Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Ann Landers Talks To Teen-Agers About Sex

On the weekend I picked up a real gem of a book for ninety-nine cents.


It is a highly entertaining read, as it was published in 1961 and of course contains all sorts of misinformation and oddities. To be honest, it’s so hilarious, I could pretty much copy out any passage here and it would be amusing.

One thing that struck me though was the chapter on sexually transmitted infections, then commonly referred to as “VD”, short for venereal disease. The chapter is called “VD is Not An Adult Disease” and for the most part contains accurate information – as far as saying that “nice” girls get it too, and that dating certain classes of people would not prevent you from getting “VD”. What it doesn’t mention at any point in the chapter, or any point in the book at all in fact, is condoms.

Condoms were readily available in 1961, though they carried some taboo when purchasing them. In fact, condom producers in the US were making 1.5 million condoms a day by the mid 1930s so they were certainly being used.

Why then, in this helpful book on sex for teens, were condoms never mentioned, not even once? Times don’t change much it seems. The suggested method of birth control and disease prevention in this book is abstinence.

Interestingly enough, kids who may have read this book in 1961 are now in the age group with an alarming statistic attached: Rates of sexually transmitted infections have more than doubled among the over 45s in less than a decade. Men between 55 and 59 are significantly more likely to have an STI than anyone else. (source)

I’m sure there are many social and cultural reasons for this, but a part of me wonders if this type of sex-ed, (the "DON’T DO IT!!" variety) isn’t mostly responsible. After all, the book admits, kids are going to do it, that’s a given, so they should be armed with knowledge about the risks. The book however, doesn’t arm them with information on being safe, or safer. It does not tell them what to do. It only tells them what not to do. We all know how well telling a teenager not to do something goes.

America’s current approach to sex education has not changed. The sexual revolution may have changed things somewhat, at least shaken things up for a spell. But America has reverted to it’s more puritan roots. Abstinance-only education is the norm. Most teens in America are still taught it is better to wait, and be pure. They are not taught about birth control, condoms, safer sex or risk assessment. These poor kids are the adults of our future. What a crying shame that society has learned absolutely nothing about education, and the power it has, since 1961.

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