|European Study Tour: Testimonials|
The lessons of the European Study Tour stay with participants long after the EST has concluded. Here participant share what they learned from the parents, teenagers, and educators in France, Germany, and the Netherlands.
Evelyn Lerman, educator and author of Safer Sex, the New Morality:
It was fascinating to see what Europeans were doing. All day long, on Dutch, German, and French TV, the way we have ads for Nike, they have ads for safer sex. They talk about "safer sex or no sex." They teach kids that sexuality is a gift, and that they need to be respectful and responsible. The European kids learn that, not only is it not appropriate to have a baby when you're not emotionally, financially, and intellectually ready, but also it's immoral. The government funds these ads, but they don't tell the media what to say. Everybody's on the same page, when the teenagers say, “Here’s what we learned in school today," the parents say, "We know.” There's not this us against them thing.
Ernesto Nevarez, Peer Educator in LA:
In Europe, it seems like part of their natural instinct to protect themselves, like they're already trained. '’Why wouldn’t you,” they say, ‘Why wouldn't you wear a condom?" During organized focus groups, I heard parents and their teenage children talking openly about sexuality. They talk like it's part of the environment. Here we tend to hide it, push it into the shadows." I returned to California determined to put these findings into action. I began by replicating a Dutch campaign seen on the tour, distributing "contact card" for people with a sexually transmitted infection (STI) in which a person diagnosed with an STI is given cards and urged to hand them out to his/her sexual partner(s), urging them to get tested. Given the environment I work in, with many young people engaging in risky behaviors at early ages, I occasionally become impatient. For some answers, U.S. policy makers should look to Europe where schools provide children with sex education both formally and informally at young ages and where parents are their primary sexuality educators.
Melissa Harris, student reporter for Teen People
July 29- Maastricht, Netherlands: I'm still so happy to be on this trip, even if some of it has been pretty shocking. The Dutch approach sex issues fearlessly. Any topic for sex education can be taught in school (starting in kindergarten!), and sex ed is even included on national exams.
August 8- Paris, France: Paris is perfect, so diverse and culturally rich. I love our group and the trip went so quickly. I know that what I have to say when I get back home will be controversial. I've definitely exchanged some old values for new ones, but I haven't changed completely!
August 10- The flight home: In Europe, I saw how kids are taught what we call the three R's: Rights, Respect, and Responsibility. And how, because of that, parents trust their children to make the right decisions. In America, teens are often told they're "too young" to deal with sex. Instead of avoiding the issue, I think we should help kids understand when they aren't ready to have sex and, if they're going to do it, to do it safely. "Safer sex or no sex" should be everybody's motto, worldwide.
Maureen Kelly, Director of Education for Planned Parenthood of Ithaca NY
From site visits and lectures to panel discussions with health educators, AIDS activists, general practitioners, and a priest, I have come back with a newfound excitement for the real and positive impact of youth's access to sexuality education, information, and medical services. All three of the countries visited during the study tour have one major thing in common- positive, inclusive, nationally funded, sexuality education initiatives have all come about relatively recently. The Dutch, French, and German people did something radical. They saw a problem, got unbiased, non-moralizing, factual information about how to fix it, and set out to do so. The most impressive thing is -it works.
I believe we have a staggering amount of work before us, but we also have at least three templates-Dutch, French, and German-from which to start. I visualize a national puzzle that can only be completed by individual communities working with the guidance and support of national advocacy programs and working toward the same clear, consistent goal.
Jeanne Lindsay, educator, author of many books for pregnant and parenting teens, and editor of PPT Express
In the U.S., many people are firmly convinced that teens should not be involved in sexual activity at all. They should remain abstinent until marriage. The party line is strictly cautionary. Don't talk about sex to teens, and don't ever imply that sex can be a positive part of one's life.
The result: the highest teen pregnancy rate in the developed world. In so many places in our wonderful country, teens are having a tough time dealing with their sexuality. Results: nearly a million pregnancies a year, high rates of sexually transmitted infections, and, for some, HIV/AIDS. We hear a lot about the changes teenagers need to make in their behavior. I think the first step to those changes is great change on the part of adults -if we really care about our kids.
Sylvester Braithwaite, M.D., Director of Teen Sexual Health Center
Dr. Braithwaite, a participant in the 1999 European study tour, applied the lessons learned in the creation of a teen-friendly health center that aims to provide quality health care for adolescents by making health care accessible, available, and affordable. Dr. Braithwaite also adopted and implemented a reality-based, comprehensive, flexible, and holistic sexuality education outreach program in the community emphasizing the 3R's. The Center's message is 'safer sex or no sex.'
Theresa Pollack, Director of Education, Planned Parenthood of San Diego
Planned Parenthood and a broad base of reproductive health experts strongly support U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher's recently released "Call to Action to Promote Sexual Health and Responsible Sexual Behavior." We all have a role to play in promoting responsible sexual health. Through their families, young people learn about values. Schools and clinics offer information. The media plays a tremendous role in portraying sexual behavior.
A few years ago, I joined a research team that spent several weeks in Europe studying the differences between the American and European approach toward sexual health. If ever we needed proof that Dr. Satcher's recommendations are on target, we only need to look at communities in France, Germany, and the Netherlands. Now we must execute a plan of action. Our national health depends on it. America has received its call to action. It is time we answer it.