Many students remember that awkward sex conversation their parents had, or attempted to have, with them during their teenage years. Some parents read scripts, others nervously stumble through the ins and outs of baby making. Parents may encourage their children to wait until marriage or emphasize practicing safe sex. But in some families, nervousness and discomfort may leave parents silent.
With the hope of encouraging families to talk about sex and to make the process a little less painful, Gov. Jennifer Granholm started Talk Early and Talk Often this fall. The program consists of workshops that teach parents how to talk to their children about sex and is a practical compromise between safe-sex and abstinence-only education programs. Although this voluntary program leaves parents with total control over what they choose to tell their children, several conservative groups like the Abstinence Clearinghouse are attacking the plan, claiming it is sneaky and promotes promiscuity. Not only are such charges unfounded, but TETO also has the ability to become a valuable resource for parents and their children alike.
Current research suggests that those children whose first exposure to sex education comes from their parents are less likely to become sexually active and if they do, more likely to use protection, as Kathy Fahl, director of education at Planned Parenthood, mid-Michigan Alliance, told The Ann Arbor News. Since the inception of safe-sex education in some schools, parents have had the right to opt out their children from sexual education programs in order to teach their children themselves. TETO does not remove this right from parents, but rather affirms it. Teaching parents how to approach their children about sex will make parents more effective in conveying the right information and encouraging their children to make the choices they deem as correct.
TETO’s mission is certainly not controversial in itself. With messages like “give honest answers to the best of your ability” and “know what your values are about sexual issues,” TETO’s aims are neither sinister nor clandestine, as Leslee Unruh, president and founder of Abstinence Clearinghouse would suggest. It is difficult to understand why even the staunchest advocate of abstinence-only education would not encourage parents to know how to answer inevitable questions about sex in a way that reflects their beliefs. Given TETO’s potential to encourage communication between parents and children, opponents are missing the point by insinuating this program is misleading or ill intentioned in any way.
In the end, the goals of all sexual education are to reduce unwanted pregnancies and to limit the spread of sexually transmitted diseases. However parents choose to accomplish these goals is and always has been their choice. TETO strengthens those choices and helps parents accomplish those goals. If a parent disagrees with TETO’s mission or is uninterested in its workshops, he does not have to participate. Granholm’s program can only help children, not harm them. To stop TETO would not only prevent some children from being a part of uncomfortable but necessary conversations about sex, but could also have serious public health ramifications.