BY: NICOLA MACLEOD
The students gawked as a picture of a genital wart infected vagina flashed up on the screen.
“Ew! What is that,” a wide-eyed, blonde haired girl gasped.
“That is disgusting,” said another.
“I think I’m going to puke,” laughed a boy in the front row.
The other 15 students turned away or exchanged uncomfortable glances with their friends.
Fifteen minutes later, the white faced students poured out of the lounge and back to their rooms in the dimly lit residence hallways.
“That was so disturbing… I can’t even,” stammered one girl to her friend.
“Will you go with me to get tested?” one man asks his girlfriend. “I don’t like needles.”
It was a typical session of Wellness Jeopardy as put on by the University of New Brunswick Student Health Center, where a nurse and a dietician test student’s knowledge on health, with topics including eating, exercise, stress and sex.
This session was horrified to learn that you could contract herpes and genital warts even if you use a condom, as it is transmitted through skin-to-skin contact, not through fluids.
I knew this from grade 7 sex-ed, but why didn’t the other students know this already? Is this fundamental information that sexual active university students should know? Overall, it seems people our age are rather ignorant towards sex and its risks.
We grew up hearing talk about the birds and the bees, and there was this idea that sex talks occurred between parent and child once they came of age. This is what many of us were expecting, and we were surprised when this never came.
Nine of my friends were pilled around the crowded cafeteria table when I brought up that I was doing a story on sex talks. They seemed confused at first, but once they understood, everyone seemed to have an awkward story they could share.
“I didn’t actually have a talk with them [my parents],” said third year Ashley Rerrie. “My mom just gave me a book, because I liked reading as a child.”
“I never had a talk with my parents,” laughed second year student Jared Kaye as he bit into his sandwich. “But, my brother told me that if I masturbated my palms would get harry and I would go blind.”
One thing was common amongst them; none of them had ever actually had a sex talk with mom or dad.
It is evident that “the talk” is extremely rare today, but was it ever really common at all?
An East Coast Problem?
New Brunswick was not the only province to have an increase in teenage pregnancies. In the same study, Newfoundland rose 35.7 per cent and Nova Scotia increased by 17.1 per cent. This is well above the national average, which only increased by 1.1 per cent.
I remember the day I found out what sex was. I was nine years old, we had finished supper and I was down in my basement. It was the summer, so the rec room’s yellow carpet was damp and squishy from the condensation.
My mother was vacuuming, my dad was sitting fifteen feet away on our burgundy and green stripped couch watching golf, and I was sitting in the black leather computer chair which caused my below average height legs to dangle.
I was playing the Sims, a computer game where you create families, build houses, and make them interact with each other. I had just created a couple, they had moved into their house, and I wanted them to have a baby. In more updated versions of the Sims, you could command the characters to “WooHoo” and they would have sex in the bed or the hot tub.
However, I had the original version and in order to have a baby, a couple would have to kiss several times in a row and a baby cradle would appear.
“You know that’s not how it actually works, right?” said my mom as she turned off the vacuum and walked over to look at the computer screen with her hands on her hips.
“I know,” I said bashfully. In reality, I had no idea and I hoped she wouldn’t press it any further.
“Do you know how babies are made?” my mom laughed, looking at me now. I was the oldest of three, so I had seen my mother pregnant twice, but had no idea how the baby got there.
I was trapped… and she knew I did not have any idea.
Then, she leaned over and whispered, so my father could not hear, the words that I will never forget to this day, “It’s when a man sticks his penis inside a woman’s vagina.”
I was horrified. I never had an actual “talk” with my parents, but from that moment on, I knew the extent of my mother’s openness and knew I could go to her with anything.
From talking to my mother in more recent years, I realized that she never had a sex talk with her parents either. She says there were conversations surrounding sex, but in a very religious household, they were indirect and limited.
As parents, there should be a certain responsibility to ensure that your child is going out into the world with knowledge about lies ahead, but it seems this is not the case. Many young people have never had “the talk” and have no idea what the realities of sex.
Syphilis in NB; did you know?
– Prior to 2008, fewer than 5 cases were reported each year
– In 2011, 46 cases were reported, which is up from 34 in 2010
– 92% of cases are male
A few weeks ago, I went to the UNB Health Center to have my birth control prescription refilled.
As a sat in the waiting room, there was information about sex everywhere. On the table in the middle of the room, there sat two large bowls filled with condoms. A hand written placard encouraged students to take as many as they wanted. On the wall in front of my bench, there hung a large black and pint poster with facts about oral sex and contracting sexual transmitted infections.
I was called in by my doctor, a petite woman with fitted trousers and turtleneck and black patent leather boots. Her stylish blonde bob swayed back and forth as her heels clicked towards the examination room. She wrote my prescription and started to ask me some question.
“Now you know that the pill doesn’t protect against STIs, so you should still be using condoms,” she said encouragingly.
“I know,” I smiled.
“You did? Ok then,” she said, seeming pleasantly surprised. “Now, have you ever heard of the gardasil vaccine?”
Gardasil, when administered on three separate occasions, should protect the patient from human papillomavirus, which causes 75 per cent of cervical cancers and 90 per cent of genital warts.
“Yeah, I got it when I was in high school,” I responded.
“Ok great,” she said, again seeming surprised. “Why did you get it?” she asked in her bubbly tone.
“My mom wanted me to”
“Well that’s excellent, is your mother a nurse?” she asked with a beaming smile
“No,” I responded. “She just wants me to be safe.”
“Well that’s great to hear,” she said.
It confused me why this doctor had been so surprised by my basic knowledge of safe sex, and moreso that just because my mother had wanted me to get the vaccines, she must be a nurse. Is parent involvement in sexual education really that limited today?
With a syphilis outbreak and an increased in teenage pregnancy rates, 58-year-old mother to three, Jackie Muise, thinks there is a connection.
“People are under the false idea that if you freely discuss sex, then kids will freely partake in sex,” said Muise. “If you freely discuss sex, they may or may not partake in sex, but they are much more likely to make wise decisions.”
Muise had a sex talk with both of her daughters and let her husband handle their son.
“I was very uncomfortable and my children surprised me, especially my oldest daughter,” said Muise, whose oldest daughter asked to go on birth control when she got her first boyfriend at 15.
Many parents feel uncomfortable talking to their children about sex and would rather leave it up to someone else. When the statistics on teenage pregnancy were released in January, indicating that New Brunswick had seen a 40 per cent increase between 2006 and 2010 compared to a previous study conducted between 2000 and 2004, many blamed the state of the province instead of the teens, their parents, or their education.
“What we do find is that the provinces that have the most dramatic increases tend to be the ones that have poorer socioeconomic forecasts and profiles,” UNB psychology professor Lucia O’Sullivan told CBC News.
It was suggested that New Brunswick needed to implement more social programs to better handle the increase.
“Both parents and the school need to be talking frankly about sex. Parents are the ones who set the tone around moral values and sex,” said Muise.
So where has the sexual education gone? If students don’t know that birth control pills can’t prevent STIs, and you can still contract some STIs when wearing a condom, what are they teaching in schools?
It can’t be enough.
Sex has been talked about more openly in Canada since the first publishing of the Birth Control Handbook by McGill University in 1968 and the Criminal Law Amendment Act of 1969, which among many things, decriminalized homosexual relationships, abortions and allowed the distribution of contraception.
Prior to the publishing of the Birth Control Handbook, young people were operating off of myth and dormitory gossip, said Christabelle Sethna in her article The Evolution of the Birth Control Handbook. The handbook made information about sex readily available to the public.
This handbook and the revolution that followed influenced our parent’s generation, causing them to skip over “the talk” and learn the information from friends.
Prior to the baby boomers, sex with multiple partners was seen as taboo. Sex was intended as an act between man and wife to create children. It is very unlikely the birds and the bees were discussed openly.
It seems that sex talks are a thing of the past, if they ever existed at all. Today, many parents expect the schools to take over, while others awkwardly slide their child a book or a box of condoms with an encouraging smile and pat on the back.
It seems each parent will take a different approach with his or her child, just as with everything else.