School of hard knocks 


As I've stated before in this space, I love movies and see as many as I can, but there are some I don't mind missing. School movies fall into that last category. I don't miss sitting in a classroom enduring some antique opus that was even more tedious than our usual human presenters.

One school movie I'd be curious to see, though, is one I read about in the New York Times Sunday Magazine ("The Young and the Restless," June 30).

No title to the film was offered, but its dialogue sounded surreal and intriguing. The movie is part of an abstinence program, a trend in public schools to abstain from comprehensively educating kids about sexual safety. Abstinence-only education teaches that abstinence is the only way to prevent STDs or pregnancy and this story said that "by 1999 one third of all public school districts were using abstinence-only curricula." Interestingly, a report by the Alan Guttmacher Institute says that while abstinence contributed to a quarter of the drop in teen pregnancies recently, improved contraceptive education was responsible for the other three quarters of that decrease.

Failing to give kids enough knowledge of condoms and other protective items is like refusing to teach them to drive even though you know they have enough money for a down payment on a car. I don't know why anyone would want to let their kids dangle out their unsafe and ignorant, but according to Women's Enews, George W. has increased the budget for abstinence-only education by $33 million for 2003.

Anyway, in this school movie, a teen-age boy is said to ask what happens if he wants to have premarital sex and a nurse responds, "Well, I guess you're just going to have to be prepared to die."

Bitch slap

I'm a little worried about this boy and would like to address him directly for a moment:

I'm sorry this bitch talked to you that way. First of all, it is not true that people who have sex without being married to each other all die. If they did the earth would look like a supersized Jonestown and would stink like a fish-market dumpster on a summer afternoon. Virgins would have time for nothing except burning the dead who they'd have to tote around everywhere, like "Weekend at Bernies," just to make room to put down their drinks.

Second, you don't really have to be prepared to die; it happens to unsuspecting people all the time. You do have to be prepared to live, though, and to this end you want to protect yourself from the dangers posed by any sex you're going to have, so you can have more and better sex in the future.

And that's something you will want. I have never heard anyone say, "I've had enough sex to last me a lifetime."

Head shake

It's true that abstinence will protect you 100 percent from pregnancy and STDs, just like never going anywhere will prevent you from getting in a car wreck. God knows there are plenty of adults who aren't getting any -- abstinent by accident. It's not the worst thing that can happen to you. When you do have sex, though, simply adopt the "You don't know where it's been" rule of using condoms. If you don't know where it's been, keep a barrier between you and it, whatever it is. I know that condoms are a little awkward, but it will be more awkward for if you end up having to ask a doctor to look at your crotch like a jeweler appraising a diamond and have them tell you what strain of cooties you've contracted. Organizations like Planned Parenthood can help you with more detailed information on protection and they will not say things such as "Prepare to die, infidel!" or whatever martial-arts film dialogue that broad in the video offered by way of help.

You may actually not be ready to have sex yet. I know people in their 30s who I don't think are ready. It's something you can't BS yourself about, and, also, it's a thing you can't understand until you've been there, like Europe. Guidebooks are important but nothing can prepare you for the actual trip.

And, like Europe, who you go with makes all the difference in the world. A good guideline that will last anyone through adulthood is a quote from "Clueless: "You know how picky I am about my shoes and they only go on my feet."

Anyway, I worry about that kid, so it had to be said.

This Times story mentioned another educational approach to teen sexuality, the abstinence-plus approach, "in which teen-agers are discouraged from rushing into sex but also given information about contraception." The idea seems to have everything: balance, depth and the inference that they are responsible to themselves. It might work one day, when we go back to wanting to give kids a more full education. After a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, but too little knowledge is a helluva lot worse.


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