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Teenagers need to talk about sex with trusted adults: will it be you?

The heart behind Intimate Truths is encouraging conversations about anything surrounding sex and sexuality. I feel especially burdened when I come across things in our society – like lowering the age on the morning after pill – that lessen this imperative to a something like a website’s FAQ page. The post below is to remind all of us the importance of communication when it comes to sexual choices, to pray for women of all ages (and backgrounds) who are in the midst of making choices that will affect the rest of their lives, and to encourage you to create a dialogue with teenage girls in your life about intimate truths.

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Matt Walsh’s recent post about not teaching his kids about safe sex brought to mind an article that was published in our local paper last year. Washington Post columnist Kathleen Parker’s Prude or prudent? The debate over access to Plan B ran under the headline Plan B is for women, not young girls. As a public high school health educator [granted, I’m on not teaching right now, but I still care deeply about it!], I am keenly interested in debates like those surrounding age limits on Plan B aka the “morning after pill.”

While I’m not getting into the debate about whether or not it should be available to girls as young as 15 (which it is now legal according to this article), I do want to address something that Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of pro-life political action group the Susan B. Anthony Lise, verbalizes quite eloquently:

“The FDA is recklessly positioning itself as a parent to our children,” Marjorie Dannenfelser, the group’s president, said in a statement. “Fifteen year old girls need the protection that comes with the involvement of real parents and doctors in their lives.” [emphasis added]

Ms. Parker, the Washington Post columnist, gets at this near the end of her column by asking a very important question:

What does it say about our culture that we discourage family communication about something as important as sex?

One of the most important parts of my [public high school] health class was encouraging my students to talk about sex with a trusted family member or adult family friend. Not to divulge everything they’ve ever done, what they want to do, etc but to gain a more well-rounded perspective on all of the ins and outs – physically, emotionally, mentally, relationally, spiritually – of sexual activity. When I read that they’re lowering the age for getting Plan B without a prescription and without parental consent, it breaks my heart because we are essentially removing any encouragement for kids, yes, KIDS, to talk to their elders about sex.

I am a scientist by training. So why am I not advocating for Planned Parenthood’s Cecile Richards’ viewpoint, insisting that since the pill has been deemed safe, age barriers should be dropped? In my 5 years as a sexual health educator for Seattle Public Schools, if I learned one thing it was this: quality sexual interactions, regardless of your thoughts about age, relationship stability, etc for those involved, come down to communication. By having Plan B available to GIRLS as young as 15, we remove the need for conversation and let them make decisions all on their own. The more liberal reader might counter me by pointing out that they will probably talk to their sexual partner about it. I’m guessing not, however, if one of the tabs on the FAQ page on Plan B’s website is, “How can I talk to my partner about taking Plan B One-Step®?” Usually if there’s a how-to, it’s a difficult task or it’s not happening.

Here’s the deal: we need to encourage conversations about sex with the teenagers of our society. Whether you have a teenager or not, this is vitally important to actually teaching kids something rather than scaring them into not doing something. I know not all health teachers address sex ed like I do/did but the most important thing I wanted kids to leave my class with was an emphasis on communication with their partner. I don’t get to speak to where they’re at in life…but whether straight, gay, lesbian, atheist, Muslim, Christian, boy, girl, trans, sexual active, wanting to be sexually active, wanting to wait for marriage, or wanting to wait for a steady partner, they left my class armed with information and practice in communicating with something as intimate as sex. Did I scare them into not having sex? No. That’s not my place (though we did play STD [political correction] STI Jeopardy and I did show them graphic images of body parts ravaged by unchecked infections). My job is/was to prepare them for making their own decisions while emphasizing that sexual contact OF ANY KIND has incredible consequences physically, emotionally, mentally, relationally, and spiritually.

Which brings me to a similar question to that posed above: How can we encourage positive and fruitful conversations about sex with those younger than us? We need to encourage them to talk to a trusted adult about intimacy but go beyond, “Sex is great but wait for marriage.”

Let’s get back around what got me started on all this: Matt Walsh‘s comments on “safe” sex. With something like Plan B legally available as a get-out-of-jail-free card, we allow sex to be deemed “safe” outside of a committed [hopefully marital] relationship. This couldn’t be farther from the truth, something Mr. Walsh eloquently addresses:

Sex…is supposed to be an act of great depth and consequence. Sex is meant to be open and exposed. It’s meant to bring out scary and mysterious feelings of desire and devotion…We have taken the honesty, love, passion, beauty, and creative power out of the act, and replaced it with something sterile, guarded, frivolous, and disinterested.

Intimate Truths is a place to foster conversations about all things intimate. How have you used/how can you use what you learn here to reach others, particularly those younger than you?