By Dr. Myrtle Oates, MD
Having worked the past two decades on the frontline’s of healthcare as a medical doctor specializing in OB/Gyn care, I have had to counsel many mothers of teenage young ladies regarding contraceptives and condoms. It’s unfathomable the number of times I have heard this argument from African American and Hispanic mothers, “I don’t want to give ‘permission’ for my daughter to have sex and contraceptives give permission.” Let’s set the record straight. Contraceptives and condoms do not give permission, but rather provide a healthy choice for these young ladies.
According to a recent study on teen pregnancy in Texas, just over 33% of the entire public middle and high school population are sexually experienced. Texas students are far more likely to report having had sex with 4 or more partners and are less likely to have used birth control or condoms. (Christine Markham, 2011)
Texas accounts for 12 percent of the nation’s teen births as these unplanned pregnancies present significant public health and economic challenges locally and nationally. The war of prevention has moved at a snail’s pace. Texas cannot rely on an abstinence only message towards our youth.
Additionally, it is particularly poignant when we consider that for females 70% of newly diagnosed cases of HIV are among African American women according to the Centers for Disease Control.
After being presented with this fact during a lecture, I demanded of one esteemed physician that an 18-wheeler loaded with an experimental preparation be delivered to my office within the following 24 hours. His answer was not dismissive neither was it light-hearted as has been the case more often than not. Rather he replied, “Of course you do. Your patients are exposed and cannot fully protect themselves.” And for once, I did not have to turn on the light, sing “Ah Ha!”
Let’s deconstruct the words he presented to me as it may shed some light on what I think is the greatest challenge that we face.
“Your patients are exposed.”
Well those of you who have heard me speak have heard this ad infinitum. “The disconnect between the decision to have an intimate engagement and preparedness for the consequences of such an endeavor is astounding.”
In all honesty, by the time the young patient arrives in my office, the decision to have sex, for many, has already been made. Even when there has been a sexual encounter, the mother will state emphatically that she says that she is not going to do that anymore. Trust me when I say that all mothers to varying degrees have a difficult time with the idea that our daughters are growing up and are becoming women.
It is the fortunate ones of us that have the opportunity to provide a framework and a safety net around our teenagers. This is done first with love, acceptance and affirmation. Along with the supportive words come instruction and the mechanism to make a choice not to have a life-changing consequence. As a society, we need age-appropriate, medically accurate sex education.
Many will relent when I remind them of the stakes. Some will agree that pregnancy and HIV are too serious to gamble with; therefore, mothers, aunties, grannys, dads, uncles and grand dads have to step up to help our youth steer clear of and avoid societal and sexual land mines.
The proverbial military “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell!” slogan still remains alive and well in some segments of our community.
If we never ask then we deprive ourselves of our greatest weapon: Facts and information that are essential in making an informed decision.
I may be dating myself but some of you may have seen Gershwin’s musical “Porgy and Bess”. The words of Bess as she pleads with Porgy in Gershwin’s musical are playing in my mind.
Here are a few lines as I close this blog…
“Seriously Bess . . .
Bess sings . . .
I want to stay here,
But I ain’t worthy.
You is too decent to understan’
For when I see him he hypnotize me.
When he take hold of me with his hot hand.
Someday I know he’s coming back to call me.
He’s goin’ to handle me an’ hold me so.
It’s goin to be like dyin’, Porgy, deep inside me –
But when he calls, I know I have to go.”
Gershwin may have, on some level, presented an accurate portrayal. Suppose that he is accurate.
Then let us honor the mothers that prepared us for something more than a reactionary life. When the temperature needed to be raised or lowered, we were made to know that we were the thermostat and not the funeral home fan.
Somebody should have said as we say now and shall continue to say that Bess you don’t need Porgy or Hot Hand. Arm yourself with wisdom and knowledge. Take back your power and never ever give it away again.
No I am not speaking of merely contraceptives and condoms. I am speaking of barriers far greater.
Let’s strengthen our resolve to reduce teenage pregnancy rates in Texas by fully educating our teenagers with comprehensive sex education that gives “real talk” on the effective use of condoms and contraceptives in the minority community. Even more may we couple this education with consistent messages of affirmation to elevate their self-esteem where they navigate themselves around difficult questions about sexual orientation and health status with their prospective sexual partners. The affirmation of self-worth that enables one to walk away from abusive relationships and the proactive preparation that acknowledges a choice and takes responsibility are the optimal outcomes we want to achieve.
Community Action: Become a committee of one and mentor some teenager on comprehensive sex education, teaching them effective use of contraceptives and condoms.