Teach adolescents sexual health and safety
As a pediatrician and infectious diseases/HIV physician working with children and adolescents in Ottawa, I'd like to express my opinion on SEX: A Tell-All Exhibition at the Canada Science and Technology Museum.
While I have yet to see it, I have reviewed the information online and I am aware of the controversy that has arisen over its content.
Adolescents are faced with many messages about sexuality. Our responsibility as a society should be to prepare them for the challenges of adult life, including knowledge and skills relating to healthy sexuality, sexual decision-making, family planning, and risk reduction for sexually transmitted infections. In my experience in working with adolescents, I have found they have many questions about sexuality and, while they are often too embarrassed to ask parents or teachers these questions, they are nonetheless eager to learn. I frequently hear feedback that the sex education provided in schools is insufficient to answer all of their questions, and much of their knowledge comes from their peers or from the Internet, with resultant inaccuracies. By providing accurate and appropriate information in a safe context, we can ensure that adolescents gain the necessary knowledge and skills to make safer decisions.
As health-care providers, we know that prevention is the best medicine. The museum exhibit was created by a panel of experts including physicians, public-health experts, science education specialists, and sexologists. As such, I am confident that the exhibit can only help the adolescents and adults who participate.
Contrary to popular belief, talking to adolescents about sex does not increase the likelihood of earlier or riskier sexual activity, whereas not talking about it does increase the risk of unplanned pregnancy and sexually transmitted infection. As the rates of sexually transmitted infections in young people continue to rise each year in our region, we must recognize that this is clearly an important issue.
For parents who are concerned with the exhibition's content, I encourage them to view it with their children. My greatest concern is that parents might refuse to let their children view the exhibition, but then do not take advantage of the opportunity to engage in a discussion at home. We should not let a lack of comfort with a topic as important as adolescent sexual health be a reason not to provide education at this important stage in life.