When I started my school’s required senior project, I had no idea how difficult pursuing a controversial topic would be. Thinking that I would push some boundaries, I created a project on teenage sexuality. I kicked it off by constructing a survey about sexual behaviors, gender identity, and views on reproductive rights.
Within a month, I had over 400 responses to my survey. I was very optimistic, but had no idea that my results would never see the light of day. Without warning, the local sexual health center where I was working came to me with news that the survey was illegal because of my failure to get parental consent from all of the minors that I had surveyed. Even though all the survey responses were voluntary and anonymous, I found myself facing legal threats from those who didn’t approve of my questioning.
In the state of Washington, it is legal for a teenager to have sex at age sixteen, or get an abortion without parental consent at thirteen, but not to take a voluntary survey on sexual behavior without their parent’s permission. This is lunacy. It is simply the fear of promoting sexual behavior rather than sexual behavior itself that creates such ridiculous regulations.
It all boils down to one word: obscenity. In law, obscenity is defined as “something repulsive”, as well as something “of a sexual nature”. Most obscenity laws group sexuality and religion together as the two “no-no” topics that are to be kept out of schools. It doesn’t seem to be relevant to law that the whole idea of sexuality being repulsive stems from Christian beliefs. If religious beliefs were truly prohibited from schools, sexuality wouldn’t be seen the way it is.
What message does the censorship of sex send to teens? Most certainly a contradictory one. The government is supposed to be secular, yet is still enforcing the ancient Christian principle that lust is something “disgusting”. The perfect balance could be achieved if teens understood that sex isn’t something to be ashamed of but rather something that has to be given careful thought. Unfortunately, that balance is hard to find when the idea of sexuality is so hidden in our education system, leaving only pop culture and other media to teach teens how to act.
Within the past year, four questions about sexual health have been added to a state wide survey created by the Washington State Public Health Association. This “Healthy Youth Survey” is administered to all public school students. This would be great, except that the questions that involve sexual behavior are only included in a special “tear-off” section that any school can choose to remove. While some information about teenage sexual behavior is being documented, not all students get a chance to participate.
All of these regulations don’t just hurt teens, but policymakers as well. Because of this, pollsters will always end up with a skewed sample that gives no comprehensive information about the real sexual thoughts and behaviors of teens. By enforcing policies that hide teenage views of sexuality, policymakers are keeping themselves in the dark.
Before embarking on this project, it had never even crossed my mind that asking questions about sexual behavior would promote sexual behavior. The teens that participated in my survey jumped at the chance to answer questions about something so prevalent in their lives, and were very disappointed when they found out that they would never see the results. If the government could only remove “sexual in nature” from the description of obscenity, teens might actually be able to be more open about sexuality and learn to practice healthy sexual behavior.