I’m going to buck the trend of talking specifically about stocks and investing practices to address a controversial issue that came up in the media recently in La Bell Province (Quebec) that I feel has a direct impact on the Value of Health.
As a healthcare professional I do not have the luxury of passing judgement or condoning the activities that individuals often take in their lives. I am bound by law to report abuses to the necessary authorities when applicable, but my own views cannot affect my decisions or ability to provide care regardless of my own conflicts with religious or person views.
Whether you are liberal or conservative, religious or atheist, black or white, prolife or prochoice, homo or heterosexual; it doesn’t make a difference in how I approach what I have chosen to do with my life by helping others.
The topic I’m addressing specifically is in reference to a recent decision by the provincial government of Quebec to cut high school sex education classes in favour of teachers addressing the birds and the bees on their own time in all classes.
On a weekly basis I have conversations with adolescents, middle age adults and seniors (yes, people over sixty-five are surprisingly active) concerning their questions on topics of sexual nature and seek to provide the best health-related information I can.
My belief as a nurse (which I do realise goes against my Roman Catholic upbringing) is that each and every individual has the right to access the best available information on their health in order to make sound decisions regardless of their intentions for using that information.
High school is a difficult time for many adolescents and I think many of us, years or decades from that period in our lives, forget just how challenging that environment can be. There are social pressures to conform to certain ideals, curiosity and investigation of personal choice and the increasing need for gaining your own independence and identity as a young adult. Sexuality is a natural process that everyone goes through regardless of your upbringing or cultural/religious views. Your body is rapidly changing, hormones begin to affect your mood and the importance of your peer groups increases in contrast to the traditional role of your parents throughout your childhood development.
The bottom line is this: whether you endorse, forbid, acknowledge or ignore the topic of sex with teenagers….they’re still going to do it anyways. Whether you ever know about it or not, we as healthcare professionals know that many young teens are now talking, experimenting and participating in sexual activities well before they entire high school. I say “activities” because many choose out of personal preference to continue to remain abstinent until they feel they’re ready to take the responsibility for the possible consequences that sex entails. But they’re talking about it and it is very much a part of the ever important “teen culture”.
Sex education is not endorsing sexual activity. I think this is both an ignorant and often misled belief among older adults of strong personal views. Stating a link between receiving knowledge and immediately going off to experiment with that knowledge is non-sense. We teach children not to talk to strangers, to beware of the dangers of smoking tobacco and that when they encounter traffic on the busy streets of our cities to be extra cautious. We don’t then see children going out of their way to meet up with questionable characters, chain-smoking or running into intersections on purpose in order to “experience” this new found knowledge. Sex is no different than any of these topics. It is a personal choice and something each individual has the right to explore and access information on in order to protect themselves.
The consequence of NOT educating teens is often catastrophic. I’ve already stated that they’re going to do it anyways, but in order to understand the dangers present in that statement you have to understand the role of peers in their social life and development. From iPods & magazines to popular media and the internet; teens are impressionable. When a young adult has difficulty in seeking information about some self-conscious issue the most frequent place they will seek it first will be their peers. If they are educated and knowledgeable on the subject then there’s really no need for concern; but at fifteen or sixteen – do you trust your teenage son or daughter to know as much as they should about sex?
In a recent public health initiative I participated in with local male students in grade eleven, nearly 70% reported (over 1500 respondents) not using condoms on a regular basis: Alarming. When we investigated this further the number one reason for not using condoms was not “convenience” or for sensation reasons, but for the simple fact that many didn’t feel confident enough in how to use them properly. In subsequent focus groups I discovered that the social stigma among young men was very strong in reference to condoms. Almost all of them knew they lacked the proper knowledge to use them properly, but felt ashamed in asking their peers or male role models for advice. They did not feel comfortable going to health clinics for instruction and felt if they asked their sexual partners for advice they would be rejected. Even when they were encouraged and supported in access to free condoms from the public health unit, many continued to avoid their use due largely to this social anxiety.
In 2007 over 1.3 million adults (15 years of age and above) were living in North America with HIV or AIDs with over 46,000 new cases reported.
I’m not suggesting that you run out to educate your children on sex with the impression that they’re doing so already. Many adolescents are knowledgeable, bright and keen on seeking out the information they want on all sorts of personal health questions. My point is that I would rather important health information come from responsible and educated adults than the media, their peers or hearsay. Each of us has a responsibility at times to put our own personal views aside and place the health of those we care for as a priority. Talking to your children, supporting access to sex education programs and keeping them informed may not protect them from all dangers; but the alternative is one that I see on a daily basis where such investments could have made the difference in a young life who now understands the true responsibilities of such mature actions.
I always remind parents with one question whenever they express difficulty in approaching this subject with their children,
“When you were their age, were you any different?”