Bronwen Pardes Interview
A few months ago, Bronwen Pardes, a friend of mine who works as an HIV counselor, published a book for teens about sexuality called, "Doing it Right: Making Smart, Safe, and Satisfying Choices About Sex."
After poring over the book, I decided to ask her a few questions.
What inspired you to write this book?
I wrote the book because I was concerned about where teens are getting information about sexuality. Many schools get funding for abstinence-only education programs, which means they do little more than tell teens that the only way to be safe is not to have sex. Abstinence is definitely a safe choice, but many young people do choose to be sexually active, and they need to know how to make healthy decisions.
The internet can be a great resource, but when you search for information about sex online, you can often stumble into sites that offer misleading information. And parents are a great source of sex ed, but some are too embarrassed to talk to their kids about sex, and no matter how well-intentioned they are, they don't have all the answers either.
I thought that by writing a book I could offer a resource for young people that would speak to them in an honest, down-to-earth way about the kinds of information they need.
Do you think GLBT teens and straight teens have different needs when it comes to sex education?
For the most part, I think the information is the same for all of us, male or female, gay or straight. We all want to know how to have sex that's enjoyable and safe.
That was another reason I wanted to write this book—most of the sexuality books for teens I’ve read felt like they were written for straight people, with a chapter at the end of the book for gay readers. But the truth is, other than information about birth control, all the information in the book—about STD prevention, sexual pleasure, decision-making, etc.—applies to all readers.
That said, GLBT teens might have a few questions that straight teens don't. They might want to be reassured that their feelings for members of the same sex are normal, despite what they might hear from others, and they might want to know about resources especially for GLBT teens. That information is in the book as well.
Though "Doing It Right" is not a sex ed. book just for GLBT teens, you include a lot of GLBT specific information. What do you think straight teens need to know about GLBT teens? Why?
I think straight teens should know, at the very least, that being gay is normal, and that who we're sexually attracted to is not a choice or something we can change. Everyone who reads my book is going to encounter GLBT people at some point in their life, and I hope that what they read in my book will help them be open-minded and accepting of difference.
In your discussion of sexual orientation and religion you say, "If you feel that homosexuality is sinful, ask yourself for a moment what your religion says about sex outside of marriage or sex for any reason other than to make babies...Lots of religions teach that these things are sinful too, but many people find it easy to ignore these rules..." Why do you think negative messages about being GLBT are stronger than other religious prohibitions?
I had a student once who told me he believed homosexuality was wrong because that was what his religion taught. But he was having premarital sex, something I know was also wrong according to his religion. When I asked him about this contradiction, he said, “Well, you can’t listen to everything your religion says.” It seemed to me that this guy was happy to turn to his religion to support his discomfort with homosexuality, but to ignore his religion when it came to things he wanted to do. I think a lot of people are like my student in that respect.
You currently work as an HIV counselor in New York City. Recently, the NYC Department of Health reported a rise in HIV infections among young gay men, when other groups have been seeing a decline in infection rates. Why do you think this is, and what can we do about it?
I think there are a couple of reasons this is happening. One reason is that the face of HIV has changed since the first cases were discovered over 25 years ago. In the ‘80s and early ‘90s, being HIV-positive almost surely meant a much shorter life and a painful death. Today in the US, we have access to treatments that can make the virus manageable, so some people feel that they can have unsafe sex, and if they get HIV, they can just take drugs. But the truth is, there’s no cure for HIV, and while people with it can live much longer healthier lives, it’s still a tremendous challenge to one’s health.
We need to change the way we educate young people about HIV. We need to send home the message that while it’s not a death sentence, it’s still a serious, life-altering illness.
What is one thing you think teens would be most surprised to learn about you?
I think people find out I’m a sex educator and think I have a crazy, wild, hanging-from-the-chandeliers sex life. The truth is I had sex for the first time later than most of my peers, and today I only have sex when I’m in a committed relationship. Being a sex educator makes me take sex in my personal life more seriously, not less so.
You can find out more about Bronwen Pardes and "Doing it Right" it on her website.