27 August 2005

"Sex education helps save the world" (UU World Magazine Article)

In the Fall 2005 Issue of UU World, there's an article titled "Sex education helps save the world" by Cynthia Kuhn (a professor of pharmacology and cancer biology at Duke University, and co-author of Buzzed: The Straight Facts about the Most Used and Abused Drugs from Alcohol to Ecstasy. Cynthia is also an Our Whole Lives Grades 7-9 facilitator in her congregation).

Here's a short passage from Cynthia's article:
This year one of my owl students brought to class a book the public school had passed out. One of its "top ten reasons" why teens have sex was participation in sex-education classes. Another section stated that condoms do not halt the spread of HIV/AIDS or even effectively prevent pregnancy! In fact, as I had just been teaching my medical students, condoms are 99 percent effective in preventing pregnancy and significantly decrease the transmission of HIV when they are used properly, according to well-designed, peer-reviewed research studies. A colleague and I tried to get the local newspaper to address these falsehoods being taught in our schools but failed to spark any interest. We live in frightening times when scientific truth is suppressed in our public schools and forums.

Abstinence-only programs do not accomplish their goal of delaying sexual intercourse until marriage, According to a review of such programs in eleven states conducted by Advocates for Youth. Eighty-eight percent of young people in such programs have sex by the time they leave high school. And when they do have sex, they are less likely to use contraception and more likely to engage in dangerous sexual practices than children in programs that teach about contraception. The majority of scientists who specialize in children's health, as well as the American Medical Association, Planned Parenthood, and the U.S. Surgeon General, have all endorsed comprehensive sexuality-education program -- programs that advocate abstinence for teens but also provide complete and accurate information about contraception and STDs. The OWL program epitomizes that approach.

UU parents should certainly feel proud that their kids, by participating in OWL, are the smartest kids on the block about these issues. But our responsibility doesn't stop at our church doors. Those of us with the expertise need to advocate for all kids, especially the ones who get only the little book about the ten reasons that teens have sex. We need to show up at school board meetings and talk to teachers, principals, and superintendents about curriculum, armed with facts. (Planned Parenthood, the National Institutes of Health, and Advocates for Youth all have excellent, up-to-date, and scientifically accurate information.) We need to bombard our state legislatures so that they can have the courage, as the state of California did, to turn down federal "abstinence-only" money and develop effective programs instead.

In our religious-education program we have a slogan: "Nothing less than saving the world." I believe that is exactly what we do with OWL. Our children can grow up to enjoy healthy relationships, have a sexual life without contracting disease, and bear their children when they are adults and not children themselves. Teaching our kids about safe, mutually respectful sexual behavior in the context of our value system, I believe, is indeed nothing less than saving the world.
And this is why Our Whole Lives and supporting other comprehensive sexuality education are so important in our congregations and our wider communities. We are offering salvation from those things that deny life or make life less whole. This is just one example of how Unitarian Universalism offers salvation to a world in need of salvation.

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