By Amy Johnson, Sex in the Suburbs
Last spring, I was asked to speak to a reporter from National Public Radio about faith communities that offer sexuality education to youth.
Rachel Martin and I had a long conversation, culminating in her request to come visit our sexuality education class. After checking with the youth in the class, their parents and the church council, we agreed (you can listen to the story on Morning Edition at www.diligentjoy.com).
The curriculum lesson for that day happened to include a Jeopardy-like STD game (“I’ll take Risky Behaviors for $500, Alex”) and a condom obstacle course.
Ms. Martin was impressed with the class’s thorough knowledge of STDs. Next, we moved on to condoms.
This is where sexuality education curricula diverge in theory and practice.
Groups who receive federal funds for abstinence-only education often interpret the guidelines to mean they cannot discuss contraception in their programs other than to discuss their failure rates.
While our program (Our Whole Lives/Sexuality and Our Faith) advocates abstinence for adolescents and teaches that abstinence is the only 100 percent effective way to avoid pregnancy and STDs, we also give information about contraception and barrier methods.
We care too much about our youth to not give them the information they need to be safe when they do decide to engage in sexual activity.
The condom obstacle course is used to dispel common myths that lead to not using condoms. The youth did activities to test the strength and flexibility of condoms, as well as checking for expiration dates and learning the correct way to use one.
Contrary to myths that these activities “give youth ideas about having sex,” the research is clear that this is not so.
In addition, the feedback we receive most often is deep gratitude for a safe place to ask questions and get real answers, along with the realization that these are huge decisions for them to make.
Some have already planned to wait until marriage to have intercourse, and find the information they learn helpful in standing by their decisions (if you listen to the NPR story, you will hear one of our students interviewed who says just that).
When people disagree with our teaching youth how to use condoms, I think about the scene in the film “Knocked Up,” involving a miscommunication about a condom between adults, which resulted in an unwanted pregnancy.
Or the scene in “Saved” where a couple erroneously thinks they can’t get pregnant the first time. Or Tom Hanks’ incredible performance in “Philadelphia.”
I think about the young people who did not have the benefit of this type of education and have come to me for guidance and resources after becoming pregnant, or whose parents have died from AIDS.
To me, sexuality education is a sacred and moral issue — giving young people all the information they need to make thoughtful decisions and to stay safe. I hope you’ll join me.
Amy Johnson, MSW, is a professional life and parent coach in Federal Way. She facilitates faith and sexuality classes for youth, and parenting classes in the area. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.