As a parent, I spent so much of my son’s childhood and youth trying to protect him from the pitfalls and hazards of the world in which he lived. As a minister, I had established such strong boundaries for him, believing that if he just did as he was told, he would traverse the minefield of his teen years unscathed. What I could not do either as a parent or a minister was to control what he heard and learned from his peers.
Naively, I waited until he was well into high school before I sat down with him to have that notorious “father/son” conversation about sex. It was an awkward conversation to begin with, since I come from a very conservative religious background and from a family where there was never, ever any mention of sex or anything that would border on such topics. I’m from the “Father Knows Best” and “Donna Reed Show” generation, for heaven’s sake.
The conversation began like this: “Son, I think it’s time we had an honest talk about sex before you find a girlfriend and become sexually active later, hopefully after you marry.” Imagine my dismay and shock when his response was, “Dad, you’re a little bit late.” Those are not the words a Baptist preacher wants to hear from his teenage son, trust me. But it brought reality straight to the forefront of the conversation and created for me a deep learning experience with my son being the teacher and me the learner.
Like most teens growing up in the Midwest during that time, there was no formal sex education in the schools. What my son learned, he learned from his peers, television or the movies. There was no opportunity for him or his friends to learn medically accurate and fact-based comprehensive sex education. And trust me, as our conversation progressed, I learned just how inaccurate his base of information was. My son is now in his 40’s, and when my grandson came along, I made it my mission to make sure that he was better informed about sex education. When my son was somewhat hesitant to bring up the subject, I stepped up and began my grandson’s education while he was still in elementary school. My son was relieved and I had the chance to share what I learned from my son in our ‘father/son’ chat and from further sex education opportunities.
The truth is, there’s a much better way to deal with securing a solid base of sex education for our kids and grandkids. Spokane schools have a golden opportunity of adopting a remarkable curriculum called “Get Real.” This program has been studied and evaluated by the US Department of Health and Human Services and proven to be an excellent choice for comprehensive sex education for youth. The results of their studies show that this knowledge gained by teens delays sexual activity and significantly reduces unplanned teen pregnancies. In a city like Spokane where the Department of Health recognizes one of the highest rates of teen pregnancy in the state of Washington, there is obviously a need for education of this caliber.
So, what’s the hold-up? Opponents of the curriculum have asked the Spokane School Board to reject the program. They have been vocal in their opposition, giving the impression that all churches in the city believe as they do. But that’s not true. Many congregations and their faith leaders do favor adopting the Get Real Curriculum. We believe that our young people need and deserve this opportunity to gain true solid-based, comprehensive sex education.
Without a doubt, I can tell you that I wish my son and grandson had been given the chance to have such an education in school. As a parent and as a minister of some 50 years, my message is simple. “Get Real.” If your children don’t get real sex education in school, chances are they will find it in places parents wish they wouldn’t. The bottom line is simply this, “What’s best for your teenagers?” In my opinion and from my own experience, it’s to “get real.”
Rev. Vincent Lachina has served as Planned Parenthood Regional Chaplain for the last 13 years, providing support to patients and community members in Washington, Alaska, Idaho and Hawaii. Additionally, Lachina works to create an active network of progressive congregations in the Northwest who support reproductive justice for women. He is an adjunct member of Planned Parenthood’s Clergy Advocacy Board, which provides guidance and advocacy on reproductive health and justice issues nationwide, and has served on the Board of Directors of the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project.