Christina Toliver and Emily Dewitt
The rise in sexually transmitted diseases should make us question what is being taught today about sex. It is very unfortunate that in this 21st century, where there is vast medical knowledge and new technology literally at our fingertips, there is still a high volume of sexually transmitted diseases. There was a 10 percent increase of AIDS from 2000 to 2003 and half of the new sexually transmitted diseases are more likely to be diagnosed among those between the ages of 15- 24 (1).
Many teenagers do not talk with their parents about any aspect of sex, relying instead on sources outside the home. Teens information about sex most often comes from school, the media, and their friends. Children develop who they are through their parent or guardian. Parents and guardians today are less likely to take on responsibility of teaching their children about sex. Instead, they have abandoned these important conversations and given over the teaching to the media and the school system.
Television and other types of media do teach teenagers about sex. Media teaches that physical pleasure and sex are just a natural step in a pre-marital relationship. It also teaches about the acceptance of homosexual relationships. The education system is not just teaching academics, but they are teaching students how to have sex, the acceptance of gay or lesbian relationships, birth control options and abortion. Schools do not necessarily teach about abstinence or the role that sex plays in a matrimonial union. As parents allow the school system and media to teach their children about sex they are allowing their children to learn things that their family may not value. If you are not involved in your child’s education you may not know what is actually being taught to them.
Most would agree that the topic of sex is not considered an everyday topic of discussion. Rather, sex is something whispered about or talked about behind closed doors. More than half of students surveyed in a recent study said that they did not have a meaningful conversation with their parents about sex. Sixty percent of parents, in this same survey, said that they have talked to their children about sex (3). It is more probable that the parents and their children do not feel the same about what a ‘meaningful conversation’ entails.
Doctor Miriam Kaufman, a Pediatrician and public educator at the Sick Kids organization, believes that when parents talk to their children they become less likely to participate in risky sexual behavior. By educating children early it allows parents and children to have more open communication about sex. Children need to feel confident going to and be able to trust their parents when they are in need of guidance (4). Parents, not schools, are the best way for children to learn about sexual matters.
In our current culture, it is hard to get away from what the media has chosen to expose us to. Sexual content is all over; in the news, on the internet, in magazines, the movies, and almost all sitcoms are based on sexual relationships and situations. Children spend, on average, about 6.5 hours of their day exposed to some type of media (5). Research shows that 83% of the media content is related to sex in some way (6). According to Doctor Kaufman there is a link between younger children exposed to sexual content in the media and increased sexual behavior (4). Television perpetuates and glamorizes sex within relationships instead of the reality of what sex entails. Viewing media with sexual content is often a precursor to sexual activity, especially by youth who are easily impacted by the things that they see.
A group of white adolescents, who were exposed to music, movies, television, and magazines with high levels of sexual content, were found to have high frequency of sexual activity and sexual intercourse. Exposure to sexual media in white Americans increased sexual intercourse among teens by 50 percent (5). Images seen in media peaks interest or curiosity about sex during puberty because it is often unknown and glamorized. It is natural to be interested in sex, but media has diluted its purpose and its meaning. Parents can have some control over most of the media children are exposed to through vigilant monitoring and adding filters.
Many states (37) offer opportunities for parental involvement in sex education programs provided by schools (2). Through carefully asked questions and research parents can become more knowledgeable about what is being taught about sex in their children’s schools. Parents can work to ensure that there is not a conflicting message coming from the media and the schools in opposition to what the family chooses as its values. When there is open communication between parents and their children about sex, it can increase how frequently other conversations occur between parent and child (4). With open communication, not only will the child benefit, but so will society.
Bleakley, A., Hennessy, M., Fishbein, M., (2006, November). Public opinion on sex education in US schools. http://archpedi.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=205706#References
Bleakley, A., Hennessy, M., Fishbein, M., & Jordan, A. (2008). It works both ways: The relationship between exposure to sexual content in the media and adolescent sexual behavior. 11 (4). 443-461.
Kaufman, M. (October, 2011). Sex education for children: Why parents should talk to their kids about sex. About Kids Health. http://www.aboutkidshealth.ca/En/HealthAZ/ FamilyandPeerRelations/Sexuality/Pages/Sex-Education-for-Children-Why-Parents-Should-Talk-to-their-Kids-About-Sex.aspx
King, B, M., Lorusso, J. (1997). Discussions in the home about sex: Different recollections by parents and children. Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy, 23 (1). DOI:10.1080/00926239708404417 NCSL, (2013, June 13). State policies on sex education in schools. http://www.ncsl.org/issuesresearch/health/state-policies-on-sex-education-in-schools.aspx
Ward, L. M., Day, K. M., & Epstein, M. (2006). Uncommonly good: Exploring how mass media may be a positive influence on young women’s sexual health and development. New Directions for Child & Adolescent Development. 2006 (112). 57-70.
Christina Toliver is a recent graduate of Brigham Young University–Idaho with a degree in Child Development and a minor in Psychology. She is from Oregon and is part of a large family. Christina’s had many opportunities to work with children of all ages.
Emily Dewitt is currently a student at Brigham Young University-Idaho and is studying Child Development with a minor in Marriage and Family Studies. She will graduate from BYU-Idaho in April 2014. She is from Illinois and most of her family still resides there.