Archive

Posts Tagged ‘Sex Education’

Condoms on Commercial Street?

July 9, 2010 1 comment

What would he say about the controversy?

Here we are, introducing our second guest blogger: Kelly. With a personal stake in dethroning the Fodder’s Captain Adam as our most popular fresh voice, Kelly’s first piece takes on a controversial microcosm of the US’s sentiments on sexual education. Condoms in schools? Hot button issue. So through the scope of a native Cape Codder, we bring you “Condoms on Commercial Street?” Enjoy!

Aah, summer on Cape Cod. The sun, the surf, the…six year olds walking along Commercial Street with condoms?

The Provincetown (MA) School Committee approved a policy in late May, proposed by high school students, to make free condoms available in the school nurse’s office. But if you’ve been reading the headlines from media outlets across the country, you might expect that the longtime artist colony at the tip of the Cape is also home to a population of unusually sexually active elementary schoolers who will soon be offered contraception as part of their curriculum.

As a native Cape Codder now living “over the bridge,” and an avid reader of the Fodder, I was quite excited to explore this real-life nugget of conversation and hopefully provide some insight on the media debacle of what should have been a non-issue. I mean, let’s face it – tossing first graders and condoms into a headline is bound to garner attention and foster gossip, if not discussion; but how many people actually know what Provincetown’s new contraception distribution policy says?

“Condoms will be available, upon request, to Provincetown students.”

Whoa. Scandalous.

Or is it? According to the Cape Cod Times,

“The [Massachusetts] state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education first passed a policy on condom availability in August 1991, as an addendum to its 1990 policy on AIDS/HIV prevention education. Among its recommendations was that “every school committee, in consultation with superintendents, administrators, faculty, parents and students consider making condoms available in their secondary schools.”

Sounds to me like P-town is on the right track.

On a recent trip “down the Cape,” I was curious to hear local reactions to P-town’s decision. I can’t imagine Provincetown Superintendant Beth Singer thought a policy change affecting roughly 150 students would soon be a headline across the country: the Boston Globe, USA Today and the New York Times were all quick to stick Provincetown, condoms and elementary school children into their headlines.

And believe me, the Cape is not often home to front-page news. Sure we’ve had our fair share of murder mysteries and serial killers – what quaint cluster of fishing villages hasn’t? But our usual stories are more comparable to Rupert, the goat from Wellfleet who needed surgery after eating too many Cheerios. Seriously.

I noticed immediately that I was far more interested in this than anyone else in town. Perhaps because I was the one reading the over-hyped headlines, not the smaller pieces closer to the source. (Even now as I write, this topic is still front-page news on Boston.com, while CapeCodOnline.com is all atwitter over the upcoming lavender harvest.) Responses ranged from “Well, it’s P-town” to my 87 year-old neighbor, who didn’t appreciate that her tax dollars would be providing Provincetown students with an endless supply of water balloons. Bless you, Nan.*

Over drinks one night in Wellfleet, I asked my friend Liam what he thought:

“Considering the absurd amount of press this story has received, I can’t help but wonder if there’s an underlying homophobia and sex-negative bias fueling this fire. I have an inkling that if this were Orleans or another less infamous town on the Cape – or anywhere, for that matter – this story wouldn’t have ignited in the way it did. But this is happening in Provincetown, a frivolous, dangerously progressive town filled with gays and hippies who are pushing their hyper-sexualized homosexual agenda onto six year olds.”

Well said, Liam. Now you may have been able to pick up on the sarcasm in that last bit – just maybe – but many conservative voices feared exactly that. The New American claims this new policy “in many respects reflects the permissive gay culture that permeates the town.” And here I thought it reflected the proactive student body that brought the issue before the school committee after weighing the concerns of their peers.

It angers me that Provincetown’s progressive reputation ultimately led to such a negative spin on this story. Were we to assume that, because no specific age limit was set, and because it’s P-town, that the nurse would really, as Liam put it, be doling out condoms like free lollypops at the bank? Many public high schools in New York City already have similar policies to what Provincetown is proposing. Washington D.C. has had a publicly funded program to distribute free condoms since 2006, making condoms available in high schools, colleges, pediatrician’s offices and adolescent health groups. (Liquor stores and barber shops are also among the most popular distributors – is that a guy thing?) According to the Washington Post, D.C.’s health department distributed 3.2 million free condoms last year, including about 15,000 in schools. I don’t know, Ben Gibbard – you might not be getting any, but it doesn’t look like the rest of the District will be sleeping alone tonight.

I’ve felt a growing disconnect from my Cape Cod roots since moving to Boston. But as the provincialisms of my small-town beginnings peter out, I find that in my heart, the liberal sun-drenched philosophies of earlier days prevail. I know what it’s like to grow up in a town that sheds a few thousand residents after Labor Day; and for a town with a senior class of just 16 students – a town so small it may not even have its own high school next year – to recognize a growing need for safe and practical sex education practices for future generations, and successfully appeal for change through the proper administrative channels, is a tremendous accomplishment. These students should be praised for their mature and proactive approach to safe sex, and it is a shame that their efforts have been overshadowed, and quite possibly overturned, by media sensationalism.

I’m proud of the Provincetown students who brought forth these changes – and I’m sure their gay hippie parents are as well.

*Names changed to protect the locals.

For a full list of condom distribution centers in the DC area, please visit DCHealth.gov.