Every day in America 10,000 teenagers catch a sexually transmitted disease, 2,400 young girls get pregnant and 55 young people are infected with HIV.
Let’s Talk About Sex takes a revealing look at how American attitudes toward adolescent sexuality impact today’s teenagers. Director James Houston takes us on a journey to examine trends in American society as personified by a cast of diverse characters. At a high school for pregnant teens in Los Angeles, young girls are contemplating teen parenthood. In Washington, D.C., where HIV infection rates rival several African countries, community outreach workers are trying to save lives.
The film also travels to the Netherlands, where Houston compares European attitudes with those in America, then concludes in Oregon, where the lessons learned in Western Europe are helping to create practical solutions. Real parents and youth, compelling statistics, animation and archival material all combine to paint an urgent picture of American youth in crisis, one that not enough people are talking about.
Let’s Talk About Sex 8.25
‘Let’s Talk About Sex’ is a short, mature, frank, unjudgemental documentary film about teenagers and sex. Its chief focus is society’s responsibility to teenagers as real people facing real consequences to the choices they make in their young lives.
When I say it’s unjudgemental, it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have an agenda: the film clearly is trying to send a message to educators, religious leaders and parents. But mostly parents. In fact, there is a closing message directed at them, specifically.
Its over-arching message is that North America’s teenagers face more unwanted pregnancies and STIs because of our attitudes about sex in general – that, because we have archaic views on the role of sexuality in our lives (ex: it should only be after marriage, abstinence is a realistic message, sex education promotes sexual activity, …etc.), we have less healthy outcomes than we’d desire.
The film attempts to compare the United States with other countries, but it mostly uses the Netherlands as it’s biggest point of reference: it is claimed that, since they have a more thoughtful, open approach to sexuality, they have far fewer cases of teen pregnancy and way less STIs to deal with.
We even visit with parents and kids from the Netherlands, who all seem to have a very casual, comfortable approach to sexuality: to them, it’s just another part of life – it’s not something to be ashamed of or that they dare not speak of.
In contrast, the North American teens we meet have very conflicted views of their own sexuality – despite wanting sexual experiences, many admitted to harbouring a bias between male and female and some even frowned upon sexual responsibility because it suggested premeditation.
Surprisingly, considering how touchy that can be, ‘Let’s Talk About Sex’ discusses the relationship of religion with North American values and the Church’s role in attitudes about sex. We also meet a few pastors and priests who try to spread real information, knowing full well that expecting abstinence isn’t realistic and that they aren’t serving their communities properly by pretending that it does.
My main beef with the documentary is that I got the impression that some of the data might be a little off. For instance, it claims that one out of three teenage girls will be become pregnant. That seems extremely high to me and that comes in total conflict with what I see around me (obviously Canada’s a bit different, but no so radically… ). As well, this would mean that, based on the actual birth rate, most children come from teen parents. I’m not so sure about that.
So I decided to research the data and found that there’s contradictory info out there:
On the one hand, the CDC (http://www.cdc.gov/TeenPregnancy/AboutTeenPreg.htm) says that the rate is approximately 34 girls out of a 1000, so about 3.5% – which is completely different from the documentary’s claim of 33%. This sounds about right to me.
On the flip side, sites like Teenhelp (http://www.teenhelp.com/teen-pregnancy/teen-pregnancy-statistics.html) suggest a FULL 34% will be pregnant by the time they hit the age of 20. Which is technically possible, but extremely high – especially given that not all teens are sexually active (so it would mean that a LARGE number of those who are get pregnant! ).
Note the differences between the two though:
-the CDC includes births only and the TeenHelp site includes pregnancies in its data (which isn’t the same thing as actually giving birth)
-even considering the above, abortions and miscarriages don’t make up for the difference: http://www.statcan.gc.ca/kits-trousses/preg-gross/edu04_0134g-eng.htm. I mean, that would be a LOT of pregnancies that don’t come to term!
So I don’t know what to think. I suspect that there’s some manipulation of the data being done somewhere, or maybe someone misinterpreted the numbers in their reporting. The reasons why escape me, and I’d love to know more that. But, bottom line, I would desperately like to imagine that the pregnancy rate is not as high as 33%. Wow… that’s a lot!
In the end, ‘Let’s Talk About Sex’ is nothing new or revolutionary, but it’s nonetheless important: it makes for good discussion material for parents, teachers, religious/community leaders, and, of course, teenagers. It could even serve as a solid first step towards more open, honest exchanges about the role of sexuality in our lives.
On that basis alone, I would highly recommend watching it. At under an hour, it’s no waste of time. And it may even save a few lives -or, at least, paint brighter futures- along the way.
Post scriptum: I would also recommend checking out the following data for more insight on the matter: http://womensissues.about.com/gi/o.htm?zi=1/XJ&zTi=1&sdn=womensissues&cdn=newsissues&tm=1271&gps=435_199_1356_603&f=00&tt=3&bt=0&bts=0&zu=http%3A//www.guttmacher.org/pubs/fb_ATSRH.html%23n25