Can anyone remember The Talk that a parent or guardian had with you about sex when you were younger? What was it like? Were you (or your parent) uncomfortable? For some, did The Talk never even happen?
When I was a teenager, my talk happened in the car. I could not escape. Even better: My mom did not have to make eye contact with me. We never spoke about "it" again.
Today, parents are encouraged to have ongoing conversations with their adolescents about sex. Do all parents do this? Probably not.
Have you considered the fact that the most powerful sexual health educator for a teenager is the media? This is relevant since adolescents watch an average of three to four hours of television a day.
The media portrays frequent discussion and images of sexual behaviors that affect adolescents' concepts of sexual behavior. By the time they graduate from high school, adolescents will have spent more time watching television than they have in the classroom.
Yes, television can entertain, educate, and keep our children occupied. However, long gone are the days when "Little House on the Prairie" was on in most living rooms during prime time. The brains and beauty of Winnie Cooper was how TV represented teenage girls. My, how that has changed!
If you haven't noticed, Hollywood has been very busy sexualizing teen girls. In fact, entertainment media does a really good job of normalizing sex for an adolescent audience.
According to the Parents Television Council study in 2010 about sexualized teen girls, "underage female characters are shown on TV participating in a higher percentage of sexual situations than their adult counterparts: 47 percent to 29 percent respectively." This study also revealed that "98 percent of the sexual incidents involving underage female characters occurred outside of any form of committed relationship."
Additional data shows that adolescents with high exposure to sexual content reported having sexual intercourse at an earlier age than individuals with less exposure.
Many shows implicate that everyone is having sex and that there are no consequences. Most often, when sexual content is shown on prime time television, safety or prevention is not included.
Nobody wants teens to have sex. No one wants them to drink alcohol, do drugs or text and drive. But should we believe that there's no chance these things will ever happen?
Educating them about risks and teaching them how to be safe is critical. Parents should be their kids' most influential resource and advocate. However, according to Center for Latino Adolescent and Family Health at New York University, nearly half of all teens nationwide feel uncomfortable talking to their parents about sex. Nearly one in five parents is equally uncomfortable about the topic.
Arming teens with the best and most up-to-date information about sexuality, development, reproduction, birth control options and healthy relationships enables them to make healthier, more informed decisions.
Red Ribbon Project, a local nonprofit since 1996, works hard to be a force of change in Eagle County. Red Ribbon Project offers a youth skills-building program and an evidence-based teen pregnancy prevention program (called CUIDATE!) in Eagle County to empower adolescents to make informed choices.
These programs help explain to teens the strategies and skills to prevent unintended pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections. These classroom discussions about sex are meant to supplement the conversations being had at home, not replace them.
Sex education isn't only about religion, morals or values. It's about public health. Preventing teen pregnancies and the spread of disease is everyone's responsibility, and it truly does take a village.
Since 1996, many changes have taken place with Red Ribbon Project. The heart and soul of the organization has always been HIV prevention, education and awareness for the Eagle County community.
Most recently, Red Ribbon Project has taken on another public health concern: teen pregnancy. With the additional focus of teen pregnancy prevention in Eagle County, Red Ribbon Project has broadened its mission statement to "we build healthier lives by empowering the community to reduce teen pregnancy, HIV/AIDS, and other sexually transmitted infections."
As I said earlier, it truly does take a village. As a parent, I encourage you to watch shows with your children and to discuss what was shown. Talk to your children about what they are watching.
They are clearly not getting the message from television that sex is something that should happen in the context of a loving intimate relationship or that there are any consequences related to sex. There's no question there are countless kids who have avoided pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections as a result of medically accurate information gleaned from the double emphasis of safety from their parents, teachers, and educational programs like those provided by the Red Ribbon Project.
Denise Kipp is executive director of the Red Ribbon Project. For more information, call 970-827-5900 or go to redribbonproject.org. Denise@redribbonproject.org.