“The Hormonal Imperative” and Sexuality Education

I just read a wonderful article about teen sexual health, written by former U.S. Surgeon General, Jocelyn Elders.  In the piece, Dr. Elders discusses adolescent development and makes a case for universal access to contraceptive care for teens and age-appropriate, comprehensive sexuality education for children of all ages.

Early in the article, Dr. Elders makes a bold statement.  She says, “efforts to prevent teens from having sex have been largely unsuccessful in stemming sexual activity because teenagers have a hormonal imperative to explore their sexuality.” (emphasis mine)

Whoa! I’ve never heard anyone put it quite so bluntly — hormonal imperative indeed.  But Dr. Elders doesn’t stop there; she continues her no-nonsense lesson in adolescent development with the following comments.

“Teens do not “catch” sexuality from their friends, music, dance, or health education; rather, teens have a perfectly natural biological drive that says, WOW! to them soon after the advent of puberty.”

Dr. Elders compares U.S. teen pregnancy and STD rates with those of other countries and concludes that our nation can do better.  She says that teens need access to reproductive healthcare and that all children need age-appropriate sexuality education in schools from kindergarten through high school.

Basically, Dr. Elders is saying that this country’s focus on abstinence-only education has been a huge mistake.

Here in Maine, we have a lot to be proud of in this regard. Back in 2005, Maine rejected abstinence-only federal funding and reaffirmed its support of comprehensive sexuality education. And the FPA is a nationally-recognized leader in the field of sexuality education.

Still — mainly because of the push-back we get from well-meaning adults who are afraid to accept the adolescent “hormonal imperative” — I think we still struggle with what Dr. Elders calls “a collision of culture and nature.” We promote and provide comprehensive sexuality education and reproductive health care for adolescents who are sexually active — but we also succumb to societal pressure to place a high value on abstinence. It’s a fine line our educators and practitioners have to walk between what adolescents need to be sexually healthy and what our cultural norms dictate as acceptable adolescent behavior.

I think this public service announcement from the U.K. Smart Girls Carry Condoms is an excellent example of judgment-free sexual health promotion for young people.

And I wonder — is this something the FPA could promote here in Maine? Or would the backlash against such a positive portrayal of youth sexuality be considered unacceptable?   What do you think?

~ Nancy

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