Here we go again

Josie Sustaire, Resident Blogger (’14, University of Oregon School of Law)

Scrolling down the news feed of my Facebook account, I stumbled upon a headline that caught my eye.  The headline warned, “New York Schools Enable Sexually Active Teenagers.”  Interesting, I thought, that someone thinks teens need enabling in this department.  I thought that hormones took care of that (but what do I know).  Curious, I read on.  The article discussed New York City’s CATCH program.  CATCH stands for Connecting Adolescents To Comprehensive Healthcare.  The program aims at providing students with free comprehensive contraception.  What struck me wasn’t the fact that savvy NY schools were providing comprehensive contraceptive services to their students but the spin that the media was putting on it by attempting to incite fear in their readers.  To be fair, no all the headlines I encountered were bad.  Here is a compilation of various headlines from a variety of news organizations:

  1. New York City Gives Plan B contraceptive to Teens in School
  2. New York schools enable sexually active teenagers
  3. New York City Pilot Program Offers Contraceptives to High School Students
  4. More Access to Contraceptives in City Schools  (The New York Times)
  5. Girls age 14 can get birth control at New York City schools
  6. Plan B Contraception pills now available at 13 New York City high schools
  7. Morning-after pills offered to NYC high school students
  8. Sensible Plan to Prevent Teen Pregnancy Sure to Be Met With Outrage

What stood out to me were articles #2 and #5.  My reaction to them was a mixture of disgust and sadness.  I thought, “Oh no.  Here we go again.”

Now, I wasn’t around during the sexual revolution of the 60’s, but rumor has it that things got kind of heated when sex education was first adopted into public schools.  The media back then also used incendiary headlines and fear-inducing language to spin stories with the hopes of inciting readers (parents) to action (getting rid of sex education).  Life magazine ran an article in its September 19, 1969 issue addressing just this issue.  On the cover are the innocent faces of grade-schoolers under the headline: Sex Education for our Little Children.  The article discussed, among other things, how parent groups had distributed pamphlets with outrageous stories of other schools around the country.  They claimed that one schoolteacher had taken her clothes off in front of students and that another school had shown sex films, neither of which really occurred.  As silly as these claims may seem, the reaction in the 1960’s to sex education in public schools seems to be repeated each time public schools bulk up their comprehensiveness in regards to sex education or sexual health services.  It happened in the 80’s (or in early 90’s if you lived in rural Oregon like me) in reaction to the AIDS crisis and it will likely happen again.

The bottom line is this: articles focused mainly on inducing fear aren’t helpful.  If anything, articles like #s 2 and 5 are simply knee-jerk reactions to changes that some folks just can’t understand or simply refuse to accept.  And although I may not know exactly what enables sexual activity among teens, I do know this, inciting fear in the hearts and minds of parents is wrong and as a mother of two school-aged kids the last thing that I need is more to worry about.