There’s virtually no way to separate morality from biology in discussions about sex, particularly when the talk is about teenagers and sex. It is about both morality and biology.
Officials at the Arizona Department of Health Services are trying to incorporate elements of each in their latest advertising campaign directed at teenagers. As Capitol Media Services’ Howard Fischer reported in Wednesday’s Tribune, that message is that teens should refrain from having sex, but if they do, they should use a condom.
Those who only see teen sex as a moral issue, period, won’t like that. To them, anything other than saying no violates religious or other moral precepts and mixing messages about abstinence versus protection does nothing to reinforce that.
Those who see it strictly as a biological one won’t like it, either. To them, the state shouldn't be preaching morality but rather informing teens about how to guard against two things that can seriously affect young lives: pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.
Looking at the reality of American teenage life, today’s young people mostly find themselves between the moralist’s axiom of don’t-you-ever and the libertine’s entreaty of do-what-feels-good.
The best way to keep young people both safe and circumspect about sexual activity, therefore, is to acknowlege that they hear messages from both camps, regardless of adults’ preferences in the matter. This means talking about both abstinence, which is preferred above all else, and protection if teens, as they are often prone to, give in to biology.
And teenagers do, despite our appeals that they don’t. The story quotes the state Department of Education’s 2003 survey of high school students’ sexual experiences. It found that — after years of abstinence-only appeals — by their senior years, 61 percent said they’ve had sex — but only 52 percent of them said they used a condom the last time they did.
Therefore the message they should hear, as Patricia Jo Angelini, director of the Arizona Coalition on Adolescent Pregnancy and Planning, told Fischer, is that they need to wait as long as possible to have sex, but when the time comes in their lives when they decide to, that they need to be responsible.
Parents should make sure their children understand their views on sexuality, as studies also show teens look to them for guidance — though they don't always show it. DHS’ campaign is a good posture for society to assume on a subject forever complicated by morality and biology.