Sexual Health Roundup: Parents Still Have Heads in the Sand on Teen Sex


Parents Still Burying Their Heads in the Sand When it comes to Teens and Sex

Back in 2004, Sinikka Elliot, a parent and sociology professor at the University of North Carolina, watched a heated controversy over sexuality education play out at the Texas School Board and wondered whether this polarized debate truly represented the views of parents who weren’t so entrenched in the issue. After interviewing parents on all points along the political spectrum, Elliot determined that it did not and published her finding in a book called, “Not My Kid: What Parents Believe About the Sex Lives of Their Teenagers.”  In an interview with Salon.com, Elliot talked about what she learned interviewing these parents who all resided in an “unnamed red state.” 

She found that parents tend to think of their children as less mature and less sexual than they really were: 

“What I see happening is that parents are constructing their kids in this way, as little and young, to think about them as not being interested in sex. Parents don’t want to think of their kids as sexual beings.” 

Parents were, however, were willing to believe that other kids were having sex.  She points to the way society talks about teen sex as the culprit in this contradiction: 

“Parents aren’t hearing anything positive about teen sexuality, they’re hearing about the profound physical, psychological and social consequences of sex. So of course when they look at their teens they don’t want to imagine their kid encountering those risks.”

Elliot also writes about the sex education debate in this country and argues that both In both sides of the debate over sexuality education treated teen sex the same way and operatedwithin a “danger discourse.” She points out that those on either side of the spectrum base their arguments on the same thing—the possibility of STDs, HIV, or teen pregnancy—they just have different ideas of how teens should avoid these.  She argues that, “we can and should shift the discourse, but we need to start talking about the evidence there is that teens are actually being quite responsible when it comes to sex.” 

I agree with her whole-heartedly that teens often behave very responsibly when it comes to teen sex, that we have to give them credit for it, and that we have to start talking about something other than the dangers of teens sex (I’ve said all of these things before), but I think there is another layer to the argument over sex ed. While both sides often reduce their argument to one about preventing the dangers of teens sex I think this is because public health issues tend to sway those who are not, as Elliot puts it, deeply entrenched in the issue. But I belive that there is a fundamental philosophical difference underlying the arguments with one side believing that teen sex (or sex outside of marriage) is morally wrong and the other that sex can be a natural and healthy part of a teen’s life. (In the interest of full disclosure, I have not read her whole book and Elliot may delve deeper into this topic in the book and touch on this point as well.)

Her ultimate suggestion, however, that we need to change the way we talk about teen sex in this country, is one that I can definitely get behind and one that makes me eager to read the whole book.   

New York Times Looks Back at Mary Fisher’s 1992 RNC Speech

A few weeks ago, while Republicans took the stage in Tampa, the New York Times looked back at the RNC’s 1992 convention when Mary Fisher, a member of a prominent Michigan Republican family, took the stage to discuss HIV. Fisher, who herself worked in Gerald Ford’s White House, is the daughter of a Republican advisor who worked “with every president from Nixon to George W. Bush on Israel and Jewish affairs” and was serving as the honorary chairman of Bush-Quayle’s finance committee. Fisher was invited to speak because of her connection and, as the Times points out, because the Republicans needed their own Elizabeth Glaser who had spoken eloquently about HIV at the Democratic National Convention a month earlier.

Fisher became infected with HIV in 1991 (her ex-husband who she had already divorced by the time she was diagnosed died of the disease in 1993) and as far as anyone knew at the time was facing a certain death sentence when she took the stage and said:

“Tonight, I represent an AIDS community whose members have been reluctantly drafted from every segment of American society. I am one with a black infant struggling with tubes in a Philadelphia hospital.  I am one with the lonely gay man sheltering a flickering candle from the cold wind of his family’s rejection.”

The speech made a list of the top 100 speeches 1900-1999, a list which includes Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream.” As Stephen Lucas, a professor in the department of communication arts at the University of Wisconsin and co-editor of the list, explained:

“She is dealing with a really gritty subject that revolves around a sexually transmitted disease and people dying horrible deaths, and the language is uplifting.  And then she delivers it in this pristine, clarion kind of way in which her voice cuts through the convention, cuts through the myths and stereotypes regarding AIDS. She has what she sees as a profound truth, and she wants to bring it to the audience.”

The speech also launched Fisher into a career as an AIDS activist who served as a special representative for the United Nations global task force and Ambassador to UNAIDS.

Today Fisher is 64. She says she is “sad that we are still here” when it comes to the AIDS epidemic and frustrated with the perception that AIDS has been cured. She describes her sixth book, Messenger: A Self Portrait, which will be published this month as:  “…my second memoir. The one I had to write because I did not die.” 

Fisher told the Times that she admires Hilary Clinton and Barack Obama but says that she has stayed a Republican, though, she added: “What does Republican mean anymore?” I’m a Gerry Ford Republican, and my party’s gone someplace else. I feel like I want to stay a Republican because they might listen to me.”

New Study Looks at AIDS-Like Virus That is Not Contagious

A recent report in the New England Journal of Medicine looks over 200 cases of patients with AIDS-like symptoms none of whom were infected with HIV. AIDS—Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome—is caused by HIV, a virus that attacks T-cells, which are one of the body’s first defenses against germs, leaving infected individuals unable to fight off infections. Scientists are calling this new find Adult-Onset Immunodeficiency Syndrome because it develops in individuals around age 50 but scientists do not know why. The disease does not run in families which makes it unlikely that a single gene is responsible for it though thus far nearly all patients have been Asian or Asian-born suggesting that there may be a genetic or environment factor.

Unlike HIV, the disease does not attack T-cell. Instead, most of those with the disease make substances called auto-antibodies that block interferon-gamma, a chemical signal that helps the body clear infections.“Blocking that signal leaves people like those with AIDS—vulnerable to viruses, fungal infections and parasites, but especially micobacteria, a group of germs similar to tuberculosis that can cause severe lung damage.” As Sarah Browne, the author of the current study, said: “Fundamentally, we do not know what’s causing them to make these antibodies.” The disease itself is not contagious but scientists do not yet know if some type of infection serves as a trigger.  

Browne has studied 200 people since the disease was first documented in 2004 but believes there are many more including people who have likely been misdiagnosed as having tuberculosis.

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