS that the site provides biased and inaccurate information to parents and does not emphasize the need for contraception if a teenager becomes sexually active.
In June, after reviewing all of the comments, HHS put up a revised version of the site which isn’t much better. Last week, Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, said the site “continues a pattern by the Bush administration of manipulating science in order to spread anti-choice propaganda.”
Manipulating, ignoring, and twisting science has been a hallmark of this administration. Dr. Richard Carmona, who served as surgeon general from 2002 to 2006, told a House committee last week, “Anything that doesn’t fit into the political appointees’ ideological, theological or political agenda is ignored, marginalized or simply buried.”
Take for example, this multi-year study that found abstinence education does not work. The results were released in April, two months before the new-and-improved 4parents.gov, told us to tell our kids every which way to Sunday to wait until marriage to have sex. Why should they wait? Those who do get more happiness, more money, and more sex, the site says. Now who’s being Totally Unrealistic?
I hope that when it comes time for my husband and I to talk about sex with our kids, we can find our way back to the reality-based community, for their sake and ours.
UPDATE: For more on the topic of today’s teens and their sex lives (the news is good) read this.