Let’s Talk About Sex
Film reviewed by Lena Schmidt
Sex is part of our culture, especially youth culture. Sexual imagery is inescapable: billboards, magazine covers, movies, and Internet ads inundate us with it. But we’re still not supposed to talk about it. The new documentary, “Let’s Talk About Sex” by James Houston addresses this conundrum with the central question, “if sex is everywhere, but it is taboo to talk about, what effect is it having on young people?” Houston uses interesting interviews, engaging graphics, and alarming data to show that teens are paying a terrible price for this confusion, fear, and silence around sex and sexuality in US culture: increasing rates of unintended pregnancy, STDs, and HIV. And American taxpayers are paying billions of dollars to treat these preventable problems.
According to the film, 70% of Americans have had sex by the time they’re 19. 95% of Americans have sex before they’re married. The US government has spent $1.5 billion on abstinence-only education and yet the US has the highest teen birth rate in the industrialized world. 85% of parents in America want comprehensive sex education for their children; it is a small but vocal minority that is deeply opposed. Houston talks to teens, parents, teachers, doctors, faith leaders, linguists, researchers, and college students who agree that withholding information from young people does not protect them. As the film states, in the US, “teens are thought of as accidents waiting to happen—driven by raging hormones—[and] in some ways it becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy.” One concerned parent says, “We teach our kids math, reading, science, but we don’t teach them about their body and how to be responsible…sex is as much a part of life as algebra or English.” Houston advocates starting conversations to change outdated attitudes about sex.
These conversations may need to take place in surprising venues. African-American contributors in the documentary explain that in the same way that the church was involved with abolishing slavery, the end of segregation, and the civil rights movement, it needs to continue to address the needs of the time, which means talking about sex in church. African-American communities often demonstrate high rates of teen pregnancy, and although African Americans make up only 15% of the US, they make up 50% of all new HIV infections. The film makes it difficult to argue with the fact that talking about sex will save lives.
The film brilliantly compares European and American attitudes about sexuality and sex education. In Holland/the Netherlands sex is discussed as a natural part of a relationship and as a way to express love. One mom in Holland says, “Kids have sex. If they don’t have sex in the bedroom they’ll probably have sex in the street or in the park.” This mom even offers her own condoms to her son to use. This and other examples (and the statistics presented about teen pregnancy rates) demonstrate that abstinence-only education is insufficient in protecting our teens. Some highlights of the film include: a classroom of expectant teens being taught abstinence-only education despite the clear evidence that it wasn’t relevant to their lives, a teacher putting a condom over her hand all the way to her elbow to rebut the myth that size matters, and the disparate attitudes teens have in the US and the Netherlands about young women and men who carry condoms in their wallets.
This film is recommended and appropriate for parents, teens, and educators. It is a great conversation starter—watch it today and start talking. Let’s talk about sex! To learn more about the film and resources, check out the film’s website: http://www.letstalkaboutsexthefilm.com/ The film was made in collaboration with http://www.advocatesforyouth.org/ To talk about sex and sex education in California, become a member of TeenNow California: http://teennowcalifornia.org/Join.php