Sex education myths

Below is a transcript from a Georgene Rice KPDO FM interview with Miriam Grossman, child and adolescent psychiatrist and author of “You’re Teaching My Child What?: A Physician Exposes the Lies of Sex Education and How They Harm Your Child”.

Georgene: It’s disturbing to me that we have to have this conversation. But I am so grateful that you have made the commitment to help parents look behind the facade of sex education that I think most parents assume is well-balanced and based on science.

Grossman: Most parents probably do assume that. And that’s one of the reasons I wrote the book. I want to warn them and empower them and to challenge the organizations and hold them responsible for what they are doing, which is a scam. I’m a child and adolescent psychiatrist, and for many years I’ve worked with young people. In particular, I worked for 12 years with students at UCLA. I worked at the counseling center there. As the years went by, and I was seeing thousands of kids, I became aware of the level of sexually transmitted infections in this population. In light of the fact that these kids were well-educated about other health issues, such as diet, protecting themselves against the sun and being careful about what they ate and drank, it was surprising to me that these same kids had already become infected with a sexually transmitted infection or bacteria. I couldn’t understand how such bright and educated kids who knew about all sorts of other health issues were ignorant about many things related to sexuality. So I started to study sex education, and I went on to the websites of Planned Parenthood and other organizations,.and what I discovered made my already curly hair curl even more.

Georgene: You make the point that science has made extraordinary advances since the 1980s, but sex education curriculum doesn’t include this new information, and so it’s not just what’s being taught, but what’s not being taught as well.

Grossman: That’s correct. There is a ton of hard science that’s out there. Things that are seen under the microscope—these are not theories and not up for debate. This information is omitted from sex education. For example, kids are not learning—girls in particular—that the teen cervix is immature. An immature cervix is easier to infect with one of the bacteria or viruses that can cause a great deal of emotional and physical pain, and later on can even cause infertility. Each time she says “no” to sexual behavior, a girl is protecting herself and giving her body a chance to get older and more mature and able to fight off these diseases better.

Georgene: Not just emotionally mature, but physically mature as well?

Grossman: That’s correct. Another thing not being discussed are the risks associated with oral sex. Kids are not told that oral sex is associated with oral cancers. This has been known for a number of years. Oral cancer is normally a disease that strikes older people who have been chronic alcohol drinkers and smokers. Now what we’re noticing is that younger people who are not smokers or drinkers are coming down with cancers of the throat, in particular, cancer of the tonsils. And the reason for that is the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV). which normally lives in the genitals and shows up in abnormal pap smears, also travels into the throat and causes cancer there. We are not putting out these red flags so that young people understand that there are real dangers associated with these behaviors. Instead, organizations like Planned Parenthood and SIECUS actually provide step-by-step instructions on how to do these behaviors, and it really is unbelievable. That’s why I wrote this book. Parents need to know that this is going on.

Georgene: I know that teens are told that condoms, vaccines and yearly testing will provide the kind of protection that they will need to engage in these behaviors, and sex education courses in many cases are ideologically opposed to saying they should not engage in these behaviors at all.

Grossman: That’s correct. Ideology-wise, they believe that every teen makes their own choice and that their freedom to make that choice is a right. In fact, many of the materials that you’ll see written for kids will start off with that piece of information— “You need to know your rights”. Part of those rights, aside from the right to accurate sex information and access to reproductive health material, is the right to make your own decisions. Now, we don’t do that with any other health issues. We put out a clear no-nonsense message about smoking, drinking, diet, etc. We say, “We recommend as health professionals that this is best for you”, whereas in sex education, the ideal—the primary goal—is to promote sexual freedom, not necessarily health maintenance. And when you promote sexual freedom the way that they do, health necessarily suffers. It must suffer.

Georgene: You mentioned that students are being told they have certain rights that relate to their sexuality. One of the things that they’re not taught is what neurobiologists are now saying about the brains of young people. The presumption has been that they’re fully capable—that they’re really just little adults—and they have the capacity to think through the implications and consequences of their actions when, in fact, neurobiologists are telling us otherwise.

Grossman: Absolutely correct. Parents and kids need to be made aware that this is not happening in sex education because it goes against their agenda of sexual freedom. The biological truth is that the teen brain is immature—in particular, that area of the brain that makes rational decisions. It will take until they are well into their 20s for that area of the brain to fully mature. So teens more than ever need the guidance and the rules that adults will place before them. In my research, I found that rental car companies and auto insurance companies have known this for years. Auto insurance rates go down after the age of 25, and you can’t rent a car unless you are at least 25, and this simply reflects the common-sense wisdom that younger people do tend to make irrational decisions, especially when they are in highly stimulating situations.

Georgene: A lot of what’s in your book is shocking in light of what is being taught in public schools. What do you say to those who argue against teaching abstinence because they say that’s not realistic—that teens will make that choice and to suggest otherwise is just naive and dangerous?

Grossman: This is part of the circular argument. These sex educators promote experimentation and sexual activity to teens, and then they turn around and say, “Well come on, so many of them are having sex, be realistic”. Even if the majority of kids were smoking cigarettes or drinking and driving or engaging in other high risk behaviors, we would not just throw up our hands and say, “Be realistic, this is what they are going to do”. What’s natural in adolescence is to have interest in sexuality and to have urges and all kinds of thoughts and fantasies. That is what is normal. But sexual behavior during adolescence is a choice. And professionals—educators and health professionals like myself—need to stand up and say, “This is a high risk choice to make at this time”. Perhaps 50 years ago when we had two STDs that were easily treated by antibiotics—Gonorrhea and Syphilis—you might have been able to argue to a certain degree that that wasn’t the case. But now with almost 30 different kinds of infection, and one of them fatal—HIV—we no longer have the luxury of just saying, “Oh, this isn’t realistic”.

Georgene: What do you say to proponents of safe sex—that all you need is a condom and you need the vaccine, and essentially you can engage in whatever behavior you might choose. Scientific evidence seems to suggest that even the condom isn’t quite as safe as some had been led to believe.

That message given to kids is the height of irresponsibility. I explain in the book why the impression we have of the condom providing a high level of safety with every single kind of organism is mistaken. It depends on the bug. With some bugs, there is an 80 to 85% decrease in disease transmission. But with other bugs, there is probably zero or a very low percent of effectiveness in terms of protection. The other thing I want to bring up is that when we say condoms are very good or that they offer significant protection, we need to point out that this pertains only to vaginal intercourse. Kids are being taught that there are three different kinds of intercourse, and they are being led to believe that they all carry the same risk in terms of disease. This is not medically accurate. It’s a dangerous message to give because anal intercourse is very high risk, and we need to be politically incorrect and stand up and say, “This behavior should not be engaged in by anybody,” and that will save lives in this country.

Georgene: It’s shocking to imagine that this message is not given. With everything that we know, that it is not politically correct to give that message.

Grossman: Yes, it is shocking. But I want to end things on a positive note. First, I want parents, and kids as well, to know that all of these infections and diseases are 100% avoidable. For example, in order for cervical cancer to occur, you need to be carrying the HPV virus. That is a sexually transmitted virus that you only get from another person who got it from another person. Two people who have delayed sexual behavior and then stayed together and are monogamous never have to worry about cervical cancer, HIV or any of these illnesses. That is the ideal we need to be presenting to our kids. Now. is everybody going to be living up to that ideal? Of course they’re not. But like we do in other areas of medicine pertaining to health issues, we present an ideal, and we urge kids to live up to that ideal. We try to give them the information and the encouragement to live up to that ideal. Unfortunately, that is not at all what is happening in sex education today.

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