Sexuality, sexual intercourse, intimacy and passion are the major factors contributing to our own identity and they enable us to have a substantial degree of individuality. Sexuality is believed to begin developing by some as early as a mother's womb, however, sexuality is developing and growing through the experimental years of adolescence and puberty. Sexual education plays a dramatically large role in teaching adolescents the values of safe sex, self-discovery, identity, and educating youth on the reproductive organs and their functions. Some children are fortunate to have a rich family up-bringing where open communication concerning sex is prevalent, however, for a teen who is involved in the justice system or a social services, information may be tainted or misconstrued. While their counterparts are learning sexual education within the school system, most of these youths are dealing with family crisis, drugs, truancy, or other behaviours that would rob their ability to participate or absorb what is being said.
The lack of information children in care (in some agencies) youth are receiving concerning sexual education is staggering. The majority of information and knowledge youths receive on sex is, surprisingly, from their peers. Knowing this, it is not surprising that many teens are misinformed when sexual matters are discussed. Sexual education within the school system is also said to be compromised. Before teens graduate from high school, research states that at least two thirds will lose their virginity and one in four will contract a sexually transmitted infection (2003, Siecus). Furthermore, by age twenty, four in ten girls will be pregnant (2003, Siecus). If surveys and research state that sexual education in the school system is compromised, how much worse can sexual education fall within social agencies and correctional facilities that are notably receiving less funding? There is hope, many say, as Centres for Disease Control and Prevention states that condom use among teenagers and school aged children stands at 63% in 2003 compared to 46% in 1992 (2004, Adrienne Verrilli & Nicole Cordier). In a brief phone conversation with Adrienne Verrili, it is stated that statistics for open custody facilities although not recorded, follow the same trend. "The overall decline in sexual activity and increased condom use among high school students since 1991 is a healthy and positive trend, but we still have a long way to go," said Tamara Kreinin, President and CEO of the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the U.S. (SIECUS). "Parents, lawmakers, community leaders, and educators must recommit themselves to giving young people what they want, need, and deserve - medically accurate, life-saving sexual health information, communication skills, and relationship skills to help them become sexually healthy adults," Kreinin continued. Knowing our goals, recognizing the problem, and wanting to change is not only enough. Why have our school systems, social service institutions, and correctional service facilities yet to formulate newer curriculum and more interactive learning objectives? Although advances have been made in the past 5 years alone, why hasn't more been done to curb the growing concern for at-risk youth and their sexual behaviour? Many sexual educators agree that sexual education needs to be more engaging, interactive and more directed toward students. Language has sometimes been blamed for undermining the severity of sexual infections and not emphasizing that unprotected sex can and will lead to infections. Adolescents are believed to hear the "can" and not the "will", since they feel they are invisible and their chances are low that they will contract the infection (2004, Adrienne Verrilli & Nicole Cordier). Child and Youth Workers, care givers, and educators alike hold a responsibility to work into the minds of our youth that consequences follow every action. As frustrating as it is to sit back and study sexual tendencies within our society, culture, and social service institutions, more steps need to be implemented to combat the challenges of sexually educating our youth.
Media plays an important and markedly impacting role in the lives of our adolescents. Media and all its facets expand to reach all youth, paying no respect to the social status, ethical practices, or moral values one may hold. It impacts everyone and is aimed toward the challenges of growing up as a teenager to sell products and increase ratings. Never before in history has media targeted a specific group such as adolescence as it has done within the past five years. Adolescents are bombarded by sexual images used to sell products and play on the emotional development of youth in a time where emotions run high and needs are looking to be fulfilled. It is increasingly easier to realize the media's effect on our youth. It is even easier to expose the pitfalls of media and what needs to be changed instead of discussing how we would change it, what we would use, and what should be stopped within the media. It seems that sex is such a taboo thought among individuals yet is widely accepted within the media setting. Adolescents need to be constantly reminded and informed about the reproductions unsafe sex possesses on their life. The mentality that sexually transmitted diseases can be combated and cured is a common thinking of youth today. The integration of the new phrase 'sexually transmitted infections' is not assisting in the fight to maintain a sense of severity and permanence to diseases. Society is overwhelmed with the idea of creating words, phrases, and teachings concerning sexual education to make it sound polite or sound easier to manage. In actual fact this is what is clouding the minds of youth. These exact words and phrases that stress 'everything is pretty' it will feel good is pure fiction. Teens need to be talked to bluntly without fancy or politically correct words and terminology that only makes sex out of marriage more socially acceptable. If educators and professionals alike were honest with themselves, it would be clear to realize that sex within the confines of marriage (or common law) by both parties can never lead to the spread of diseases. Why is it that we can make a distinct stand on saying drugs are wrong but sex with your boyfriend or girlfriend is not wrong? When examined deeply they both can hold the same life altering permanent affects, however, educators fail to see the correlation. Whether these actions are deemed right or wrong is not cause for concern. Dealing on these issues are not only trivial, but will overshadow the issue that our adolescent's need help navigating through puberty and sexual encounters. To simply state sex is wrong can have the potential to cloud the thoughts of educators and teens alike with issues of judgement. Society is so worried about offending lifestyles of individuals that they fail to see that it is jeopardizing our youth and their ability to enjoy the freedoms of a life not confined to diseases. Child and Youth Workers, educators, politicians and all those with responsibility to the people and youth within our society need to start using media to convey the important repetitive messages that youth are not hearing within the confines of a classroom setting and being forgotten as soon as the bell rings for the close of school. Despite others opinions, the issues of safe sex, truths about sexually transmitted diseases, consequences for actions, and the affects of abstinence needs to be made known to youths through available media outlets.
Within the justice and social service systems, Child And Youth workers must move into action. Child and Youth Workers not only have a responsibility to the teens in care, but to their parents, community members, and society as a whole. Firstly, Child and Youth Workers must educate themselves of all areas relevant to sex in relation to teenager's male/female partner. Secondly, Child and Youth Workers must present this information to a teen, offering any additional comments. Lastly, Child and Youth Workers must support. Child and Youth Workers are there in support when a child falls and satisfied and proud when they prevail. Many Child and Youth Workers fail to rejoice. Children and teens need support, times where you rejoice with them, building their character and motivation. Media has left its mark on society's children and it is time that productive and positive sexual messages filter through to impact the lives of youth and promote a more positive self-image.
What is even more troubling than the easily identifiable deficit in sexual education is Canada's inability to realize the dire need our teenage population is in. Canada has little research on sexual education strategies or implementations recorded. The majority of the information discovered is widely that of our neighbour, the United States of America. Little is said about Canadian children both at school and in other social agencies. Since children in care are at a huge risk of missing sexual education provided through the school system it is imperative that a greater effort and more initiatives are implemented to educate youth in this serious matter. Youth are simply unaware of what is out their in their world and are limited to the knowledge passed down from peers in most cases.
There are some marked improvements and advances within the last five years in Canada regarding sexual education teaching to youth in the public school system and increasingly in the social service industry, however, there is a continual and ever growing need of improvement to funding to get the message out there. It is not a matter of developing a message or even discovering new teachings of sexual education to children and youth; the key principle found in all research of sexual education is presenting the message to youth in an engaging and stimulating way, facilitating awareness leading to change in the thoughts and attitudes of youth. Youth today are bombarded through the media, peers, and various other generally unreliable sources (2003, Highbeam.com). It is time that society discriminates against the taboos of sex and strives for a way of life free from the fear of contracting diseases and into a preservation of a teen's innocence. It is imperative that more effort takes place and the use of all channels of a multi-faceted communication system within our country begin to be used to promote safe sex or possibly even to step out on a limb and promote abstinence. If the media and society as a whole would be as risky as to promote sex as being more than just a handshake between people, the teenaged population may be in a better state than at present. Sex is being portrayed as an act taken so lightly among teens that it is almost as frequent as shaking hands. This mentality among adolescents needs to be curbed to lesson the spread of disease.
In conclusion, sexual education has come a long way. Advances in technology and knowledge have made the presentation of sex-ed more informative and interactive with adolescents, however, more still can and has to be done to raise the 63% condom use found in school aged children. Sexual education is primarily set out to empower adolescents to make informed positive choices. Sex ed is aimed at illuminating risk factors and precautions scattered among the growing information concerning sexually transmitted diseases. Within the social services, clients today are knowing more than what they would have going through the system five years ago. With the assistance of the Children's Aid Society and various privately funded organizations, sexual educators in a social service setting have access to more videos, information, pamphlets (for clients to seek help) and better hands on tools for clients to view. Advances are being made and will continue to be made as long as their are dedicated professionals and sexual educators willing to empower youth with the ability to make informed life choices.
http://www.highbeam.com, accessed on May 18, 2004
http://www.siecus.org/media/press/press0062.html, accessed on May 22, 2004
http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/PDF/SS/SS5302.pdf, accessed on May 22, 2004
http://www.statcan.ca/english/Pgdb/arts23.htm, accessed on May 24, 2004