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oops, i didn’t know we couldn’t talk about sex
and it seems we're not talking about it enough
by tracey l. kelley (@TraceyLKelley)
8.26.02
news


When did you first find out about, well, you know?

I remember I was nine years old, crouched in the arc of a half-buried tractor tire on the playground of Franklin Elementary. Two kids could squeeze into each side, and for four close friends, it was the most private area in the entire school.

That's when Sheila Montorri said that she heard her parents doing it the night before. She described sounds: moans and squeaks and squeals. We giggled a lot – mainly because Sheila was a hysterical mimic. We certainly didn't have a visual to match the audio. Sure, I had made Ken kiss Barbie goodnight in the pink Barbie Corvette, and I myself had already bussed Tom Hartnagle, and nothing bad came of it. He even gave me the rest of his Pixie Stix.

But this was before my first "real" kiss. This was before I read the underlined passages in Forever by Judy Blume. This was before music videos with Tawny Kitaen spread-eagled across a Jaguar. This was before I stared at the picture of Gregg Rolie in his white pants on the back of Journey's Infinity album.

And this was certainly before I found Everything You Wanted To Know About Sex But Were Afraid to Ask hidden under the couch where the family cat used to hide. Often. The book stayed under the couch in that one spot for five years. It took me five years; book in one hand, dictionary in the other, to read the definitive guide to sexuality cover to cover. Once finished, I was at ease with terminology, but still didn't know a damn thing.

And during pre-teen and most of my adolescent years, my mother never once talked to me about sex. Neither did any other adult.

Based on the conversations we had, my friends "learned" about sex in a similar fashion. And when my husband and I compared notes, we discovered it wasn't much different if you had a nurse for a mom, although at least his book was left on the dresser in his room. The general consensus seemed to be that if they didn't talk about it, you wouldn't do it.

In sex education class in high school, charts that detailed a woman's ovulation cycle were passed out and various forms of contraception explained. We took a secret poll – by 17, most of the class had already engaged in some form of sexual activity. So what was this class supposed to teach us? Especially in just one six-week course?

Not enough to prepare you for the real world, that's for sure.

It didn't really bother me. As I got older and started to encounter certain things, I didn't feel my mom had failed me in any way. I guess I knew, in the back of my mind, that if I ever truly needed to talk with her about sex, or had gotten into trouble, it would have made her uncomfortable, even angry, but she would listen. After all, she had experiences of her own that, frankly, made it hard for her to be too judgmental.

I also thought differently. I was curious, sure, but boys weren't the main focus of my life, much less sex. I had basketball and radio and choir and books and babysitting and work and my friends and even the parents of my friends. I knew I could talk to someone if I needed answers, or, in the worst case, help make a life-altering decision. I guess I was lucky.

But there's a woman/girl in Iowa who didn't feel the same.

There's a woman/girl who thought her only recourse after getting pregnant was to carry the baby to term, give birth, then put it in a recycling bin. The infant boy was discovered only after he was shredded with a ton of cans at the recycling center.

Police are dumbfounded. They have no real clues in this case. One of the solutions they have chosen is to search the files of the local Planned Parenthood chapter because after all, Planned Parenthood is the protector of all wayward women who find themselves in undesirable situations as a result of sexual misconduct.

Forget morality. Forget abortion. This issue is about neither. This is about Planned Parenthood refusing to release to the police hundreds of names so investigators may filter through those who tested positive on pregnancy tests in the past nine months, and question them about the crime.

Normally medical records are confidential – but a local court privately subpoenaed the Storm Lake (Iowa) Planned Parenthood facility, and determined the records accessible because Planned Parenthood is not completely staffed by official medical professionals, thereby releasing the names does not breach patient/doctor confidentiality. Regardless of the international organization's confidentiality policy, a higher court may mandate the release. An appeal has been issued, and the head of the Storm Lake facility is ready to accept contempt rather than release the names.

A fine example of when not talking about sex is a good thing.

This landmark situation should make every woman stop and ask: "First you want to tell me what to do with my body – and now you want to actually find out what I did with it? I don't think so." The investigation will go as follows:

"Miss/Ms. X, we understand that on November 3rd of 2001, you went to Planned Parenthood and tested positive for pregnancy. Tell us, where is the child now? You don't have it. Did you abort the child? You didn't. Did you give it up for adoption? You didn't. Please don't leave the state, Miss/Ms. X."

I wish this were sarcastic exaggeration, but it's not. The police say they are doing their best to find the victim's killer, and questioning those who received services from Planned Parenthood is their final turn on the dark road to a dead end case. Their investigative diligence is admirable.

However, do the police really believe that anyone lacking the moral fortitude to put a newborn baby out on the curb is going to be honest when questioned about it? Do they have any idea if the perpetrator is a teenager, a young woman, or an old whore who can't afford another abortion? Are they certain the mother went to Planned Parenthood, instead of buying a pregnancy test at a drug store – or test herself at all? Do they know if the killer even lives in the state of Iowa, or was just a drifter? Have they considered that the mother may have been mentally unstable (aside from the obvious clue) and that she may not have been cognizant of what she did, or why? Have they even pondered that, just perhaps, it was a man who killed the baby?

No, no, no, no, no, and uh, no.

Prevention comes in many forms, including pills, latex, faith, and textbooks. But only through proper education and open dialogue will individuals learn well and make definitive choices. There are many factors that can encourage a young person – or an adult – to have sex before they are emotionally, physically, or even spiritually ready. Instead of interrogating an honorable health institution for the private records of innocent people after the crime is committed, it is our moral – yes, moral – responsibility to become engaged early and present young people with facts and understanding, so they may have the strength, guidance, and knowledge to make a choice that is right for them. Not just about sex, but about life.

And before they actually believe their only choice is to murder an innocent child.

*********
Author's note: The Buena Vista County Sheriff's Department has lost their first request for the Planned Parenthood records, but two of the county's seven hospitals have allowed names to be released. One "suspect", a teenage victim of school rumors that she was pregnant and whose name was given to detectives by neighbors, not by a hospital, vehemently denied that she was ever pregnant. Detectives swabbed her mouth for DNA evidence.

The baby boy had a shoebox funeral August 7, 2002.


ABOUT TRACEY L. KELLEY

Tracey likes to shake things up and then take the lid off. She also likes to keep the peace, especially in a safe, fuzzy place. Writer, editor, producer, yogini, ('cause yoger or yogor simply doesn't work) by day, rabid WordsWithFriends and DrawSomething! player by night. You can follow her on Twitter: @traceylkelley or @tkyogaforyou

more about tracey l. kelley

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COMMENTS

sloan bayles
8.26.02 @ 12:35a

As the Mom of a pre-teen son the subject of sex seems to be coming up more often. While he knows the "mechanics" he is, I hope, a long way from carnal knowledge. It would be easy to pawn his questions off on Dad, but fortunately sex is not a taboo or uncomfortable subject in our home. I'm thankful that he feels he can ask his parents about anything. And I want him to be prepared emotionally when it is his time to embark on this rite of passage. Right now the mere thought of "my baby" having sex is, well, unthinkable. I still see the little boy who was excited to bring me bugs from the yard, and loved to sing "Winnie the Pooh". On the subject of privacy, PP needs to stick to their guns. The after math of disclosing names of potentially hundreds of innocent girls/women could in one fell swoop undo the good the organization does. Who really wants their daughter in a back alley with a coat hanger?

tracey kelley
8.26.02 @ 12:43a

And see, that's the thing. PP does much more than abortion, but most people associate the organization with that practice alone.

What scares me is that many people who can't afford health care or don't have insurance, who have used PP services to take care of themselves, may question whether or not it's "safe" to go there anymore. We don't need that. Too many people have an Utopian view: "Well, why can't they just go to a regular doctor?" Sometimes, it's just not that easy, or available.

russ carr
8.26.02 @ 12:57a

Who really wants their daughter in a back seat with a boy?

Two points, here. The first (and I'll say no more on the subject after this): Condoms are cheaper than abortions. I've never understood why so many couples (yes, couples -- it's the responsibility of TWO, both before, during and after the fact) would risk so much, when for a buck (and for free at PP and other clinics) could relieve a lot of anxiety. It may not be foolproof, but it's a damn sight better than catching a disease or getting pregnant.

Second point, and call me naive or whatever, but I've wondered sometimes just how having sex ed would stop someone from wanting to have sex. Don't get me wrong -- I'm a huge proponent, and Tracey's 100 percent right; there's no excuse for ignorance. But, y'know...the more I knew, the more I wanted to know. And I wanted to know the stuff you couldn't learn in books.

tracey kelley
8.26.02 @ 1:09a

No, don't stop talking about the subject!

Wanting to know more is a very interesting point. But I liken it to just about anything else that has an initial aura of mystery - once you start to peek around the curtain, the enticement isn't quite as great. You've seen the Wizard, so to speak.

Oh. My. That's just left on the tracks for the glib train, isn't it?

I believe the misconception is that if we do talk about sex with young adults, all they'll want to do is test out everything we've told them. I really - and, contrary to belief, have had to put this theory into practice very recently - don't believe that to be true. Debunking the myths and providing factual information is just that. It's not a shrouded Kama Sutra goodie basket.

[edited]

russ carr
8.26.02 @ 1:19a

When I said I wouldn't say anymore, I meant about abortion vs. birth control. I'll let someone else pull that thin-cardboard-box-full-of- hammers from the tall shelf.

I'll talk about sex (ed) all night long. I was a precocious child; I knew all the physiological stuff well before 9th grade health class, and I found my aunt and uncle's copy of The Joy of Sex when I was 11. And I credit that curiosity for an open-eyed attitude toward sex today...and, in truth, for enough fear of "what could happen if...!" to keep me safe before my time.

And hey, kids -- I've seen the Wizard. Oz ain't all that. Remember, Dorothy got herself home.

wendy p
8.26.02 @ 8:26a

With a total of 6 children, three of them teenagers, my husband and I do our best to make sure that no subject is taboo. My parents never talked about sex or drugs, unless they were accusing me or my brother of doing one or the other. So, I've been sure to learn from that lesson and change the outcome hopefully for my children.

adam kraemer
8.26.02 @ 10:07a

Two things: a) Russ, I think you'd be hard-pressed to find anyone who feels that abortion is a better solution than just not getting pregnant in the first place. Even most die-hard proponents of the right for a woman to choose would probably recommend that she not get herself in that situation to begin with, where she'd have to choose.

and b) why a recycling bin? That's like asking it to be found. Might as well walk into 7-11, place the baby with the burritos, and walk out again.

tracey kelley
8.26.02 @ 10:46a

I dunno. You talk with a lot of people, and they just believe abstinance until marriage is the only option, period. Which of course is wonderful and more meaningful in theory. So the simple fact that PP diseminates any information on prevention methods is as much of a travesty as the fact that some -not all, some- of the clinics conduct abortions.

But on some levels, saying no is just not practical advice. To ignore the fact that some children are raised without any knowledge or moral guidence whatsoever, and just expect them to stop when it feels good, is insane. Better to educate them and hope they make the right choice before their hormones take over completely. And if that education has to come from outside the home, at least it's coming from somewhere.


tracey kelley
8.26.02 @ 10:54a

The baby wasn't found until something else jammed the can shredding system. As the worker was looking for the clog, he happened upon, uh, parts of the child. So it wasn't like the baby was just sitting on top of a few Bud Lite cans and milk jugs on the curb.

The most damning thing of all is that Iowa has what is called Safe Haven, where every hospital will accept an infant left, no questions asked. It's like the days of old when there was a window at a convent or something and babies were left in a basket. This act was put into effect after a teenager birthed her baby in the bathroom of her family's home, strangled it with a towel, then burned it in the backyard trash pile. She said that because she lived in a small town, she was scared and just didn't know what to do.

While there is no excusing what Nicole Plum did, perhaps if our attitudes shifted about talking to kids about sex and encouraging them to ask questions, she would have had more confidence to either: 1) not have sex with a flyboy to begin with.
2) be protected if she did have sex.
3) know that if she got pregnant, there are literally thousands of couples wanting to adopt, and myriad agencies that could have made the connection for her.

And I'm sorry - what mother wouldn't notice that her own daughter is pregnant?

adam kraemer
8.26.02 @ 11:12a

It happens. My parents didn't notice that my brother was stoned every single day of his senior year of high school. And they had family dinner every night.

Also, I wasn't advocating abstinance. I was just saying that not getting pregnant (by whatever means - condoms, the pill, IUD, diaphragm) is preferable to abortion, which I imagine most pro-choice advocates would agree with. No one wants women to have to get them.

And as to my last point - had the baby been confiscated in a manner that didn't require the processing of the contents of the bin, it would have been "safer." And since the mother (or father) was obviously thinking very clearly at the time, she should have thought of that, and acted accordingly. If you're going to dispose of a baby, don't recycle it.

tracey kelley
8.26.02 @ 12:27p

Absolutely (on both of your points.)I mentioned the reference to abstinance simply because it's a pat answer for some: "Well, we wouldn't have these problems if kids would just say no."
It's not that simple.

Something is really out of whack when you put the baby in the recycling bin instead of, for instance, a trash bag. I would hate - hate - to think that this person really wanted to sit back and watch the media hoopla surrounding this case by disposing of it in such a manner that it might be discovered. That's just too sick for words.

The lack of parental involvement/awareness is exactly what I consider to be the main problem. Look at Sloan and Katherine - they may not have all the answers, but they try to find them together with their children. That's really the best anyone can do.

matt morin
8.26.02 @ 1:28p

Not my point of view, but: I think some people are afraid of too much information and/or free birth control because they liken it to handing the kids the keys to the sportscar and saying "Now don't drive this while we're gone."

The kids look around at all the media saying, "Hey! Sex is sooo goood!" and think, well, why shouldn't I? And I've got the keys...

adam kraemer
8.26.02 @ 1:35p

Matt, you didn't just suggest to us that you've got the keys to kids discovering sex?

matt morin
8.26.02 @ 1:46p

Sorry, I should have punctuated better.

adam kraemer
8.26.02 @ 1:51p

Whew.

But staying on topic, I just have to believe there's a healthy way to teach kids about sex, and too much information or not enough isn't it. In the same way as parents shouldn't have sex in front of their children, they also shouldn't pretend that the act of procreation doesn't exist. I mean, if you think about it, where would you rather have your daughter find out about the specifics of sex: your lecture or her 9th grade boyfriend's den?

[edited]

wendy p
8.26.02 @ 2:44p

I have no way to know now if what we're doing with our kids works, I'm just praying that it works out better than what so many have done before. It's not easy keeping the door open when you want to slam it shut and lock them in their rooms until they're 30.

tracey kelley
8.26.02 @ 4:31p

Ahhh, but let's not kid ourselves here - it isn't the act of procreation that we're worried about. It's the act of recreation that concerns us.

I agree that you just shouldn't tell a 12-year- old "Sex is a normal part of human nature, so you just go ahead and have at it." But look at the "Undressed" series on MTV. If that show doesn't undo every well-intended thought and action of a concerned parent, I don't know what will. But at least if adults have talked to kids about repsonsibilities, consequences, and open up, like Katherine and Sloan have said, a door for dialogue, kids will have the balance of mind between that show and what concerned people have told them. Without that foundation, then they are learning everything from their peers.

sloan bayles
8.26.02 @ 10:06p

Let's face it, sex more often than not is not about procreation, but about physical pleasure. Trying to teach a teenager anything is a challenge, let alone trying to impart upon them that sex is not simply a physical act, but an emotional one. To relay that the 15 minutes of pleasure they might have is not worth the life alteration that can be a consequence seems to be the hardest obstacle. We all remember feeling invincible as a teenager. Pregnancy and AIDS were things that happened to other people. Unfortunately these days ghonnerea (sp) is a comparitive relief. If a kid isn't lucky enough to have an open forum environment at home, personally I'm thankful for PP as an alternative for them. If the suit in Iowa is successful the ramifications nationwide could be devistating for all involved. If a kid doesn't feel "safe" talking to an adult, he/she won't. Going back to a street education I don't feel is in anyone's best interest.

tracey kelley
8.27.02 @ 11:56a

As some of you know, I've been having a fun time these past couple of months with the infamous little, Aly. Last week, she and her 16-year-old boyfriend (Aly's 13) were caught heavy petting. Aly's world is shattered, because her grandmother, who first thought it would be okay to date noted 16-year-old with a car, also put her on birth control pills. At 13. But doesn't want her to have sex. So now, Aly is forbidden to see the boyfriend.

My head is just rattled with all this. Aly asked me (during the recent drama) what I would do, and I looked at her squarely and said: "Chickie, if I were your mom, that 16-year-old wouldn't have been allowed to deliver our paper, much less date you."

russ carr
8.27.02 @ 1:51p

Her grandmother isn't exactly the sharpest crayon in the box, either, hm?

tracey kelley
8.27.02 @ 2:59p

What would her grandmother know? She was married at 15.

Which just reinforces the need to have cross-education from organizations like PP and other caring adults. Grandma can have a knee-jerk reaction to the behavior she helped to encourage.

sarah ficke
8.27.02 @ 3:05p

Tracey, do you think that putting Aly on birth control pills was a wise move to protect her in case something happens, or an incentive for her to go have sex?

heather millen
8.27.02 @ 5:17p

If parents don't take a certain responsibility for it, then it will happen anyway. I think when you put a teenager on birth control it gives more the knowledge that you are there for them then that you are condoning something. They can do it on their own, and many of my friends in high school did just that through Planned Parenthood.

tracey kelley
8.27.02 @ 5:32p

I think Grandma should have stuck to her guns considering Aly is only 13, and never let her date the kid to begin with. She let Aly stay out until 11-12 at night with this boy right off the bat, driving around unchaporoned, hanging out downtown, that type of thing. Then, she put Aly on birth control because Aly told her 2 girls near her jr. high were raped.

And frankly, I think that's a crock. Aly told me Grandma "forced" her to go on birth control. I happen to know that a very wild, older girl Aly was once friends got on the Pill, so I think Aly made the story up so she could have it, too.

So normally, Heather, I would agree with you, but I think Aly snowed Grandma, and she fell for it.

Does it protect her? Certainly. But she still didn't have a clue about most diseases, and how the Pill can't protect her from those. I really don't believe Aly would be thinking about having sex if it wasn't for this older boy she says she loves. It's her first serious relationship = and I honestly wouldn't have that much of a problem with this if she were 16 --- but 13 is too damn young. Her body isn't even fully developed yet.

As a Big Sister volunteer, I can only intrude so much. So I've taken the role of frank advisor regarding sex, emotions, disease, respecting your body, saying no, etc. She says Grandma doesn't talk as openly, and we have a good Q&A, so that's all you can hope for.

[edited]

tracey kelley
8.27.02 @ 5:46p

On a different note but still the same topic - how would you like to have your medical records examined without your consent for something you did - and yet didn't do?

heather millen
8.27.02 @ 6:14p

Tracey, I definately see your point in the Aly situation. The grandmother freaked out...plainly said.

As for the issue of the medical records examination, I believe confidentiality to the upmost. PP has supplied an outlet that is vital. One reason it is so successful in what it does is by giving women who find themselves in that position a place they can go where there anonymity and comfort are of utmost concern. Whether they're going for abortion or other services. Tracy's right, they serve as a counselor on top of medical services including birth control options. I alone, have seen it help many of my peers.

If you take that away, we have a much bigger problem on our hands then just this police case alone.

adam kraemer
8.28.02 @ 10:17a

Well, I think that sexually, kids are growing up a lot faster these days. Ironic that we've spent the last 500 years raising the age of consent (Romeo and Juliet were 14?), only to have it made irrelevant in the last 30. I recently heard that at Bar Mitzvahs these days the "man" of honor is often rewarded with a blow job by one or more of his female guests (not in front of Grandpa Murray or the Rabbi, of course). These kids already know so much; imagine if the right information were no longer available to them.

russ carr
8.28.02 @ 10:26a

Damn. I knew I should've been Jewish.

michelle von euw
8.28.02 @ 11:46a

Tracey, the demanding all PP's medical records thing is so upsetting. And I don't really see the logic of it: If a pregnant girl goes to PP, I would imagine that she'd receive a list of options or information, at the very least. A girl who would dump a baby in a recylcing bin sounds as if she had no knowledge, no information, and therefore, probably never set a foot in PP.

adam kraemer
8.28.02 @ 12:01p

Right. They would have suggested much better places to dump it.

No, I'm kidding.

tracey kelley
8.28.02 @ 12:14p

Exactly. (Well, to Michelle's point :> ) I really think it's a witch hunt that will disturb a lot of innocent people. In a small community like Storm Lake, that kind of stuff matters. I recently needed to request my own medical records for insurance purposes, and damn near needed my own court order to get them. But at least they are mine, and although I've authorized the insurance company to see them, that was a right I had to sign off on before it could be done. And that's how it should remain: our individual right.

The really sad thing is the man who found the baby is related to the PP director - and he's so disturbed by it all, he wants her to release records so there will be justice and closure.

I think kids are growing up faster sexually these days, too - but that doesn't mean they growing emotionally or intellectually to keep the pace.

[edited]

jael mchenry
8.28.02 @ 12:26p

Yes, getting married at 14 if you're only living to 50 is one thing. As the life span gets longer, the milestones also should move. Be a kid while you still can. I wonder how many of these precocious little things will wake up one day and realize they'll never get back that innocence.

sloan bayles
8.28.02 @ 11:42p

Well, I guess this is where I open myself up for scorn. As an insurance adjuster we automatically have the claimant sign a medical release so we can obtain records. As a "private citizen" and as an adjuster I completely agree with the right to privacy. It comes down to relevence. I don't feel just anyone should be able to obtain med records on someone, but if you're submitting an insurance claim and requesting/expecting the carrier to make payment of the bills they should have the right to know a medical history. At this point let me say I don't do group health, and could go off on my own tangent about what I feel is wrong with HMO's, PPO's, etc. It may be a bad analogy, but when you apply for credit they run a credit check on you. When submitting and insurance claim you can't really expect the bills to be paid blindly, without the insurance company having a right to know what's going on, and if you've had other insurance claims for the same treatment.

adam kraemer
8.29.02 @ 10:16a

Well, right, but they're in the health care industry. They're not the Storm Lake police department trying to see if you've been pregnant.

tracey kelley
8.29.02 @ 1:31p

Exactly. The notation I made at the bottom was some poor girl who was harrassed in school by other kids, the same kids who told the school nurse the girl was pregnant. Police show up at her house based on the nurse turning the girl in for, gasp, of all things, the hint of pregnancy, but no baby. Girl denies ever being pregnant, but the police swab her for evidence anyway.

This, to me, is a complete violation of rights. But in this type of investigation, if you say no, you're a suspect. If you say yes, you're a suspect. Witch hunt.

(where's Walker on this subject, anyway?)

sarah ficke
8.29.02 @ 2:21p

On second reading, the actions of the police reminded me of the massacre of the innocents in the Bible when Herod, in order to find one particular baby, killed every single male under the age of 1. In trying to find one woman they are willing to disrupt the lives and invade the privacy of every woman who was pregnant in the last 9 months. I can't believe that it is worth it.

tracey kelley
9.24.02 @ 9:31a

I love, love, love beating a national columnist to the punch.
Ellen Goodman's P.P. Column

sarah ficke
9.24.02 @ 10:41a

Intrepid Media: we do it first.

jael mchenry
9.24.02 @ 12:25p

And best. Don't forget best.

tracey kelley
10.23.02 @ 6:24p

The ruling from the courts came in today: Planned Parenthood does not have to turn over the names.

It took a while, but justice has been served.



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