Teen Abortion Rate Prompted Sex Education Curriculum

Readers write

February 27, 1991

From: Nancy Hudson

Ellicott City

I am writing to respond to a recent article in The Howard County Sun ("Sex-education curriculum plan unleashes firestorm," Feb. 10) about the revised ninth-grade sexuality education curriculum.

First,I think it is important for the community to recognize that one of the reasons the ninth-grade curriculum was revised was in response to the hidden problem of teen pregnancy in Howard County.

We as a community only see about one in every three teen pregnancies that occur in Howard County. In 1988, approximately 62 percent of the Howard County teen pregnancies ended in abortion. Our county has the highest teen abortion ratio in the state of Maryland.

This percentage of teen abortions has been consistent for many years. This is much higher than the national average and shows a tremendous need for prevention efforts. The revised ninth-grade sexuality education curriculum is responding to this need.

The paper reported "sharp criticism" from a small group of "conservative parents," especially about one of the sessions of the course curriculum, "Evaluating Relationships: The Differences between Physical Intimacy and Emotional Intimacy."

The paper only reported the shell of the exercise and not the discussion, which, I feel, helps teen-agers to recognize exploitative relationships and learn how to avoid them. Since I have presented this exercise to numerous school, community and church groups, I would like to give the community more information about this exercise.

The exercise begins with the class setting up a scale on the steps of physical intimacy from no touch, through to talking, going out, holding hands, hugging, kissing, touching and sexual intercourse. This is only about 10 minutes of a 45-minute session. After the scale is set up, we discuss what happens if the scale is taken very slowly. The students concludethree things could happen:

1. The relationship ends because one person may want to go faster and the other one doesn't.

2. The relationship ends because the two people find out that, although they were attracted to each other, they don't have a lot in common and they get bored.

3. The relationship gets stronger.

The last scenario is where the most class time is spent. The relationship gets stronger, we conclude, because it is build on a friendship. We write down thequalities of a friendship: common interests and values, mutual respect, honesty, trust, caring, having fun together.

I suggest to students that relationships that develop slowly and are based on friendships are healthier relationships which give them emotional intimacy orcloseness and are less likely to be hurtful, exploitative relationships. I then ask them what they are looking for in a dating relationship. Overwhelmingly, students say they are looking for emotional closeness when they date.

I suggest to them if that is what they are looking for, they don't have to have intercourse to be emotionally close to a person. You can get all these good things out of a relationship without having intercourse.

Another thing I do with the class, using the physical intimacy scale, is talk to them about their personal line of stopping.

It has been my experience working with sexually active teens that many never expected to have intercourse; it just happened. I tell students that if they look at the scale and figure out their personal line of stopping, they are more likely to be able to share their values with their partners and less likely to be swept away. This is the exercise that is causing controversy.

Many Howard County teens have written letters to me about this exercise. Here are some of their comments:

"You really made me think about my stopping point."

"When I get into a situation, I will remember the chart you put up. I will know how to say 'no' and mean it."

"This will make me think first before having intercourse just to get the guy to like me."

"I want to thank you for teaching me about the sex scale. It will really help when I go out on dates."

"With the physical intimacy scale I learned how to get my standards for physical intimacy with the opposite sex."

"I think that doing what you do has a good chance of decreasing teen pregnancy."

Should any parent groupwant more information on the physical intimacy scale to assist teensin evaluating their relationships, I would be happy to speak with any parent group.

There are also several speakers' groups in Howard County that offer presentations on how to talk to your child about sexuality. Contact Pat Johnston from the school system about these presentations at 313-7015.

The Governor's Council on Adolescent Pregnancy sponsors a public awareness campaign called PACT! (Parents and Children Talking), which emphasizes the importance of parents becoming educated on sexuality issues and opening up lines of communication between parent and child.

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