Fran is an in-home case manager for a program that visits young parents (mothers mostly) who, because of their age, education and economic circumstances are at risk for abusing or neglecting their children.
This week, as she does every week, Fran visited a new mother: just sixteen, she held her new baby with love and pride. Fran went through her usual case management: setting up the baby’s first doctor visit, going over basics like breast-feeding, diaper-changing, and nutrition. But before she left Fran had one more task.
“How about you?” she asked the new mother. “Do you have a regular doctor?”
The girl looked down. “Not really.”
“That’s okay,” said Fran, kindly, “I’ll get you an appointment with one of the doctors at the Children’s Clinic when you go in for your baby’s visit.”
The girl looked up. “But why? I’m fine.”
Fran smiled gently. “I know that you feel okay, but it’s important that you see a doctor soon. For one thing, you need to take some precautions.”
“Precautions? What kind of precautions?” The girl’s brow was wrinkled with worry.
“Well, you don’t want this to happen again. My advice would be for you to begin a regular contraceptive regimen: the pill or a birth control shot which is a hormone that is naturally manufactured in your ovaries. The doctor will give you an injection in the upper arm or in the buttocks once every 3 months to protect you from becoming pregnant again.”
The little girl-mother laughed. “Oh, that’s not necessary. You see, I practice abstinence.”
Fran told me the story with tears of anger and frustration. “What kind of thinking is that? Who is teaching these children?”
Who indeed? The truth is: we are. Our lessons are sexually-charged entertainment, advertising, and clothing fashions. Our lesson plans include plenty of sex on television (after 10 PM, of course, except when it’s on earlier), in popular music, in the breathless obsession with celebrity sex, in virtually every media message beamed into the impressionable, hormone-addled brains of teens. Hardly anybody ever has an unplanned pregnancy in Sex World, and yet everybody is getting it on everywhere you look.
So, a little emphasis on abstinence until marriage is a good thing. After all, sexual abstinence is the only 100% effective method of birth control. But the fact is, teens are still having sex. So, not providing them with the information that they need to make responsible decisions about their lives will only lead to more teen pregnancy, higher drop-out rates, and more poverty. But to accomplish that, we have to stop delusional thinking about teen sexuality.
Here in South Carolina, where we pride ourselves on teaching our children to be abstinent until marriage, our delusions are killing children. The Centers for Disease Control documents that over 50% of South Carolina’s tenth-graders reported they had already engaged in sexual intercourse, and by the twelfth grade, the number had risen to over 70%.
Yet, educators in South Carolina schools cannot give out information on contraception, even when they know that a young person is sexually active. Even when she’s holding a baby in her arms. Even when she’s just come back from an abortion clinic. It’s up to health care outreach workers like Fran to tell young people the truth. And, quite obviously, Fran gets there a little late in the game.
Of course, teen sex is not the only delusion clouding our thinking. We believe that giving rich people tax breaks helps poor people. We believe that we are winning the War Against Terror. We believe that the United States is a Christian nation. We believe that the concept of a social contract between a government and the governed is a Marxist scheme to steal our hard-earned stuff. We believe that Cuba is a threat to our freedom. We believe that the USA Patriot Act is not. We believe that nuclear proliferation is wrong, but that we are capable of using nuclear weapons justly and righteously. We believe that immigrants our stealing our jobs. We believe that there’s enough oil to power our SUVs forever. We believe that God hates gay people. We believe that evolution has been disproved. We believe that Afghanistan is a democracy that we created in our image, and that Iraq soon will be.
What kind of thinking is that? Who is teaching us?