Simmer Down, Kids!

Sex-ed teachers want to know: How do you get hormones to listen to reason?

"Do more," the class replies in unison.

"Do we have sex?" Wilson asks.

"Yeah, bro!" a boy pipes up.

Ricky Siegel won't hold it against kids if they don't wait.
c. stiles
Ricky Siegel won't hold it against kids if they don't wait.
Brandy Smith knew about birth control... but didn't use it because she was in love.
c. stiles
Brandy Smith knew about birth control... but didn't use it because she was in love.

"No! But are we going to have sex when we get married?"

Class: "Yessss!"

Wilson explains that he refrains from sex by setting boundaries in advance. He says he and his girlfriend do not spend late nights together "because we're not playing Uno at 3 in the morning."

"Strip Uno," quips one kid.

One girl in the class is confused by Wilson's logic. She asks, "So are you going to be so used to not having sex that you won't do it at all when you get married, or are you going to have sex all the time?"

"I hope all the time!"

Even though he has chosen a life partner, Wilson says it's not until a marriage has actually taken place that a person can fully stop worrying that the partner might leave. Only within marriage, he says, can two people trust each other completely with intimacy and secrets.

Although Be the One is not directly associated with any religion, its parent organization, First Care Family Resources, is faith-based. Both Be the One's and First Care's offices are in the same building as a nondenominational Christian church across the street from School Board headquarters in West Palm Beach.

The organization operates on an $800,000 grant from the federal government. Schools pay nothing for the program, which is usually delivered for one period a day over four days. Be the One educators come into schools at the invitation of a teacher or principal, and of the county's 23 public high schools, Be the One works in 20. Right now, project manager Heyman says, the waiting list for the program is so long that if a teacher requested a guest speaker today, none could be scheduled until fall.

On days one and two, instructors cover physical and emotional differences between men and women, talk about the risk of pregnancy, and show grody pictures of more than 20 sexually transmitted diseases. Condoms are discussed — by looking at the package and reading the fine-print disclaimer. Be the One pegs the failure rate of condoms at 16 percent. Heyman says the School Board and the health department have approved the presentation (which Heyman designed) and all of its statistics.

Whenever he is faced with statistics that question the effectiveness of abstinence-only education, Heyman — who supervises the educators — counters with figures touting the benefits of marriage. Heyman himself is 32 and married with three boys. (Yes, he waited.) "Marriage protects against all the consequences of sex," he says — "STDs, pregnancy, and the emotional consequences." Conversely, "There is no social or physical benefit of having sex before marriage." As part of the presentation, Be the One instructors tell students that sexually active teens are eight times more likely to commit suicide than abstinent ones.

On the third and fourth days of instruction, the program's emphasis shifts to marriage and goal-setting. In a typical exercise, students are asked to "explain how practicing abstinence can help you achieve the life you want." Talk about sex is mixed in with general directives such as "Realize that you are valuable. Focus on your future and your goals."

The way Heyman sees it, "Our program is about whole-person health. Not just, 'Did we protect the penis and the vagina?' We want to protect their hearts."

The way his detractors see it, however, abstinence programs ignore the reality of teen sex, impose a subjective morality (which may be particularly offensive to kids who are gay or from broken families), and — worse — withhold or distort medically accurate information.

Wrapping up the fourth and final lesson, Wilson asks kids to sign a "Marriage Investment Plan" that's the size of a credit card and can be stuck in a wallet. By signing, students pledge to give a future spouse "the gift of a healthy, happy me." On the back side, they are asked to write why they are choosing to save sex for marriage.

A boy with a crewcut and a diamond earring sees it as a trick question. "I didn't make this choice," he declares, crumpling up his card and tossing it on the floor.

That's fine, Wilson says. He just wonders aloud how much it would suck to sleep with someone else, catch a disease, and then have to come and tell the girl he wanted to marry about it.

"Ugh," says the boy. He picks up his card and smooths it out.

Ten miles south, in the library of the Delray Beach Boys & Girls Clubs, about 30 students, ages 10 to 15, surround Ricky Siegel, a 44-year-old in jeans and a Hawaiian shirt. All except one of the kids is black. All could be described as "at-risk," though Siegel prefers the term "at-promise." Launching into a lesson, Siegel says, "I'm sure you all know where babies come from..."

A 10-year-old kicks an older girl under the table, then whispers in her ear.

"Excuse me!" the girl interrupts, waving her arm urgently. "He don't know where babies come from."

This was probably one of the more shocking things to come up in a class jam-packed with potential for shock. Siegel sees a lot of shocking things these days: kids referring to each other as "friends with benefits"; girls using their bodies to get what they want; domestic violence — even inside of marriage. "Kids are in a lot of danger," he says, and the internet has introduced a whole new realm of misinformation. If young people don't have an adult with whom they can talk about sex, he worries, they'll ask friends — but their friends don't know the right answers either. He sees his program as a place where students are free to get honest, medically accurate information in a nonjudgmental forum.

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