Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Sex Ed's Biggest Failure

I can vividly remember my high school sex-ed instructor showing us slides of genital warts. Really, really bad cases of genital warts. There were slides of genitalia infected with other sorts of sexually transmitted diseases as well, but the warts earned the biggest gasps and yelps of any photo flashed up on the screen. These were heinous cases: gardens of complex fungal structures like something you'd grow in a crystal growing kit Santa brings you in the fifth grade. Except on your junk. Certainly, those images helped convince many of us to wait and all of us to use protection.

I wonder, however, why pregnancy isn't more fully discussed in sex ed classes.

Yeah, it's discussed: you can get pregnant after just one sexual encounter; condoms aren't 100% effective; pregnancy will derail your college plans; babies are expensive. Yes, the notion that childbirth as a teen is something to avoid is well established. But I don't recall PREGNANCY being fully discussed at all. Or even glossed over, really.

Before we get to what details I'd like to see shared, I'll ponder why educators don't dwell on pregnancy more. First, I think there's a predominate "oh it's not THAT bad" opinion amongst many mothers whose shining babes erase from their minds the memory of how much pregnancy actually sucks nuts. Second, culturally, how could we expect young women and girls to continue to strive for the feminine ideal of motherhood if we spent a good chunk of time discussing its medical realities, rather than its romanticized ideals. Third, gotta procreate, so let's not make it seem ALL bad, mmm k? And motherhood is SO rewarding, why dwell on the other stuff?

But aren't we missing out on a key tool in the fight against teen pregnancy? How have we managed to take pregnancy out of the fight against teen pregnancy?

I keep looping a scene from a recent Private Practice in my head. In the episode, the 15 year old daughter of a main character admits to her parents she is pregnant. After much fighting and hand-wrining, the mother pulls the 15 year old into a birthing suite at said private practice and points to the panting, suffering, sweating, screaming, pain-riddled woman in labor and asks the 15 year old, roughly, look at that! Is that what you want?

A moment later, out pops a newborn, the woman stops moaning, and the 15 year old says, "yeah, but look at THAT." Read: look at the miracle of life mom, recognize what's really important.

Even if we take that as true for a 15 year old, does that negate the bad that comes before it?

I'm going with no and I think we should stop hiding the ball from young women about what pregnancy means, how taxing it is, and just how committed they'll need to be for 40 long weeks.

This blog has a good run down of stuff THEY won't tell you about pregnancy as well as the really awful, demoralizing way in which people respond to you if you bring up how crappy pregnancy is.

Not for one second has the notion that "it's okay, you'll forget the pain, the hormones have a good amnesiac effect and you'll just be in love with the baby" made what I'm going through NOW any better. That's great, later, but it's not great now.

The duration of recovery, what's involved in recovery, pregnancy sickness (good luck getting me to call it "morning" sickness), tearing, contractions, tearing, swelling, bleeding, crying, irrationality, weight gain, did I mention tearing?, and that final moment of actually birthing the child . . . . we don't think ANY of this might convince a girl to either wait to have sex or to tell her partner she doesn't care how much he needs proof of love or how much of a downer condoms are, it's condoms or no deal?

Are we cheating young woman out of information they should have to help make decisions about their sexual behavior? I think we are.

Yet even I am made to feel defective for "complaining" - as it is labeled by others; explaining as I would label it - by some people who are very close to me. And even I fear that I'm giving pregnancy a bad rap - because it's not supposed to be that bad and it's all supposed to be worth it, right? Our culture has a strong hold on us, ladies. I can barely fight it in my own head.


Anonymous said...

If only you had known.

Unknown said...

But you forget, it will never happen to them. That is the same reason that kids do so many dangerous, crazy things (you know, the things we did when we were kids)...because they are invincible. Or so they think.

And who was giving you crap about "complaining" about pregnancy troubles?

Unknown said...

But they can be bothersome and can spread easily if they are in areas that are constantly irritated by rubbing or shaving. what is warts