If you frequent this blog, you learned last week that my kids have learned to call it like it is when it comes to their own bodies. They are, so to speak, well informed. If you haven’t been reading, then read this to learn about teaching 4 year olds what a vagina is.
I had lunch with a friend this week who has teenage boys. Terrifying to say the least. She and her husband set high expectations for her sons. And they talk to them about all the hard things in life. I love it. She would tell you she is from another planet…I would tell you that we should all move there. Because, well, our kids will be well-informed or misinformed. But don’t be fooled into thinking they won’t be informed.
I am going to make an argument here that the church and its people should be responsible for teaching our children about sex. And I’m not talking about the usual “don’t do it” speech. I’m talking about the real deal truth. What it is, why people do it, what happens when you do it. (And yes, all those “do it” puns are intended). When we fail to do so, I believe we, the church at large, must think of ourselves as responsible for the consequences. For too long we have sat silently in judgment of pregnant teenagers assuming it will never happen to one of our great kids. Well folks, I’ve got news for you. Right here in what my preacher friends call the belt buckle of the Bible belt…we have a problem.
In my state, Oklahoma, the teen birth rate is 42.9 per 1,000. Compare that to the United States as a whole with a teen birth rate of 26.1 per 1,000 young women. (Note that despite a decline in teen pregnancy in the last decade, our nation still ranks among the worst of all developed countries). In fact, there is ONLY ONE STATE that has a higher teen pregnancy rate than us. As a gynecologist, this is kind of embarrassing. And that’s not all we excel at. Our state provides, on average, about half of the sexual education services to teenagers when compared to the US as a whole. Not surprisingly, we rank in the top 15 when it comes to gonorrhea and chlamydia infections. As in, more than a bunch of other states. Not just alarming, but gross.
So, as they say, what then must we do?
First, we must love our kids. No matter what. We must make sure they know how much they are valued. We have to be honest with them in order for them to be honest with us. The Pastor and I assume everyone is having sex. And drinking and doing drugs. We live in worst case scenario world…which allows for a lot of pleasant surprises. One of my favorite friends had everyone write advice to her son as he went off to college. Among the lessons I learned mostly through trial and error, I added one line that I’m glad I didn’t have to learn the hard way. “Don’t get anyone pregnant.” And when I see him around we exchange high-fives and am assured that he knows the Pastor and I will be there for any problem he faces. With open arms. My college girls I breakfast with know my sage wisdom of “getting married or having a baby never fixed anything.” I try to remind them often how much they are loved and to call when they are in trouble. I will pray for my own kids as much as these and I hope they will come to me with honesty about their lives. And if not me, maybe one of you who they will listen to or call when they are in trouble.
Second, we have to tell them the truth. They will learn about sex. Most of them will not abstain just because you tell them not to do it. My best analogy for this is cupcakes. Kids know cupcakes are good. You can’t hide it from them. You can tell them cupcakes are terrible but they know. The same can be said for sex. We harm our young people when we tell them sex is bad and not to engage. And they don’t buy it. Sex is cupcakes, not cauliflower (sorry for all you cauliflower lovers out there). Instead, our kids should know that engaging in intimate sexual behavior has consequences…both good and bad. They should be informed about the risks of pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections with long term health and reproductive consequences, the stigma and health consequences of genital herpes and warts, and both the joy and the heartbreak of shared intimacy. They should know about and have access to contraception because kids who make a choice I wouldn’t make for them deserve the same opportunities as everyone else.
Last, we must be well-informed adults. Tonight the fourth grader was telling the preschooler about snap chat. Thankfully the Pastor knows about snap because this mom is clueless. As parents we have to be educated. Not just on the latest social media craze, but also on what we really mean when we talk about sex and our kids health. We can’t buy into the prevalent idea that we can pronounce ourselves pro-life and against all things immoral and then not have the guts to stand up and care for the pregnant teen who shows up at our church. You can’t ignore the black girls at your after school program who desperately need to know they are loved and valued. Instead we need to understand, as best we can, the full depth and breadth of reproductive rights. We need to adhere to our call to care for the orphans in our midst left from unintended pregnancies. You see, the government will not stop abortion. New or different laws won’t lower the teen pregnancy rate or decrease sexual assault on our college campuses or even create a culture that values its women as equal to its men.
This is our calling. To love and educate our children, to care for our community, to be well-informed adults who can lead the generation behind us into a safer, healthier and more whole future. And to have kids that will not be afraid of delicious cupcakes.