Kids Shouldn't Be Learning About Sex from TV
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The New York streets are filled with posters advertising the return of the hit TV show Gossip Girl : photogenic teens embrace beneath a quote proclaiming that the show is "Every parent's nightmare." While Gossip Girl may be filled with the endless sexual encounters of high school students, the fictionalized private school is not this parent's September nightmare. My real-life nightmare is that kids are once again beginning a school year that will most likely not provide them with comprehensive sex education, leaving them at the mercy of shows such as Gossip Girl and the revamped 90210.
Unfortunately teen melodrama hardly pretends to provide the important information young people need to keep themselves healthy and safe. Rarely is there discussion of sexually transmitted infections (STIs), birth control methods, relationship negotiation, parent-child communication or abstinence -- all of the components included in the medically accurate, age appropriate sex education program our students so desperately need.
In a state that ranks among the highest in the nation in both teenage pregnancy and STI rate, it is a travesty that our schools do not provide this critical information. Did you know that one in four teen girls has an STI? Or that more teens are having sex while fewer of them are using condoms?
We know that real sex ed works: students who complete comprehensive sex ed programs delay sexual activity, have fewer partners and are more likely to use condoms when they decide to become sexually active. It is patently irresponsible to look at information that tells us that over 6 in 10 New York teens have sex before graduating high school (and over one in ten has sex before the age of 15!) and yet deny them the information they need to keep themselves healthy and safe. But the fact is that -- lacking a statewide program, a mandate or funding -- the decision whether or not to teach sex ed currently depends upon the resources, will and comfort level of individual principals or school boards. This haphazard approach means that a student in one school may be receiving full comprehensive sex education, while a student up the street may simply be told to "just say no."
Ironically, many people view New York as being the pinnacle of reproductive health care but the reality is that we lag behind other cities and states when it comes to sex education. The Democrat-led New York State Assembly has tried to help rectify the situation. For the past four years, the Assembly has passed the Healthy Teens Act (a bill that would set up a funding stream to help schools provide comprehensive sex education) with bipartisan support. Unfortunately, the Republican-led New York State Senate has repeatedly failed to act upon this bill, completely abandoning the students who entered our high schools as freshmen and then graduated without ever having received sex ed.
On the bright side, New York did refuse federal abstinence only dollars and that money was re-routed toward pregnancy prevention programs. While a positive first step, that was not nearly enough. All students deserve accurate information; it is incumbent upon state leaders and urban city officials to act swiftly to ensure they receive it. In two months, New Yorkers will have the opportunity to vote for elected officials who will make sex education and reproductive health a priority; it is high time that we send a message to our elected officials that they need to stop stalling and move quickly to ensure that every student gets sex ed every grade, every year.
Because while I'm sure that primetime TV is, for many, simply escapist entertainment, it is not where we want young people learning their facts of life.
Kelli Conlin is the President of NARAL Pro-Choice New York.