Wild Teen Sex!

It's out there. So why isn't there sex ed in Philly's schools?

The quote in yesterday’s Inquirer made me catch my breath. It was in an article on how state funding cutbacks will affect ELECT, a Philly school district program that helps pregnant teen girls complete their high-school educations. All 50 of the program’s staff have been laid off, the summer program has been canceled, and programming for middle-school students has been eliminated. Yes, that’s right—middle-school students. But that’s not what got to me. It was this, from a 17-year-old:

“I’m pregnant again by the same boy, and I don’t know what to do.”

She already has a one-year-old son. She’ll be a senior in the fall.

I’m sure a lot of you have a lot of suggestions for what she could do, starting at condoms and leading on from there. And yeah, that’s part of where the sinking-stomach feeling I had came from. But then I read a post on The Notebook, a Philly public-school blog for teachers, parents and educators, by middle-school teacher Christina Long. In it, Long tells how the girls she teaches are desperate for accurate, reliable sex education. One bemoaned how she and her friends “don’t feel good enough” about themselves when it comes to relationships; another mentioned “how unfair it would be if she came down with an STD before having the chance to learn how to prevent one.”

In 2007, 55 percent of female Philly high-school students and 70 percent of males reported having had sexual intercourse. Six percent of the female students and 24 percent of the males said their first experience came before age 13. Fourteen percent of female students and 37 percent of males reported having had four or more partners.

Long says that sex ed in Philly schools is “almost nonexistent,” lost somewhere between the Tea Party’s silly abstinence song and the district’s frenzy to teach to the test. That leaves kids to rely on information they pick up on the streets—information that’s often inaccurate and downright dangerous. (Long mentions a teen couple who depend on having sex while standing up to prevent conception.) Pennsylvania schools aren’t required to teach sex ed beyond preventing STDs and HIV transmission—nothing about how babies are made, nothing about how to resist pressure to put out, nothing about what to do when you’re about to have your second baby before you even graduate.

It’s easy to want to tell that young mother what to do. It’s something else again to provide her with trustworthy information that allows her to protect herself—and her children—from the potential consequences of her sexual activity. As Long says, unless she’s taught to take control of her body, it won’t really matter if she aces the PSSAs.