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Teens: No sex lectures, just honesty

May is Teen Pregnancy Prevention Month,and 25 teenagers were asked who or what influences them when it comes to decisions about sex.

By Times staff writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 18, 2001

Because May is Teen Pregnancy Prevention Month, the Citrus County Health Department has distributed a series of informational items from the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy. The Citrus Times has been publishing edited portions of the installments throughout the month.

Here is the second installment. The third is scheduled to be published May 27.

The National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy has a Youth Leadership Team, which is a select group of 25 teens. It was organized to give voice to the perspectives and opinions of teens throughout the nation.

Recently, the campaign asked YLT members to answer two questions: (1) who or what influences you when it comes to decisions about sex? and (2) what should individuals and organizations do to help you avoid pregnancy?

YLT members are selected by the National Campaign following extensive outreach to national organizations such as the Girl Scouts, YWCA and 4-H, which are asked to nominate teens. YLT members have been instrumental in developing several widely distributed Campaign publications.

Here is what teens said they want to know:

From parents: Begin the conversation about sex when we're young and maintain an open-door policy as we get older. Teach us by what you do, not just by what you say. Give us good, honest answers in a straightforward way. Support us in all of our endeavors, and most of all, play an active role in our lives. Take responsibility for helping us reach beyond the best of our abilities. Finally, no lectures please. Remember, we really care what you think, even if we don't always act like it.

From the media: We know that sex sells -- it's everywhere. Stop making sex so glamorous. Be an active partner -- show us the consequences of sex. We understand sex is a common practice; make the consequences common sense. After all these years, why isn't James Bond a daddy? Be entertaining, but don't forget to be responsible. This is the information age; make sure you give us all the information.

From their friends: Respect the choices I'm making and offer me your support, not your judgment. We all need positive encouragement from our friends. Don't try to pressure me to act like you or anybody else.

From schools: The information you give us about our bodies and about sex, pregnancy, and STDs is really helpful. But we want more than the "The Miracle of Birth" film. In other words, we wouldn't mind if you took things to the next level. For instance, we need to hear real stories from real people, like teen parents. We know that when it comes to talking about sex, there is a lot that schools can't do. But teaching from the heart and not the chalkboard can make a real difference. A good teacher has compassion and cares about us and who we are, not just if we're taking notes.

From their faith communities: We may not always admit it, but we need guidance and answers just like everybody else. Be clear about the morals you expect us to live by, but be patient, too -- we're still learning. Practice what you preach. Be direct about sex and values but please don't talk down to us. We are searching for answers to a lot of tough questions. As we try to understand our spirituality, please try to understand us.

From the government: Here are some ideas about what to do with all that surplus money. The government must provide assistance and information -- in a way agreed upon by each community -- about sex, its consequences and ways to prevent teen pregnancy and the spread of STDs that reflect the values of our communities. Give us sex or abstinence education courses that are equal in consistency and quantity of DARE. Drugs are serious, but so is sex. We get DARE education twice a week, but sex education only once a year.

And from ourselves: We understand that we can't ask of others what we aren't ready to do ourselves. We should seek information to help us make healthy decisions, rather than blame other people when something goes wrong. We should be responsive to, and respectful of, our parents. More than anything, we need to take responsibility for our own actions. We can't wait for change -- we need to make it happen.

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