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Education Reporter

Panelists Encourage Boulder Teens to Have Sex and Use Drugs 'Appropriately'

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Four panelists spoke to students at Boulder High School on April 10, on "STDs: Sex, Teens and Drugs." "I'm going to encourage you to have sex, and I'm going to encourage you to use drugs appropriately," announced Dr. Joel Becker, psychiatrist and UCLA professor. "And why I'm going to take that position is because you're going to do it anyway," he said; even though a survey recently taken at Boulder High had found that only 33% of the students had ever had sex.

Ten Republican state senators have joined together to chastise the Boulder Valley school board for the district's "weak" response to the Conference on World Affairs panel. The senators denounced the panel discussion as "reckless and utterly irresponsible," and called for the district's superintendent and the principal of Boulder High to be fired. The school board has yet to respond officially to the senators' letters.

To listen to the recording of the panel discussion is to hear four grown adults openly jockeying for the position of "coolest panelist" in the eyes of their teenage audience. One boasts of her wide experience with alcohol and marijuana; another casually drops details that brag how often he has sex with women he hardly knows. A third mentions that if he had the drug ecstasy, he might take it - that from the psychiatrist, who should know the ruinous psychological and physical effects of that drug. All this, and much more, took place at a public high school assembly for which many teachers made attendance mandatory.

Boulder High School (BHS) has hosted panels through the University of Colorado's Conference on World Affairs since 1998. This was the first panel to cause controversy. When some parents complained, Boulder Valley School Board president Helayne Jones initially called the panel a "huge mistake." After listening to the recording, however, Jones and other board members decided the panel's message was appropriate overall.

"Its intent was to discuss with students of [sic] the risks of engaging in certain behaviors before they are emotionally and psychologically mature enough to cope with their consequences," wrote Supt. George Garcia. Garcia acknowledged that parts of the presentation were "unnecessarily crude." He also said that while BHS will continue to host the event and the teachers involved in bringing these speakers will not be disciplined, teachers will no longer mandate attendance.

Does Garcia's description do justice to the panel's intent? The panelists lauded experimentation with sex and drugs, while mentioning the risks and consequences only briefly. Panelist Antonio Sacre shared the story of his experience with an STD as if it were a good joke; the audience laughed and applauded. The few negative examples and negative consequences cited pertained almost exclusively to having sex or using drugs too young, before students are "ready." As long as you perceive yourself to be ready, casual sex and illegal drugs are fine, the panelists clearly communicated.

The only exception came at a brief moment when Sacre mentioned the abortion his 17-year-old girlfriend had, describing the regret and the "hole in your heart" he feels so many years later. This was the only moment in the recording that gave a strong disincentive to experimenting with drugs or sex. Even so, in the context of the rest of his message, Sacre was really only urging students to use condoms when they have sex, not to postpone sex or forgo sex until marriage.

The panelists condoned uncommitted sex, even between people with no illusions of love or long-term plans ("It feels the same both ways"). When one student asked the panel, "Would you have sex with someone you liked but he doesn't love you," all four panelists said that they would.

Although more than one student tried to make some connection between love and sex in questions to the panel, teens might well despair of ever finding lasting love, based on the responses they received.

"We older people make jokes and say that teenage boys will stick their you-know-what in a melon. I mean, that's about as much feeling as they need to have for the object," said Becker. "And after it's over, it can be as meaningless as you can imagine. So you have to be prepared for those differences between the two of you." Later, Becker warned against abstinence because students committed to abstinence until marriage tend to marry significantly sooner than others. "We don't necessarily think that's a good idea," he said. "If you get married before the age of 25, you've got an 80% chance of that marriage not working out. I don't think anybody would go to the track and take that bet. . . . And so what I'm worried about in the abstinence model is that people are getting married younger, too young, [and] they're getting the same amount of STDs anyway."

Besides abstinence, the panel warned students severely against tobacco. "If you get one message [out of this panel], it's that," said Sanho

Quotes from Boulder Conference
Warning: sexually graphic, offensive material

Joel Becker: "I want to encourage you to all have healthy sexual behavior. Now what is healthy sexual behavior? Well, I don't care if it's with men and men, women and women, men and women, however, whatever combination you would like to put together. But I think that we know enough about what constitutes healthy sexual behavior to think about it along two lines. One is, the issue of health and disease. So all the information that you can get about the transmission of sexually transmitted diseases, you should have. And then we should be realistic about what you are actually going to stick to, and what you are not."

Joel Becker, on the subject of mind-altering drugs: "And there's no question that people's worlds are changed after their consciousness is changed. Well, you have to really sort of think, am I ready to have my world changed? I'm 14 years old. Maybe I'm not ready to see what one sees on LSD. Maybe I'm not ready to have the feelings that mescaline provides in my body, or ecstasy, because a lot of those feelings have to do with feelings of being out of control, and they can be very scary to a person who doesn't have a strong enough sense of themselves, and that's why people end up having bad trips at young ages. They're just not ready."

Sanho Tree, answering a question on why society has a taboo against using drugs or having sex at a young age: "I think H. L. Mencken was the one who characterized puritanism as this terrible feeling that out there somewhere someone was having fun."

Sanho Tree: Also, there's an unintended consequence, again, of abstinence-based models, particularly when they're combined with religious fundamentalism and indoctrination. If it works for you, well, great, it works for you. But what if it fails? . . . Taking someone who may have made a mistake, and you make them feel much worse about themselves - that they have betrayed their covenant with God, that they're dirty, they're impure, something is wrong with them. It's a mistake. We all make mistakes. We all experiment. It's very natural for young people to experiment with same-sex relationships. Perhaps you don't talk about it much. A lot of people experiment and never go on to become homosexual. They go on and lead very productive lives, etc., etc. Well, if you've had that indoctrination, you think, "Well, maybe there's something wrong with me. Maybe I've sinned, I'm dirty," - all these other things that take a bad situation and make it much worse, in my opinion.

Antonio Sacre: Just from a personal point of view, alcohol - maybe it's proven or not - but I know alcohol affects my sexual ability. So it's embarrassing to be out on a date with a lovely woman and have a couple of beers, and if, you know, we're moving towards that - and to be unable to perform is a little embarrassing. So for me, if I'm with a woman, that's something that I don't necessarily do.

Andee Gerhardt: . . .You know, it doesn't always have to be about love, and it doesn't always have to be about long-term relationship. It feels the same way both ways. (http://www.bvsdwatch.org/content/view/91/1/)

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