Scared Straight? Why it Doesn’t Work for Sex

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istock Scared StraightIf you’re a woman, I’m sure you can relate to having a bad hair day and all you can manage to do is throw on a baseball cap when you leave the house. Well I had one of those days today, only to have the clerk at the Post Office look closely at me underneath the cap and say, "Hey, you're the 'Sex Lady' trying to hide underneath a cap." [Actually, the only thing I was trying to hide was my “misbehaving” hair.]

After asking about my latest stories from the classroom, she asked me for advice on how to educate her rising 8th grade daughter about sex.  Her plan was to show her daughter pictures of a visibly diseased penis so she would be too afraid to have sex. She asked if I thought this was a good idea.

Don’t judge a penis by its “cover.”

I told her (as I'll tell you); the first problem with showing pictures of visibly diseased reproductive organs is that a person can be contagious from an STD without any outward symptoms. Is her daughter to assume that as long as a guy’s penis doesn’t look like the one in the picture, he doesn’t have an STD? Unfortunately, that is the message that many teens receive when pictures of visibly diseased genitals are used as a teaching tool. In reality, many times the person with the STD doesn’t even know he or she is infected because they haven’t seen any outward symptoms.

Teach Toward Something instead of Away From Something!

The second problem is that fear is not the most effective way to change behavior because fears can be conquered. In the heat of the moment, inspecting for STDs will be the farthest thing from her daughter’s mind. The mother’s goal should be to provide her daughter with information that will prevent her from being in a situation where she would even see his penis. This is best accomplished by educating her daughter toward something instead of away from something.

The letter below from the student speaks to this point.

I really enjoyed the style in which you taught.  You didn’t give us the ‘have sex before marriage and you’ll die’ speech, but you made it completely realistic.  In my middle school, when we talked about sex education, the teacher had a PowerPoint that ended with ‘SEX IS GREAT’ in huge, capital letters with ‘just not right now’ in letters so small it could barely be read.  When I saw it, I thought, ‘This isn’t convincing anyone to choose abstinence.’  Then they showed us all of the sexually transmitted diseases.  Yet again, it wasn’t effective because it was just a scare tactic.  Instead, you reminded us of our goals and aspirations.  We have too much to look forward to for us to just throw it all away in an act of passion. ~High School Student

This mother will have much better success with getting her daughter to abstain from sex if she helps her understand her purpose, create a vision for her future, set goals and develop a plan to reach those goals; rather than showing her pictures of STD infected genitals. And so will you!

I would love to hear your thoughts on effective teaching methods you have used with your teen. Please share them below.

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