Just to make sure there are no misunderstandings of yesterday’s blog post, I want you all to know that I am not philosophically opposed to colleges and universities providing sexual health resources to their students, even if that means distributing free condoms in the school’s colors.  I think that last thing is silly, but if that’s the way schools want to run things, bully for them.  The only thing I object to is characterizing this micro-management as “treating students like adults.” 

I don’t care how old you are, or what your maturity level is–if someone wants to give you free condoms specifically because (s)he’s afraid you wouldn’t use them otherwise, that person is not treating you like an adult.  That person is treating you like you’re an irresponsible kid, and I have some more news for you:  If the only reason you’re not using a condom is because someone hasn’t offered you one on a silver platter at no charge, you ARE an irresponsible kid.  Congratulations!  You’re also an idiot.  Now don’t drink and drive.

Some of you may think it naive of me to assume that the vast majority of 18-year-olds have at least a basic understanding of sex and its attendant risks.  I admit that I lead a sheltered life, so I need it explained to me how ANYONE who lives in the United States in the year 2006 can reach the age of 18 and NOT know these things.  I’m not even talking about anything as complicated as sperm fertilizing egg or the anatomically correct names for female reproductive parts.  I’m saying I would be astonished beyond all my means of expressing it if every freshman entering college this year didn’t understand at least the following:

1.  That there’s this thing called sex, and it involves those parts of your body covered (ideally) by a bathing suit

2.  That sex is far and away the leading case of pregnancy

3.  That unpleasant diseases can be spread via sexual contact

4.  That there are means of preventing or minimizing the risk of pregnancy and unpleasant diseases

5.  That there are means of learning what those means may be

That’s all.  No fancy Kama Sutra/Taking Charge of Your Fertility stuff.  Just old-fashioned common knowledge, with a side order of common sense.

I don’t doubt that most parents don’t talk to their kids about sex.  Mine didn’t talk to me.  I also don’t doubt that many schools have sub-par sex education programs.  Perhaps there still exist schools that have no sex education programs.  I’m sure lots of 18-year-olds have received misinformation from their peers.  I just don’t believe they’ve received so little correct information–if only by osmosis–that we can’t hold them responsible for their own choices.  That’s what adulthood means.  I’m not talking about high-minded notions of maturity.  I’m talking about accountability–the proposition that no matter how stupid and immature you are, you are responsible for the decisions you make.  That’s adulthood.  That’s treating someone like an adult.

I’ve never seen any compelling evidence for the argument that young people have unprotected sex because they don’t have access to condoms or don’t know what condoms are for.  I think young people have unprotected sex for the same reason older people have unprotected sex:  because they’d rather risk the consequences than think about them.  Young people are especially into that whole “spontaneity” thing because they think they’re invincible.  But this is not an ignorance problem so much as an impulse-control problem.

Centusceolis made the point that young people don’t have a lot of experience with freedom until they leave home.  This is true, but it isn’t really the problem.  The problem is that young people don’t have a lot of experience with responsibility.  Or, as my husband put it, “The problem is not an abysmal lack of sex ed in the schools, but an abysmal lack of life ed.

I would fully support a movement to require all high school seniors to pass a “life skills” course before they could graduate.  It would involve stuff like learning how to balance a checkbook, how interest works, how to get a job, and how to find a doctor or a Planned Parenthood or a freaking public library if you want to know what sex is all about.  They could have field trips to the local drugstore and walk down the family planning aisle.  Read the backs of the boxes, kids–you’re bound to put two and two together eventually.

Because the consequences can be so dire, and because luck is such a big factor in deciding who “pays” for ill-considered actions and who “gets away with it,” it’s tempting to try to remove as much of the risk factor as possible.  Which is fine, if that’s the strategy you want to use.  Just don’t delude yourself into thinking that you’re initiating kids into adulthood.  Adults aren’t entitled to that much coddling.  And real adults don’t want it.

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