A handful of Newbury Park High School students were especially courageous when reporter Shreya Chattopadhyay of the Panther Prowler, the school’s paper, recently interviewed them about their sex lives. “Sex: Undressing the issue,” published March 3, was a well-rounded piece on the sexual lives of teenagers coming from teenagers themselves as well as feedback from religious leaders and teachers. The students, however, all opted to remain anonymous, because, well, as “Lily Aleman,” a junior, put it, “Teenagers are cruel. I think that teachers would judge me for it, and I think that I would get judged by everyone on campus, including administration. They’re supposed to report you if you’re having underage sex. It’s not a supportive community, at least not right now.”
It’s easy to understand Lily’s frustration. Underage sex has always been taboo — it’s even illegal because of age of consent laws in California, as pointed out in the story — regardless of the fact that it is happening and has been happening for eons and the age of first intercourse continues to drop, some now younger than 12.
Chattopadhyay and her editors were also particularly brave in challenging the ideology propagated at their school that abstinence-only is the sole discussion to be had about sex. Clearly, it’s not only incorrect in reality, but it’s also causing practically palpable resentment among the students and their teachers and parents. The few students who seemed cool, calm and collected were the ones that didn’t fear talking about sex with their parents. Surely there is a lesson to be learned there.
On the flipside of the coin, however, are Superintendent Jeff Baarstad (who now says he regrets allowing the story to be published, despite freedom of speech protection) and at least one school board member as well as parents who criticized the superintendent and administrators for its publication. School board member Mike Dunn said the article was an “assault on the innocence of our children.” Mr. Dunn, if a high school student has a smart phone or has friends with smart phones, the age of innocence is over.
It’s a shame on all accounts that not only would parents and school officials want to suppress an honest discussion on a vital subject concerning all kids, but that they don’t grasp the value of the topic or journalism and the fact that the reporter and her editors are on the road to being enterprising journalists. Further, any parent who believes that talking about sex somehow gives teenagers the idea that promiscuity is acceptable and even encouraged has his or her heads in the clouds. It’s the age-old ridiculous argument that somehow talking about something means doing that thing, rather as if having an open discussion about death, dying and even murder means people are going to go out and kill.
We stand behind Chattopadhyay and her editors Grace O’Toole and Courtney Brousseau, as well as the Panther Prowler staff. We encourage you to keep up the good work — the world of journalism needs you. Also, should you ever feel you are being suppressed at the Prowler, we have a few internships open at the VCReporter. We appreciate the coverage on such crucial topics as this and value the good work we have seen so far.
To read the article, go to pantherprowler.org/sex-undressing-the-issue-3/.