Via UpWorthy. ORIGINAL: Photograph by Brandon Stanton for Humans of New York.

A New York City photographer ran into two teenage boys dressed nicely one recent night. He asked them what they were up to.

“We just got back from the prom.”

“Did you have dates?”

“Um, yeah.”

For as much as I disliked being around teenagers this weekend – I was stuck on a bus with about a dozen spoiled, drunk, drug-peddling 16-year old kids swigging out of bottles of vodka-spiked Gatorade and saying the absolute most vulgar things imaginable – this picture of teen romance is uplifting and beautiful.

It wasn’t that long ago that these boys might have been beaten up for taking this picture, or for going to a dance together. And there are a lot of places in the world where they still might be. But that is slowly changing and I am overjoyed to see it happening.

On the other hand, not all teenagers bring a smile to my face.

Back to the bus this weekend.

Sex was a big topic of conversation for these upper-middle class kids on their way to a music festival (free of parental supervision and already a bit intoxicated). One of the boys loudly announced that he “likes sex more than sleep.” Another young couple (obviously the popular kids at their high school) made it clear to everyone that they were sleeping together. When we asked if they used condoms, the girl and I had this exchange:

“Why? I’m on birth control.”

“Umm, what about STDs?”

“Who has STDs?”

“Well, do you really trust your boyfriend?”

Silence.

“Please tell me that you’ll at least use condoms when you’re single and in college.”

Silence. 

“Maybe….”

[Boyfriend interjects]  “Condoms SUCK!”

Oh boy.

Living in Washington DC, where the HIV epidemic still rages with 2.7% of the population infected, this seems like a ludicrous way of thinking. But then I remembered: she’s 16. This is the result of an extremely sexualized media and a lack of basic sex education.

Let’s remember a few facts:

Put simply, kids are going to have sex. Duh. Therefore, they are going to be at risk of contracting an STD or getting pregnant.

So they should have all the necessary knowledge to make safe decisions, right? It doesn’t mean that they will choose wisely, but at least it alerts them of the risks.

As I’ve touched on before in this blog, the idea that teaching comprehensive sex education in schools is equal to encouraging teens to have sex  is ridiculous. It’s going to happen. Or it’s not – that depends on the teen. But either way, kids should have all of the information they need to make the right choices.

That’s why there’s a growing movement to make comprehensive sex ed a requirement in American public schools. Currently it’s only mandated in 22 states and DC – what about the kids in the other 28?

If you know a teen in need of sex education (or any teen at all), tell them to visit ScarleTeen, “Sex Ed for the Real World.” It’s a great resource with advice that I can imagine being able to relate to when I was that age.