Because I’ve been reading this book and I’ve already read this book and because I’ve been paying attention to the shift in social mores during the last two decades, I was not shocked to learn last week that--according to the CDC--25% of American teenage girls carry at least one STD. Of course, this means that some of them carry more than one! But I’m not shocked by that either. I’m appalled by it, but not shocked. Given the state of our popular culture, the lack of discipline in our schools, the state of sexual education, and above all the clueless-ness of parents, I’m actually shocked that the number is still so low. When 80% of unmarried young girls are sexually active before the age of twenty, I don’t expect the number to remain at 25% in the coming decades. No wonder there is such a push for vaccines to save us from ourselves. At some point, it becomes very hard to see any room for reason to intervene.
Today, Dr. Miriam Grossman has a column discussing the contribution to the problem that comes from our misguided efforts in the area of sexual education. As always, her points are very measured and reasonable. She’s not unaware of this, but this article only addresses one front in this war. And it’s not even the most important one.
I said that I was not shocked by this news, but I am shocked by the shock of so many people I know in my life apart from the political/academic world. Primarily, I am shocked by the reaction of other mothers around my age. It is as if they really believed that time stood still in the late 80s and things now are no worse than they were then. I think this may be because the pop culture message of Madonna does not differ substantially from that of Britney Spears. She’s ratcheted it up a few notches, but that’s what kids do, isn’t it? We all listened to Madonna, imitated her dress (to the extent that our parents would allow it), got into one form of trouble or another and then, came out on the other side of it pretty sane. We know there were some among us who picked up a nasty disease and there were some who really ruined their lives. But these were the outliers. It certainly wasn’t 25% of us.
Why should we think it will be any different for our daughters? People always say young people are going to hell in a handbasket. Elvis shocked our grandparents or our great-grandparents. If we’re shocked by today’s kids, we’re just old fogies . . . right? The thing we’re forgetting is . . . two decades have lapsed. That’s a long time for decency to be defined down. Moms who grew up wearing their underwear on the outside of their clothes along with "Boy Toy" belt buckles and singing "Like a Virgin" (which actually is all about emphatically NOT being like a virgin), may be shocked to find how quaint that all seems to today’s younger generation. Today it’s the virgins who lie about their status . . . not the opposite. Today’s song would be "Like a Slut" and there would be no sweet or enticing melody to it. These kids have never known anything but exhortations to be "sexy." Think of what they’ve got to do to shock parents who dressed like Madonna as teenagers! If we had to emulate Madonna in order to shock parents who grew up with Woodstock . . . well, what did you expect?
People who say it’s "all how you are raised" are wrong about the "all" part but they’re more correct than not. The trouble is that so many of us have abandoned the responsibility of raising sensible teenagers because we have listened to the siren song of those who also tell us that we shouldn’t get too excited over their antics. Kids will be kids. Yes, but that should be what we tell ourselves so as not to get discouraged as we try to teach them how to be adults. It’s not an excuse for not putting in the effort.