Teaching young people about reproduction is not easy. Yet there is hardly a topic that is more vital to their health and happiness. Parenthood is one of the great blessings in life, but at the wrong time and under the wrong circumstances, it can also be extremely difficult. As parents and teachers, we have a solemn responsibility to see to it that the reproductive potential achieved during puberty is channeled to responsible ends instead of running wild. There may be limits to what we can do as adults in guiding the young, but whatever else we mayor may not achieve, we can certainly try to educate.
Yet, despite the important role of sex and reproduction in people's lives, our society places serious constraints on educating the young about these topics. Much has been said about parental concerns and obstacles, but most parents want their children to learn about these matters, provided it is done in a responsible manner sensitive to their family values. However, there are also those in some communities who are inexorably opposed to such efforts. As teachers, we need to be aware of our own attitudes and values in this area so that we become part of the solution and not the problem. While we may disagree on the morality of specific issues like abortion, or, more broadly, on the proper role of sexuality during adolescence, we should surely be able to stand together in our commitment to our student's health, growth and development.
This unit on reproduction is intended to stand alone, but it has close companions in the Human Biology curriculum. Two units that are most closely related to it are Your Changing Body (which deals with puberty) and Sexuality (which treats sexual behavior more broadly, including sexually transmitted diseases). These two units, along with the present one on reproduction, represent an integrated whole.
With respect to this unit, it is important to understand and to convey to your students the broad themes it covers. There is a “story line” that unfolds as you move through the unit that logically links the parts together.
The first five sections deal with reproduction in general. After the introductory section, we describe the male and female reproductive systems. After covering the reproductive “machinery,” we turn to how it works. Pregnancy is discussed both from the maternal as well as fetal perspectives.
We then switch our focus from pregnancy as a biological process to parenthood as a human experience. We first consider this in general terms and then more specifically with respect to pregnancy during adolescence.
The second half of the unit addresses the issues of why and how to prevent pregnancy. We consider first the reasons for family planning and then turn to a detailed consideration of contraception methods. Then we look at the failure of contraception and abortion.
The final section addresses the critical process of making decisions. It is important, but insufficient, to know about contraceptive methods and abstinence. One has to make choices with full knowledge of the consequences of these choices. The overall purpose is to help young people to understand the issues, master the necessary information, make the right choices, and to stick by them. It is our goal to help them learn to make responsible decisions.
Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences and Professor of Human Biology-Project Steering Committee