Continuing our focus on National Teen Pregnancy Prevention Month, this week’s post is written by one of FPA’s Pregnancy Prevention Coordinators.
I’ll never forget it. Standing in front of a hundred or so eighth-grade boys, I asked them where they got their information about sex and staying healthy. After an uncomfortable silence, one brave soul shrugged and said “Mostly…from the streets.”
The ‘streets’ he was referring to are lined with oak trees and sidewalks. But, I knew what he meant. I had been asked to speak to that group of boys because the principal discovered an underground condom ring going on within the school. Yep, that’s right. Some entrepreneurial boy realized he could make good money selling condoms to his classmates. The same condoms, mind you, that can be legally obtained in about ten different stores in their town. This makes you wonder…
When I asked them if they had these conversations with an adult at home, they slowly shook their heads. A few gave me a patronizing smile with that “You’re outta your mind, lady.” look. I have posed this question to students before, so I wasn’t surprised by their reaction. But, something about that particular instance has always stuck with me.
I think it was seeing all of those questioning faces with their own mix of horror and curiosity about the topic at hand. I realized that for many of them, talking openly about healthy sexuality with an adult they trust, never happens.
I was looking at the next generation of partners, fathers, and neighbors and I wanted to know…
Who is talking to these young men?
Usually, when I’m mystified by male behavior, I go to my most trusted resource on testosterone-related knowledge — my husband.
Me: So, did your dad ever talk to you about sex?
Hubby: What? God, No!
Me: Really? Nothing? Anything about not getting your girlfriend pregnant?
Hubby: Oh wait. I take that back. He did tell me that if I ever got a girl pregnant he’d string me up from a tree.
And that was it. His father never explained how to go about not getting a girl pregnant. And his experience from the 70’s is not that different for many boys today. According to the CDC, data collected from 2006-2008 found that only 29% of teen boys have spoken with their parents about abstinence and contraception. This is not good when we know that parents can be very effective at helping teens delay sexual activity.
Okay, so they’re not always hearing it at home, but what about health class? There are many schools committed to providing comprehensive sexuality education and the FPA’s Prevention team works with great schools throughout Maine to support this work. However, the information students receive can vary depending on district policies and their teacher’s comfort level. So, you can imagine that more complex issues like “I think I might be gay” or the anonymous question I recently answered – “Does masturbation cause acne?” - may never be addressed.
When I ask boys about this lack of information, they seem puzzled by my question. “We get tons of information!” One boy explained to me. I’m so excited about and surprised to hear this. “Where?” I naively ask. “Ummm…have you heard of the internet?” Duh. They were totally justified in laughing at me.
There are some really good online sites that provide teens with honest, medically-accurate answers. You can find a list on the FPA website. My fear is, and I know I’m making a sweeping generalization, that young males are not frequent visitors to these healthy sites. A Google search on topics adolescent boys may be concerned about provides some interesting links. I know I have a hard time staying focused on my search results — can you imagine what it’s like for these guys?
What can caring adults do? Talk to them. I know — it can be incredibly uncomfortable and unpopular to bring this stuff up when you’re impressed they are even hanging out with you for a few minutes. As an educator, there are only so many times you can demonstrate proper condom use before passing some embarrassment threshold. However, as a parent, I’m the first to admit that talks with my own kids have not always been pretty. My child looks at me the same way those eighth-grade condom entrepreneurs did. And that’s okay. It’s about them knowing we are here to answer their questions. It’s not about us being cool or knowing everything. Because, guess what? — that will never happen.