Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Shhh! (Abstinence Is Not Sexy)

Across the nation, in 4th grade classrooms this year, they will have the "talk" with young girls about their development, their body and their cycle. This is known as the magical year. (Who knows how that got decided when girls are developing at warp speed.) In Christian education, this is largely a health conversation about what to expect when the time comes for "Aunt Flo" to visit. The comparable boys conversation amounts to a discussion about deodorant, bathing and the joy of toothpaste. Meanwhile, the girls are treated to conversations about hormones and emotion, being prepared for all circumstances, pads vs. tampax. Why then, can't we figure out a way to talk about abstinence? I don't mean abstinence as a choice - I mean abstinence as THE CHOICE. This is one way we can help young girls, Black girls, females in general - understand their value.

In America, half of all AIDS/HIV cases belong to someone Black, although we are only 8% of the population. In Washington, 80% of the HIV population is a Black population. (Can I say celibacy is the only option here folks.) I really can't even imagine the need to explain how very scary that statistic is - and I can manipulate numbers with the best of them. We need to be teaching the reality of sexual activity, and the necessity for abstinence. This is now a life and death matter. Call me naive, conservative, a Jesus freak, or simply call me right. Less sex = less risk of HIV/AIDs.

Earlier in my career I worked in the field of Hemophilia - a blood disorder that impacts a growing segment of our population. As a result of my work I had the opportunity to learn more about HIV and AIDS during the early days of the disease, at a time where you were labeled either homosexual or other. We, as a society, acted as if there were good and bad ways to catch this deadly disease. A decade and a half later - the largest population is now African or African-American. I watched a cousin die from the disease when no one would say what we all knew for the most part - he had died from advanced complications from AIDS. From a research, medical intervention, and attention standpoint - nobody cares about this as a leading cause of death for young African-American women under 34, or the second leading cause for African-American men under 44. If we, as African-Americans don't merit media coverage, recognition, respect or equal billing in this society (Katrina anyone? the Primary season anyone?) for everyday reasons - we surely can't wait for the greater majority to consider this a top priority. We are losing lives - and the numbers are scary. Time to actually stop talking about it and do something.

I have a friend who works in education at a swanky foundation, where she funds programs geared at increasing educational opportunities for children. With a very high teen pregnancy rate in her area, she relayed the discussion at a meeting about Safe Sex needs of the high school and investment in early childhood education and prenatal programs. People - can someone tell me why abstinence is the step child in this discussion? Don't tell me everyone is already doing it - uh, they are not. I know from personal experience that not everyone tastes the forbidden fruit before they have put on their cap and gown or wedding gown. And for those who have, they'll often share if they knew then....what they know now. No need to move full speed ahead - sex can and should wait.

My mother didn't handle the topic with a focus on our Christian beliefs - although we had them. She focused on a much more pointed issue in her mind (my selfish character and personality flaws)- "Girlfriend, you are selfish. Once you give that away, you can't get it back." The crude conversation still lingers in my mind, but, it worked for the most part. I had no interest in having a shared sexual history with the entire college campus, or some moron of non-importance. It isn't to imply that I walked on water - but I see very little focus on abstinence as the most viable choice for survival nowadays. For the sake of our current and future generations we have a lot of educating to do.

As a culture we have to get beyond our own frailties and insecurities to deal with the impact of AIDS/HIV in our community. We need to rally behind those who need us most - largely to wake up, and be accepting. We need to be openly talking about the latest numbers and statistics and see what we are doing (in our church, social groups, sororities/fraternities, peer cliques, etc.) to ensure that people get and understand the reality of this disease. I believe we have to be more dedicated to the provision of medical support, counseling and public awareness - and measure our impact for effectiveness. But most of all, as the mother of three children, I believe we have to teach abstinence. Pure and simple in my book - it is the best option to curve the numbers that astound us today.

And for all those who would tell me the value of safe sex, I agree. I just believe our children ought to understand the safest sex, and nowadays - that's frankly, none at all. While we explore how we can help, support, educate and inform - can we figure out how to fund, mandate and encourage abstinence as THE most viable option moving forward. Decreasing the rate of HIV/AIDS we can all agree with. My solution may not be sexy, but hey, we're dealing with epidemic numbers and a silence that can be deadly. Unprotected sex one time, that's all it takes. And my cliff notes for the 4th grade speech - they just doubled in size. Makes you wonder - how can we spend countless hours majoring in pop culture madness and lose sight of what is right in front of us? An issue of epidemic proportions - where are all of us going to make a difference for the sake of a generation - and those generations to come?

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