Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Safe Sex? Not So Much...

Sex education is important. Where that education comes from, and what it consists of is subject to debate.

My senior year of high school we had a sex ed section in health class. Obviously, that was a little late for many teenagers. I will never forget the girl who raised her hand to share a very important lesson with the class. The year previous she had been pregnant, and was now struggling to raise a baby and finish high school. Her lesson was, "If your boyfriend tells you he's sterile, don't believe him." Here, obviously, was a girl in need of education.

Unfortunately, the education she would be given in school and, frankly, by many parents would be almost as foolhardy as believing your boyfriend is sterile.

I give you the fallacy of "safe sex":
"Condoms are often seen as something that will protect you from nearly everything sex related...pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). But condoms simply "reduce the risk" - they don't eliminate all risk. They will, for instance offer good protection against both pregnancy and many STDs, but not 100%. If you fall into the approximately 5% for whom condom use still results in pregnancy, you are 100% pregnant - or maybe infected. So, depending on your situation in life and what you may have to lose if you get pregnant, perhaps a backup method of birth control would be a good idea. Talk to your Doc! And it's also important to know that condoms do not prevent all STDs. Either because they simply don't cover the area that may be affected by some STDs, or because the condoms slips, breaks or is incorrectly used. It's about reducing the risk, not completely eliminating risk."
Simply handing out condoms and preaching safe sex is a harmful lie we tell ourselves and our children. While the average condom failure rate is about 5% (which is huge), that number increases a lot with inexperienced users. In 2005 the Guttmacher Institute released a study which showed that failure rates decreased with experience, going from in some cases 11% to less than 1%. So the target group of sex education -teenagers- are also the group most likely to not use condoms correctly, thereby negating most of their effectiveness. Also of note is that the Guttmacher study was conducted on 18-35 year olds, and not teens, meaning those failure rates were among older, more experienced test subjects. Additionally, those in the study were given intense education and training on condom use, and yet still had high failure rates. So again, preaching condom use as "safe sex" for teens is incredibly misleading.

Also important is the fact that STDs aren't passed solely by the fluids that condoms capture. They also spread by skin-to-skin contact, meaning despite using a condom, and using it correctly, you can still contract diseases like herpes, genital warts, and syphilis.

Additionally, and though the risk is low, the CDC recommends against even kissing someone known to be HIV positive because you can contract AIDS through french kissing. Also, Planned Parenthood's teenwire website tells teens that kissing can pass CMV, herpes, and syphillis.

We as parents, educators, and society as a whole need to stop pretending that there is such a thing as "safe sex". This is simply an easy to believe lie, one particularly harmful to the youth with whom we have been entrusted.


Steve said...

Uh, instead of talking about "safe sex" and complaining about teenagers don't use condoms correctly, why not teach them the truth and how to use condoms AND all other birth control items correctly!?!?!
I had basic sex ed in 8th grade and then real sex ed long after it was really important enough to change my life, much like you did.
The solution is to bury our teenagers' heads in the sands, b/c since Biblical times, teenagers have been having sex. If you teach your child what to do and not to do instead of just saying "no", then you are teaching them how to greatly lower their risk should the inevitable happen.

Alice said...

Unless you both have open wounds in your mouths, you aren't going to get aids from kissing. Sheesh.

Abstinence only education doesn't work either. Maybe a combo?

Cameron said...

Welcome steve & allie.

Both of you seem to have missed the point a little, though it's understandable considering how these conversations usually go.

The problem however is that you both offer a false dichotomy. It's not either "safe sex" or abstinence. It's actual sex education, including knowing and understanding the risks of birth control and condoms.

The facts are on my side here. Condoms on average have a 5% failure rate. That's pretty crummy. Couple that with Planned Parenthood's research showing that inexperienced users have exponentially higher rates of failure and your eyes should be wide open. And simply using birth control pills in addition to condoms may increase the protection against pregnancy, but it does nothing against STDs. In fact, there are STDs that are spread regardless of condom use.

Are these facts generally included during "safe sex" lectures? Nope. But they should be.

Cameron said...

Oh, and Allie, it was the Center for Disease Control and that other teen sex oppressing organization, Planned Parenthood, that warned about the dangers of kissing. Yes, STDs can be passed through kissing.

Cameron said...

One more thing that I don't think I explained well enough in my first comment. Steve, you wrote,

"why not teach them the truth and how to use condoms AND all other birth control items correctly!?!?!"

There are two answers here. First, using a condom and birth control pills will reduce the chance of a pregnancy. But birth control pills don't protect against STDs at all.

Second, what the Planned Parenthood study revealed was that despite intense education and training on proper use, condoms still failed at much higher rates in the beginning. And these were with 18-35 year olds. The truth is, despite all the teaching in the world, inexperienced users still have much higher rates of condom failure.

Steve said...

I still don't understand any point you are trying to make.
So if abstinence teaching doesn't work, then the only other option is to ensure that they kids are best trained to protect themselves. In addition to pregnancy prevention such as the pill and condoms (and other effective items), there are other options to help prevent STDs. However, knowing your partner and being frank and honest in discussing sex with them, which talking about such matters in an open and honest atmopshere in schools and at home, goes a long ways to establishing this dialogue. What other options would you suggest, keeping them in a bubble?

Steve said...

Oh, and inexperienced users also have higher fail rates in driving (the biggest killer of teens is auto accidents), crash their computers, and suck at sports, so does that mean you keep them away from such things?!?! To become experienced, you have to have the proper knowledge and training, otherwise your just shooting in the dark, no pun intended.

Cameron said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Holly said...

Earth to Steve, do you really not understand what Cameron is trying to say?!

He's saying that kids need to be taught that condoms might help you to not get pregnant, but they aren't fool proof. He's saying that what should also be included in sex ed is that not only can you get pregnant on birth control or a condom but you can also get and STD.

What teenager do you know that will discuss their sex life with a new partner, that's nice in theory, but in reality it ain't gonna happen.

Sex Education should not just be here's a condom, don't worry your safe now that you have it. We need to be educating more about the 5% that do get pregnant and also those who get STD's from using birth control. Knowledge is power and that's what we should be giving our youth about sex.

Steve said...

Grrr, my comment got deleted by blogger! Anyways, if you are saying we should have 100% open and honest education to our teenagers at a young age (12-16) of the dangers of all sex and ways to prevent and treat, then I agree. But most school boards, especially conservative districts and states, don't even allow condoms, how can you expect children to learn from adults that are afraid to talk about it?!?!

Cameron said...

inexperienced users also have higher fail rates in driving (the biggest killer of teens is auto accidents), crash their computers, and suck at sports, so does that mean you keep them away from such things?!?!

There's a bit of a difference between the consequences of shooting an airball in basketball because you're inexperienced and getting an STD because you're inexperienced. You can fix the airball problem. Herpes, not so much.

I think open, comprehensive sex ed must include the fact that condoms and birth control do not constitute "safe sex".

Alice said...

When I said, "maybe a combo", what I should have said was, we should be teaching kids honestly about the options and the risks- open, honest, no agenda other than keeping young people safe and healthy. I totally agree with you there.

Other STDs from kissing yes, AIDS no.

J. Doug said...

"If your boyfriend tells you he's sterile, don't believe him."

I cannot stop the laugther! Please take me back to that moment!


Cameron said...

Allie, the CDC says AIDS, yes.

My beef is that generally when people talk about being open and honest they mean teaching a doctrine of "safe sex". Well, that term and that doctrine is bunk.


I almost burst out laughing in class that day myself.

J. Doug said...

Werre you living in ID at the time? This may provide more insight to your 'sex education' classes.

Cameron said...

Yep, good old Wendell, Idaho High School. They learned me good.

J. Doug said...

What they learned you, you learned me.

J. Doug said...

Oh my goodness. I didn't mean anything of the sort in that last post.