It was a typical Friday night at the Muench house...we got the two youngest kiddos down by 8:30 p.m., made some popcorn on the stove/grabbed some drinks, and headed to the media room. Tom asked me what I wanted to watch while he cued up Netflix. I told him I needed a laugh, to find something funny. He clicks on a movie called, "Let's Talk About Sex." (Yup, that's my husband...) Anyways, it doesn't necessarily look funny, but it does look interesting, so we click "play". "Let's Talk About Sex" is a less-than-comical documentary released in 2009 by an Australian born photographer working in New York whose name is James Houston. Houston begins by talking about how permeated the American culture is with sexual images, lyrics, innuendo...you get the picture. BUT, how even though these overt expressions are all around us, we (adults, parents) do not TALK about the subject, among ourselves or with our kids. He implies that, as a result, we are the country with the highest teen pregnancy rate. According to Mr. Houston, 70 out of 1,000 teenage girls in the United States gets pregnant each year.
The country with the second highest teen pregnancy rate is France at roughly 25 teens per 1,000 annually.
The next segment of this film is about the attitudes and culture as it relates to sex in the Netherlands. You see, in that country children begin hearing about sex very young, it is "dinner table" discussion. They are given condoms in their early teens, taught about the health risks of not protecting themselves, overall it's a much more liberal attitude. One of the most striking parts of this film was when Mr. Houston asks some teenage girls what they'd think if someone they were dating had a condom in their wallet. The kids all respond something along the lines of that person being responsible and that if they DIDN'T have a condom they'd know that person was trouble and it would weigh heavily on whether or not they would continue to date him. By contrast, in the United States the same question was posed, and the teenage girls here said if they were dating a guy that produced a condom from his wallet they'd think he was sleazy, sleeping around, and would change their opinion of him quickly.
There were several parents from the Netherlands who were interviewed. They don't see an issue with having their child's significant other "sleep" over. They'd rather have their child home in his/her own bed than having sex in a car or park somewhere. As a mother of five, I cannot fathom wrapping my head around that scenario...when my 24-year-old son visits with his girlfriend (they live together in Austin) they sleep separately. It's understood, they respect that Tom and I are trying to send a message to the younger kids. I am in full acknowledgment that I may only be fooling myself, but I am okay with that fact.
The movie was very interesting and I did some additional research about teen pregnancy through websites such as www.livestrong.com and www.troubledteen101.com. Statistics can be manipulated to suit the writer's needs, and I am not here to argue exact figures, but rather to ponder the reason why the United States is at the forefront in this area.
We are all fully aware that regardless of their religious upbringing, a lot (not all) kids are having sex. We live in a culture which is highly sexualized and generally doesn't promote abstinence. We all have "baggage" from our youth that carries into our parenting if we aren't conscious to be sure that doesn't take place. I am no exception. My mom was a grandma at the age of 41 thanks to me. I have gotten past that age, but have plenty of children that could possibly make me a grandmother before I am ready to be one. This is reality. So, what as parents can we DO about this?
First, no matter how uncomfortable it is, we have to talk more. With each other, and with our children. They are getting information from other kids that is less than accurate. Since we all know it's something teenagers are interested in (not to mention bombarded with) we've got to step up to the plate and be the leader they need to (1) get accurate information and (2) allow them to feel comfortable with something that is part of our human nature. Second, we have to understand what the school is teaching our kids about sex which means showing up at programs in the evenings (or whenever we're invited to do so) in order to help us understand what is going on with today's youth. We can't just pass the buck here and say the "school" is supposed to take care of that. Third, full realization that this is a challenging subject for most parents, but one we cannot ignore. If that figure (70 in 1,000 girls) is even close to accurate, it is appalling.
The movie goes on to state abstinence only programs and vows do not necessarily protect our kids any better than educating them on birth control. The very best source of information and moral guidance comes from home. Mom and dad. Period. If I look back on my own teenage choices and wonder why I got pregnant at age eighteen, I would honestly have to say it was I thought "It won't happen to me." And, I was very much seeking male attention. I was looking for love and acceptance in the wrong places.
This film really opened Tom's eyes as well as my own. We are both going to do a better job of talking about sex with our kids (I am sure the three that are old enough to read this blog will be thrilled to know this) and helping them to understand, at an age appropriate level, the risks of sexual behavior too early. (I am not even going to attempt to say "before marriage" here...) I want our kids to know, no matter what, they are loved and accepted for who they are and that they have parents who will discuss "hard" things because we want them to make informed, emotionally sound choices. I don't know how we've done so far, but I know we can do better.