When Max Rafferty was state superintendent of public education during the 1970s, we had a short media battle.
Rafferty was against sex education. In morality according to Max, educator and ethicist, a baby that is “illegitimate” is the “just reward” for girls who have sex before marriage.
I found it abhorrent to look at a baby as punishment. I found promoting ignorance as repugnant. So it was Mike versus Max.
Today there are some folks who promote a similar argument as Mr. Rafferty. It is that we should not give girls or young women a vaccination against human papillomavirus, because we will have to tell them about sex. To give them the vaccine, the argument goes, will promote premature and promiscuous sexual behavior.
We know the virus causes more than 70 percent of the thousands of cervical cancers. Cancer, I suppose, is some people’s idea of punishment for girls who have premarital sex (or a married woman who gets the virus from an infected husband).
Why would telling a preteen girl the reason for a vaccination is to prevent cancer encourage her into sexual behavior Education is power not permission.
According to a recent university study, your teen likely knows less about sex than she does about the internal combustion engine. We are more willing to teach our children how to drive the family car than about her choices and relationships.
This reflects lack of information or helpful information. Life and love are not accurately reflected on MTV or “Days of Our Lives.” Good information is the antidote to the values on “Desperate Housewives.”
I believe in sex education and do not believe it promotes promiscuity.
When I worked with youth groups, with the help of parents and a medical professional, I started basic sex education in middle school. It did not encourage the students to become more sexually active. It made it possible for them to build trusting relationships with adults who would not treat their questions as silly or irrelevant.
Believe me, it was not too early.
Sexually transmitted diseases, unwanted pregnancies and AIDS spread most quickly by ignorance.
The discussions were more than organ recitals. The kids have access to anatomy. What they need is someone to help them with their feelings, emotions and group pressures.
An unwillingness to talk to our children directly about sex leaves them to gather their information on the open market. Or to just tell them not to do it leaves them unarmed in the battle of the sexes.
It is also appropriate to teach our kids responses like, “I’m not ready” or “I’m uncomfortable” or “I am unprepared.” These are excellent reasons not to have sex. They surely beat “my mother said ‘no.’”
In premarital counseling for engaged couples I had a questionnaire for them. One question asked where they had learned most about sexuality. The average answer was “friends.” That did not mean “Friends” the popular television show, but “friends,” their peers.
Peers represent the world’s largest repository of ignorance.
I always encouraged the students to wait, but I also knew that some of them would not. Not waiting and being unprepared is terribly dangerous.
Now, I know there is debate about the safety of the vaccine. It is also not a decision for the state, but one for parents. Yet it is an important one.
Education and vaccinations prevent a number of things. It is good to make sure that children are immunized for mumps, polio and other childhood diseases. It is rightfully up to the parents if they wish to risk their child contracting polio or human papillomavirus.
As a father of two daughters, knowing what I know about the vaccine, I would rather risk having them intelligently sexually active at 16 than dead at 40 of cervical cancer.
Education is obviously better than medication. I suggest that parents take this responsibility even if that means providing both vaccine and information about sex to your child. We must make sure that the education is done with honesty and truth, and in a nonjudgmental way.
Our children know that we know something about sex. While we do not like to think about our parents being sexuality active, we know it is true. We are here. There is only one way to get here.