Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Public Libraries: Their Potential to Improve Sex Education, by Kristin Davis, Guest Writer

Public Libraries: Their Potential to Improve Sex Education
Kristin Davis
Teen and Women's Health Care Advocate
16 November 2010

Unfortunately, with public schools no longer a source of unbiased, true information regarding teen sexuality, it rests on other institutions to educate teens about the dangers of irresponsible sexuality.  As purveyors of unbiased information, the public library system should fulfill its obligation as an institution of public service and offer teens and young adults the opportunity to learn about the dangers of irresponsible sex.  Particularly for young women, the risks associated with these unhealthy decisions run high, making it particularly imperative libraries fulfill their role in the facilitation of learning.  Few other topics carry such substantial consequences, making the open discussion of reckless behavior particularly important.

This past March, President Obama renewed the $50 million per year funding for abstinence-focused education over the next five years.  Based on this legislation, programs receiving funding must "teach that abstinence from sexual activity is the only certain way to avoid out-of-wedlock pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, and other associated health problems," according to the Department of Health and Human Services.

In addition to this incomplete curriculum, some critics feel this renewal of funding is unwarranted, pointing out that no conclusive results showing the education’s value have been found.  While abstinence is indeed the best method of avoiding unwanted sexual consequences, it remains unrealistic to believe all teens will choose to refrain from sex, especially with the brazen attitude regarding sexuality today and the hormonal surge that accompanies adolescence.  With the continued failure of schools to present this vital information, it then rests upon another public institution, libraries, to effectively educate teens with unbiased information.

Even if teens do find the unbiased information regarding responsible sexuality and contraceptive use, a serious lack of information about their effectiveness and safety remains.  In particular, oral contraceptives present a danger to young women.  While tempting to trust the heavy marketing manufacturers produce, these products often mislead young adults into believing they are safeguarded against sexually transmitted disease as well.  While pregnancy rates for unmarried young women in this country are seeing a welcome decline, sexually transmitted disease rates continue to grow.  Frighteningly, these drugs might actually be a contributing factor to this trend as teens protected from pregnancy are emboldened to have unprotected sex.

However, manufacturers of these contraceptives also fail to provide real information regarding their products.  Indeed, they actually contribute to the rampant misconceptions surrounding their products, regularly failing to point out important details regarding safety.  One oral contraceptive producer, Bayer HealthCare, was cited by the FDA for its misleading television advertisements.  Because Bayer HealthCare labeled its product a total quality-of-life aid, the FDA found it advertisements further misled teens with unproven claims.  Furthermore, Bayer was cited for substandard conditions in a plant in which its ingredients were manufactured.  However, the drug company's annual multi-million dollar advertising campaigns continue to overshadow these revelations and make its drugs the most popular form of contraception on the market for young women today.

Although Bayer HealthCare's lack of corporate integrity is disturbing, the severe physical consequence of these drugs is even more striking.  Oral contraceptives are hormone-altering pills and can actually lead to permanent side effects, like the possibility of infertility.  Originally introduced in the 1960's, evidence today links the growing use of these drugs with the rise of cancer seen in U.S. women.  Although easily dismissed by their harmless appearance, these drugs literally upset numerous significant aspects of women's physiology.

In fact, the growing number of complaints against oral contraceptives, exemplified by the common Yaz lawsuit seen in many courts today, indicates that the short-term safety of such birth control options is far from certain.  Users of this particular oral contraceptive have seen serious, and sometimes fatal, side effects including heart attack, stroke, blood clots, pulmonary embolisms and gallbladder disease.  However, because schools refuse to recognize anything but abstinence as a legitimate lifestyle and companies remain unwilling to risk their profits, these facts are rarely discussed with teens.

Because few establishments address these important issues, the public library system should embrace this opportunity to inform young adults of this danger.  Indeed, the American Library Association (ALA) already possesses a division dedicated to educating teens, called the Young Adult Library Services Association.  This group regularly supports events tailored to address specific concerns of young adults, including topics like social networking, cell phone use and podcasts.  Because this division within the ALA has an established history educating teens, including this vital topic of teen sexual health concerns can be accomplished easily and effectively.  Few issues today carry as much magnitude as teen sexuality, undeniably making this topic deserving of the ALA's attention.

With so many sources of inaccuracy and misinformation regarding safe sexuality and contraception, our country needs an institution not influenced by government dollars or profit to give them real facts regarding healthy sexuality.  Fortunately, the ALA's purpose is to facilitate learning, help young adults reach their full potential and better their respective communities, with which responsible sex education does indeed coincide.  The ALA's governing and policy manual even addresses sexual education for youths, stating that the organization possesses the right to present "comprehensive, sex-related education, materials, programs, and referral services of the highest quality."  With those policies already in place, the ALA needs to decide whether it will stand aside as these dangerous trends regarding reckless teen sexuality continue or utilize its role as a respected institution and work to influence this country in a positive way.

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Libraries can be safe libraries when they provide access to information that will help keep people safe.  Access to sexual health education is an important public library service.  Therefore, SafeLibraries has presented the above excellent guest blog post by Kristin Davis.  She is an aspiring freelance writer and a Teen and Women's Health Care Advocate.  She is passionate about these issues and the need to spread the word to educate others.  SafeLibraries is happy to bring you this guest post by Kristin Davis who is solely responsible for the content therein.  All graphics were obtained and inserted by SafeLibraries.  All guest bloggers are welcome.  By the way, modern Internet filters allow sexual health information.

© 2010 Kristin Davis; published by SafeLibraries with permission.



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