Earlier this month, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s administration issued a mandate requiring so-called “comprehensive” sex education for all middle and high school students in NYC public schools. In response, Dr. Anne Nolte, a family practice physician in Manhattan, wrote last week that the city’s new requirement reminded her of the saying, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results.” She then goes on to make some bold observations:
If we had the courage to look honestly at teen pregnancy, we wouldnâ€™t be satisfied with a mandate that does the equivalent of placing a tiny band-aid on a gushing artery. If we had the courage to admit that we donâ€™t have a solution, weâ€™d be unwilling to spend more money on an old model that has pretty much failed. If we had the courage, weâ€™d challenge our preconceived ideas about teenage behavior and sexuality and would go back to the drawing board. Could it be that teens really are capable of self-control, moral decision-making and goal-directed behavior? That teens would adopt healthier behaviors if they got a consistent message from parents, teachers, doctors and the media that risk-avoidance, rather than simply risk-reduction, is possible and would maximize their happiness? Could it be that we — the adults who discount their potential for acting with integrity and maturity — are part of the problem?
Dr. Nolte is exactly right. Just as the medical profession at one time had to shake things up by acknowledging that bleeding people with leeches wasn’t just a bad idea but was actually harmful, so too it is now necessary to acknowledge that relying on condoms and birth control pills to reduce unplanned pregnancies and STDs is a strategy that is not only not “too big to fail,” but that it has, in fact, failed. She goes on to ask an important question:
In every other public-health intervention, an ideal is promoted: no-smoking campaigns, no-soda-drinking campaigns. Why not in the area of teen sexuality?
Sure, some kids may still smoke, and use drugs, and abuse alcohol. And yet even though we know this, those of us who are parents and educators have to set the bar high when we talk to kids about these things and tell them they should avoid them entirely, because a responsible lifestyle demands as much. In just the same way, living a responsible lifestyle demands having respect for the gift of sexuality and recognizing that it has to be saved until marriage. This is the ideal we need to promote. Anything less simply won’t work.