Sunday June 16, 2013

To the editor of THE EAGLE:

Brian Sullivan’s June 13 column "Sex education classes need no tweaking" is so misguided that one hardly knows where to begin in refuting it.

His comment about Plan B pills ("whatever the heck they are, although I think I have an idea.") is a pathetic display of faux ignorance and sarcasm that does not befit the seriousness of the issue. As a journalist, surely he has followed the heavy news coverage of the recent federal approval for Plan B, the "morning after pill," to be sold over the counter to those 15 and over.

As the parent of a 15-year old daughter and another quickly following on her heels, I am glad that these pills are now available. Not necessarily for her -- we have discussed sexuality in matter-of-fact, age-appropriate ways since the kids were old enough to display curiosity -- but for her friends whose parents may not be as forthright as we are about the subject.

Sullivan recalls a childhood friend who got pregnant between junior and senior year, and decries teaching sex ed in middle school. Perhaps he should learn the story of my daughter’s friend who got pregnant at 14 in eighth grade.

Very early in the pregnancy, I asked my daughter repeatedly if anyone had talked to this girl about abortion, and she said she didn’t know. When time ticked on and the pregnancy came to light, the girl was kicked out of the house by her guardian grandparents. Now raising the baby in foster care, she might have benefited from some middle-school straight talk.

The public schools aren’t the place for more detailed sex information, Sullivan says, and he advises kids to "try your mom or dad, your primary care physician, or contact one of the many agencies in the area." This advice shows a stunning lack of understanding of the psychology of both kids and parents, as well as the demographics of our area.

On the latter topic, I can say that a large percentage of my daughters’ friends are being raised in single-parent households where the parents are so frazzled that helping the kids get their homework done is a challenge -- never mind delving into the nitty grid of sex ed.

As for talking to your doctor, that is so impractical as to be laughable. Not to offend the excellent PCPs out there, but a teen will almost never have the comfort level, or the time, to ask questions in a 15-minute appointment once a year.

As for contacting an agency such as Tapestry, well, that’s asking a lot of many teens’ organizational skills and initiative.

Finally, both parents and teenagers share embarrassment about discussing sex. A teen will almost never initiate a discussion with a parent. They pick up information -- and often misinformation -- from their peers. That’s why a detailed curriculum in the schools is crucial.

Sullivan’s claim that sex education classes are "close to religious philosophies" and therefore should be kept out of schools because church and state should be separate is truly Orwellian. In fact it is religious orthodoxy and prudishness that has contributed to making discussions of sex taboo.

As for Sullivan’s "One final thought. . . just say no." Teens will always be tempted to have sex, and it is happening at younger ages than it did in generations past. A comprehensive, detailed sex education curriculum gives teens the tools to choose abstinence or sexual activity: in an informed way that protects their physical and mental health.

JENNY GITLITZ

Dalton