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Now is the time to provide meaningful sex education to boys

Esther J. Cepeda on

CHICAGO -- Recently, I had to comfort a student over a situation in which she and another girl were competing for the attention of a boy in their class. There were tears, drama, recriminations and some revenge fantasizing involving passionate language. They were 9-year-old third-graders.

In September, I had to talk to my students about not swapping speculation over who were boyfriends or girlfriends with whom. These were my first-graders.

My sons are now grown and, thankfully, after years of awkward conversations about hygiene, interpersonal relations, birth control, sexually transmitted diseases and vaccinations, we can have relaxed, factual conversations about such topics when the need arises.

I sure don't remember having to broach those issues in primary school, but I'd have to reconsider that if my kids were young now -- childhood innocence ends so swiftly these days.

Despite similar rates of sexual activity among both male and female adolescents, males are twice as likely to have their first sexual intercourse before the age of 13 -- or seventh grade -- according to a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association, Pediatrics.

The study's findings underscore that male identities are associated with their experiences and that their "age at first sexual intercourse is associated with identifiable systemic barriers in communities, such as racial segregation and neighborhood disadvantage," according to Laura D. Lindberg, Isaac Maddow-Zimet and Arik V. Marcell, authors of "Prevalence of Sexual Initiation Before Age 13 Years Among Male Adolescents and Young Adults in the United States."

 

Although, as with every other marker of well-being, boys of color in this country are at higher risk for the downsides of an early sexual debut, this turns out to have far more to do with their mothers' education level -- a proxy for a family's eventual level of education -- than with race, ethnicity or even geography.

The authors underscore that young men, especially young men of color, need comprehensive, culturally informed sex education before their first sexual encounter -- preferably from a health-care practitioner -- starting in middle-school or earlier.

This is a tall order. And, according to the authors, best practice calls for comprehensive sex education to start at least by kindergarten in the schools. The gold standard is for medical practitioners to set time alone with young patients in office-visit settings to address confidential care -- including sexual health -- starting in early adolescence.

Unfortunately, this is radical.

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