Adolescent health experts in the United States think they have made a great leap forward in sex education. Since the vast majority of teenagers have cellphones, and since an awful lot of them appear to be sexually active, programmes have been set up in several states to receive and answer questions about sex by text message. The beauty of the scheme is that kids can ask the rudest and the most serious questions about sex without bothering their parents.

The move follows Web-based approaches, including the use of social networking sites. While some of the text programmes are automated, one in North Carolina actually employs nine people on shifts to answer questions ranging from “Why don’t girls like short guys?” to questions about anal intercourse. The Birds and Bees Text Line staffers undertake to answer within 24 hours and may refer the young person to a local service. They have a rule not to advocate abortion.

What parents might see as unwarranted intrusion on their territory, and encouragement of an unwholesome interest in sex, the experts see as a face-saving formula for kids pushing the boundaries of enquiry, if not behaviour:

“Technology reduces the shame and embarrassment,” said Deb Levine, executive director of ISIS, a nonprofit organization that began many technology-based reproductive health programs. “It’s the perceived privacy that people have when they’re typing into a computer or a cellphone. And it’s culturally appropriate for young people: they don’t learn about this from adults lecturing them.”

Oh? And by disinhibiting young people in this way aren’t Levine and her colleagues hastening the day when the teens will go direct to porn sites to feed their curiosity? Pornographers are always a step ahead of the competition and are now using the hugely popular Twitter to promote their sites.

“Parents haven’t complained yet, perhaps because they haven’t seen the exchanges,” reports the New York Times about The Birds and Bees.

“Sally Swanson, a staffer and mother of two teenagers, said if parents did read them, ‘It would highlight how much disconnected information kids are already getting at younger ages than we did.’ The questions can be salacious. The staffers try to answer them all, said Mr. Martin, but discreetly and always urging protection. In offering this service to teenagers, he said, ‘you can’t say ‘I’ll be honest except or until.’” That’s often what happens with parents, he added, ‘when the child brings up something shocking, the parents tend to shut down.’”

Can’t say I blame them; stunned silence would be a very natural and even salutary response to a 14-year-old’s enquiries about certain sexual perversions.

If this sort of programme reduces the number of teenage pregnancies in North Carolina it will be nothing short of a miracle. ~ New York Times, May 3

 

Carolyn Moynihan

Carolyn Moynihan is the former deputy editor of MercatorNet