Upham's Corner Online

"Maria Talks" to teens about Sex - Public Health Website

Posted: April 30, 2011     Nancy J Conrad


The controversy over the website "Maria Talks", www.mariatalks.com, started in late April 2011. While the website was created by the AIDS Action Committee (AAC) with funding from theMassachusetts Department of Public Health (MDPH), it is not a website about AIDS.

Maria Talks is  website about one of the dominant precursors to AIDS - sex.   Maria Talks

The sex drive is intentionally set up by nature to promote the continuation of life.  It is hard to control yourself when you are overtaken by the urge to interact with someone to whom you are attracted.  You just don't think rationally - that is, unless you have prepared yourself in advance so that a lapse in rational behavior finds you caught by the safety net.

Think of someone who is so intensely committed to an activity that they fail to take precautions or make adequate preparation.  Think of dangerous activity like swimming in deep water when you don't know how or driving at night when you lost your glasses or taking a dare.  The decision to go ahead is based on an incorrect assumption about your own capabilities and a belief that "I'll be all right."

And that is exactly what sex is all about - a voyage of exploration with risks involved. STD's, AIDs, pregnancy and health-related issues are the dangers of going on the sexual voyage.  Knowledge and revisiting the facts frequently is essential to helping the "explorers" properly prepare for their voyages with supplies, knowledge and the ability to call for help.

Because of more liberal attitudes towards pre-marital sex, the youngest sexually active generation today has a greater need for information and guidance than before. Proactively, parents and other care givers need to educate young people about sex early enough to protect them. 

Parents may not be acknowledging just how important the influence of sex is on the behavior of people and their perception of the world around them.  In addition the topic of sex is many faceted, technical and confusing.  Many of us are simply unable to discuss sex without emotional involvement.  We experience feelings of shame, embarassment, intimacy, guilt - you name it - and this prevents us from having unpressured, calm, informative and helpful conversations with the very people in our lives who are asking for help.

Even if we could have a "first step" conversation, our knowledge of forms of contraception, for example, would need supplementation by medical experts.

In the presence of the "sex knowledge vacuum" teens talk to whomever gives them what they think is useful information.  Often the answers are limited, without balance, incorrect or misleading. 

The website Maria Talks is a straightforward primer on sex, pregnancy and relationships.  It is aimed at the young people whose knowledge about sex may be limited to their experience of urges that need attention with no or very little understanding of what to do or what the repercussions of their behavior are.

www.mariatalks.com


The following are selected excerpts from the Maria Talks website:
  • AAC conducted key informant interviews with those working in the fields of family planning, HIV/STI prevention, domestic violence, sexual assault and youth services
  • We discovered that when discussing emergency contraception, many questions arise surrounding other sexual health issues, and many Massachusetts youth do not have a reliable and trusted source to answer such questions.
  • This website addresses a broad range of sexual health issues related to emergency contraception. The purpose of the hotline and website is to provide callers with information, support, and make appropriate statewide referrals.
  • We feel strongly that the issues that are addressed through the Maria Talks website and Sexual Health Helpline are not only paramount in safeguarding the general, sexual health of  those who utilize the service, but can and will have an impact on their risk for HIV.

Rep. Colleen Garry (D-Dracut) does not approve of the Maria Talks website.  She recently stated:  "This is a blatant agenda by the liberal part of our society to introduce children to sex and give them the opportunity to have an abortion without their parents' involvement.  It's a slant in one way. There's not much said about adoption on it."

Comments

As stated earlier, we need to acknowledge the importance of sexual hormones in substantially determining our behavior.  We need to educate and inform our young people so as to protect them from harm.  It is incumbent on all of us to introduce young people to sex before mistakes are made.

If we care about our children, whether we are liberal or not, sex education early enough is a necessary part of growing up.

Anyone who opposes abortion may find the Maria Talks website comments about abortion too casual. To some extent this is because it conflicts strongly with our emotional beliefs. Reading about abortion is upsetting.

Rep. Garry's comments about adoption are worth exploring:  "There's not much said about adoption on it."

The physical page space allotted to abortion is three times the page space allotted adoption.  As a result you can get the impression that abortion is the preferred option for not raising a baby.  Maria Talks should consider reviewing this section and making sure that the presentation is not implicitly biased.


The website www.alexa.com provides traffic rankings for all websites.  On May 1, 2011 Maria Talks was ranked #128,871 in the US with 12 sites linking in which is a high traffic (popular) rank.  Many people are interested in what Maria Talks has to say (good or bad).

We encourage all readers to take the time to review the Maria Talks website. www.mariatalks.com
  • What about it upsets you?  (if anything)
  • Did you learn anything (technical) from the website?
  • Prior to reviewing the material, if a teen had come to you for advice, would it have been as comprehensive as Maria Talks?
  • Where do there appear to be biases in the presentation? (if any)
  • Are there additional topics that you feel should be covered on the website?
  • Put yourself in the shoes of teens looking for help, advice and information.  Do you believe that Maria Talks is making a difference?
Rep. Carlos Henriquez has issued a statement (see below) regarding the website and is looking for constructive feedback.  You may contact his aide, Danielson Tavares, (information below) who is collecting all concerns and comments.  See letter follwoing.


On April 29, 2011, Rep. Henriquez issued the following statement about "Maria Talks."

On April 28th I signed on to a letter which spoke to concerns relative to the website www.mariatalks.com, which was highlighted in a recent Boston Herald story.

The website, targeted at teenagers, who are the most vulnerable segment of the population when it comes to making good decisions around sex, uses language that some of my colleagues and constituents consider inappropriate.  Because the website is funded by state tax payer funds, it is important to me that we listen to the concerns of all residents.

There are some serious realities that we must all face. One is that the majority of teenagers including myself as a teen did not and do not always receive comprehensive sex education from their parents or trusted adults.  "Maria Talks" can do exactly that.  A failure to do so can lead to young people making uninformed life altering decisions about sex.

Resources are scarce and we have to be wise about how they are used, however "Maria Talks" can result in savings of state funds by preventing high school drop outs, health care issues and other direct results of teens having sex without being informed of the emotional and physical responsibility that comes with it.

In no way do I wish to see the site removed or lose funding. What I ask is that a process be put in place to review comments from parents, and other concerned citizens on how the website can be most appropriate and or sensitive for all users.

I am aware that some of the very same colleagues who are signed on to the letter to the Governor may disagree with me about the benefit of the site overall. I do agree with the idea of having a discussion and process around the concerns that come from our personal beliefs and those of our constituents.

Signed:  Representative Carlos Henriquez

For comments to this letter, contact:

Danielson Tavares       
T: (617) 722-2060 
Fax (617) 722 2849       
danielson.tavares@mahouse.gov



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