The University of Minnesota's Program in Human Sexuality honored former Surgeon General Dr. Joycelyn Elders earlier this month for her work raising awareness of what the program calls a sexual health crisis in the United States.
Elders was famously outspoken on matters of sexual health during her 15 months as surgeon general in the 90s and was fired for her outspokenness.
Elders met with MPR News' Tom Weber along with former Surgeon General Dr. David Satcher before the event to discuss the state of sexual health.
Why sexual health is a crisis today
"I think we call it a crisis because in the year 2015 we still have as much sexually transmitted diseases, as many unplanned pregnancies, as much sexual health dysfunction and as much let's say sexual abuse," Elders said.
Adults tend to avoid talking about sexuality in an effort to prevent the consequences of poor choices, she said.
"The reason why we're so upset about our teenage sexuality is because we know the consequences of inappropriate sexuality: sexually transmitted diseases, teenage pregnancies, HIV disease," Elders said. "We want to prevent those... We spend our efforts trying to prevent sex rather than teaching our children the adverse consequences and teaching them appropriate sexual behavior to make sure they really protect themselves against inappropriate outcomes."
Sexual health isn't just about sex"I'm not just talking about having sex," Satcher said. "When you talk about sexuality, people often go right to having sex as opposed to really talking about relationships, starting with the relationship between parents and children and putting that into context of human sexuality in a very positive way."
Sexual relationships start with relationships, he said.
"We have not taught that," Satcher said. "What can parents teach their children about sexuality? They can demonstrate positive relationships and they can demonstrate sex occurring in the context of respect and positive relationships."
How all children can receive equal opportunity to learn about sexuality
"It would be great if parents educated their children about human sexuality and did it in the context of their values and beliefs," Satcher said. "But by the same token, to deny students the opportunity to learn about sexuality the same as they learn about the heart and how it functions, the neurologic system. In the same way, schools ought to be teaching our young people how we function in terms of human sexuality."
It's a cyclical problem, Elders said.
"We need programs and policies where young people are taught very early in schools about healthy sexuality," she said. "Not all parents are at the same level and are able to teach their children equally. We see more problems in our young, our minority populations, our less-well-educated populations. This is often because their parents have not been taught and they do not know how to pass it on to their children. For that reason to me, we need programs and policies to make equality that all children have equal opportunities to be exposed."