An article in the New York Times recently caught my eye. Titled, “Let’s Not Talk About Sex,” it is written by Paul A. Offit, a professor of pediatrics and director of the Vaccine Education Center at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. He writes despairingly of the very low compliance levels for the HPV vaccine. He wrote:
About 79 million people in the United States have been infected with HPV, and 14 million new infections occur every year. As a consequence, 18,000 women and 8,000 men suffer preventable cancers of the cervix, anus, penis and throat; it’s the most common, and except for H.I.V., the most fatal sexually transmitted disease.
Since the three-dose vaccine should ideally be started for both boys and girls around age 11, Dr. Offit thinks that the main reason it is not getting out there is that physicians–and parents–don’t want to talk about sex or even consider the possibility that their children might indeed be sexual someday. And not only sexual, but sexual outside of marriage, with partners who themselves will have had other partners.
We just don’t want to think about it.
A friend of mine, a professional therapist who does a lot of work with couples who are having sexual problems, told me that he often asks his clients two questions. One: What did your church tell you about sex when you were growing up? Two: What did your parents tell you about sex when you were growing up.
The answers are nearly invariably: “Don’t and Nothing.”
That’s it. Don’t and Nothing.
And then the hormones hit. Frankly, this is far worse now than in previous generations because youth are going into puberty earlier and then marrying later. So we have an extended time when emotionally, socially and spiritually immature pre-pubescent children, teens and young adults can and generally do explore their sexuality. And what does the church and the family do about this? We tell them, “Don’t” or “Nothing.”
It’s not working. Probably never did, but it really is not working now.
Yes, there are a few, a very few, who make it to the wedding sexually inexperienced. Or maybe not sexually inexperienced but perhaps technically virgins. But by then, most have already been exposed to HPV and a host of other sexually transmitted diseases anyway since much exposure comes from activities other than just sexual intercourse.
But more than that, the churches’ steadfast “Don’t” means that church-going teens who are experimenting sexually find themselves in a guilt/silence bind that is quite destructive to their nascent spiritual lives.
I am hearing of more and more young teens, even pre-teens, self-identifying as gay or lesbian. While many may be indeed be sexually wired that way, others are confusing what is a normal pre- or early adolescence same-sex exploration with a permanent gender identity–because we are not talking about sex.
So youth learn about sex from possibly the worst sources ever–their peers, sex-infused media, and widely available pornography. Do we really want our kids learning about a topic that will affect them the rest of their lives from such sources? That would be akin to assigning a kiddie train engineer to teach a fighter pilot how to land on an aircraft carrier. No good results come from this.
It’s time to talk about sex.