Dear Next President,
A May 2012 survey found that more than 50 percent of men and women ages 18-29 were misinformed about contraception. So The Huffington Post asked readers to send in their own stories of sexual education misinformation. One story that I found most interesting was this one from Rachel Puleo, 22:
I grew up in a small town in Ga. I do not remember learning much about actual “safe sex.” I do remember, however, my teacher passing out an “abstinence card” and I was made to sign it, promising that I wouldn’t have sex until marriage. I also remember my teacher passing a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup around class, telling us to “do whatever we wanted to it.” After people had licked it, thrown it on the ground, stuck their pencil into it, etc., she claimed that “having sex with more than one person is exactly the same. No one wants to eat this peanut butter cup, so why would someone want to have sex with you if you have been ‘passed around.’”
If I didn’t have such a wonderful mother who wasn’t embarrassed or ashamed to really teach me what’s up with sex, I would be clueless right now.
This story also stood out to me from Amanda K. Mazurkiewicz, 32:
When I graduated high school in 1998, my hometown in middle Wisconsin had strict pre-requisites for sex education. You had to have already taken and passed Biology and Biology 2 with a B average or above. So the average student likely couldn’t take sex ed at all. The class also required a parent’s signature for permission to take the class if you were under the age of 18. The only exception to all pre-requisites was if you were pregnant. The [guidance] counselors said it was to help you decide whether or not to keep your baby and how to best raise it.
The first day of class was an infamous video of an abortion being practiced in gruesome detail, so it was known throughout the school do NOT take sex ed — it was disgusting! They also showed video of failed abortions from the 1960s with interviews. This was especially disturbing to any girls who were pregnant and waived into the class.
This was how our school put the cart before the horse and also scared anyone who was pregnant into not aborting a baby. For us sex ed was not a class anyone really wanted to take. It was equated to baby dissecting. In my graduating class we had 66 girls and 12 were pregnant by graduation day — one with her second baby. Our sex-ed policy did not work but as far as I know, they still have this policy today.
And this last story stood out to me also, from Melissa Rinkel, 22:
We all got a sex-ed presentation in middle school. They kept the boys and girls together because the presentation wouldn’t work without boys. They had two girls holding clear cups of clean water. They then gave several boys cups of water and had them swish it around in their mouths before spitting it into one girl’s cup. This was supposed to represent what sex does to you, I guess. Turns you into a nasty grimy cup of spit water. Who would ever want you when there’s a sparkling virgin right over there?
These stories are prime examples of the problems in sex education. They show that all over America teens have been misinformed, given partial explanations and subject to bias or misogynistic opinions through sex ed. The sex ed from these stories cover so little about sex overall. Only talking about sexual intercourse itself and staying abstinent is not enough. It does not teach teens about so many other countless subjects within sexual education like contraception, relationships or human reproduction. No wonder there have been so many teen pregnancies and people are increasingly contracting sexualy transmitted dieseases. Sex education has not been what it needs to be, more than just abstinence only programs. It is imperative that every school in America have sexual education as a regular and required class. Sex education should be taught to students at the latest in 7th grade until 12th grade. Sex education classes should be age appropriate and more information should be introduced each year. Sex education is important to have in schools because proper sexual education can prevent myths about sex like “only gay guys get HIV/AIDS” and 1 in 2 high school students have had sex so it is clearly common sense that we need to teach teens how to make decisions that protect their bodies and minds.
The pressure to have sex in high school is undying and the information about sex is not always available and correct. According to the CDC, in 2005, 47 percent of high school students had sex at least once. Fourteen percent have had four or more sexual partners! Parents do not always inform their kids about sex because of religious beliefs. According to the NCSL, 35 states let parents opt out on behalf of their child. Since every teen is not required to take sex education, teens often resort to getting their sex education from the internet. But the websites teens turn to for sexual health information often have inaccurate information. In fact, a 2010 study by the Journal of Adolescent Health, found that 46 percent of those addressing contraception and 35 percent of those addressing abortion contained inaccurate information. Teens are setup to fail and make the wrong decisions if they are not correctly informed about sexual health. Imagine millions of teens all over America with access to false information about sex health and making decisions about sex based on false information. One mistake, one night without protection, one wrong belief can have life changing effects. Whether it be an incurable disease like the often painful and incurable genital warts or an unplanned pregnancy which can affect not only the teen’s life, but their parents life also.
Some have said that the state has no business teaching sex ed in schools because they prefer to teach their children according to their own values or, they are not comfortable with controversial subjects like sexual orientation. The reality is that the average kid today is immersed in sexual imagery and confusing messages about sex. Some kids are told, “just say no”, some are taught how to put condoms on bananas and some receive no information at all. I agree that parents should be teaching their kids about sex education but just like with other complex issues, many parents need support, resources and expertise from schools and other organizations. Schools can help provide families with safe and nonjudgmental environments so that young people can learn about sexuality in a healthy and positive context. Some people believe only certain types of sexual education is effective for teens. The Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD) calls this the a “Legacy of the Sexual Revolution” and explains the three variations of modern sex education.
American children have grown up in environment preoccupied with sex and are increasingly likely to act out on their sexual impulses. A 1993 study by the American Association of University Women found that four out of five high school students say they have experienced sexual harassment in school. It is clear that the sexual problems of children in school reflects onto adult sex life. According to ASCD, 29 states set records for the sex-and-violence crime of rape. By age 18, more than a quarter of girls and one-sixth of boys suffer sexual abuse. One in four female students who say they have been sexually harassed at school were victimized by a teacher, coach, bus driver, teacher's aide, security guard, principal, or counselor. Sex is so dominate in America today, so we must help students gain the needed self control and values in order to become respectful members of society.
According to ASCD, The first two variations of sex education are of the nondirective approach and the third is a directive approach. Originally from Sweden, “comprehensive sex education” is the typical modern American way to teach sex ed. The Planned Parenthood organization advocates for this approach on sex ed. It is based on four theories
Teenage sexual activity is inevitable.
Educators should be value neutral in regard to sex.
School should openly discuss sexual matters
Sex education should teach students about contraception.
How has this approach had an effect on teen sexual behavior? According to ASCD, from 1971 to 1981, government funding of contraceptive education increased by 4,000 percent. But during that time, teen pregnancies increased by 20 percent and teen abortions almost doubled. So it is clear that comprehensive sex ed might not be the best approach based on the results.
The second approach to sex ed is “The Abstinence, But” approach which surfaced when AIDS became a big problem in America. AIDS led to teaching students to practice safer sex by using barrier contraception (condoms) and adding an abstinence message to the comprehensive sex ed approach. The problem with this message is that it is a contradiction. It says, “don't have sex, but if you do, this is a responsible way to do it.
ASCD gave the perfect comparing message when trying to explain what the problem with “Abstinence, But is. It like saying, “Drug abuse is wrong, but make your own decision, and here's how to reduce the risks if you decide to become drug active. This comparion is a little extreme because drugs and having sex is not at all the same thing and most people believe that at some point sex is good for you but drugs are never good for you. But it is clear that the message is very mixed and contradicting like the “Abstinence, But” message. Therefore, it is not the best approach to sex ed either.
Also, condoms do not guarantee physical safety during sex. According to ASCD, “condoms have a 10 percent annual failure rate in preventing pregnancy; for teens (notoriously poor users), the figure can go as high as 36 percent. By one estimate, a 14-year-old girl who relies on condoms has more than a 50 percent chance of becoming pregnant before she graduates from high school.” While many contraceptive sex ed believers use AIDS to justify the need for “safe sex” education, research has shown that condoms don't even completely protect you from AIDS.
According to ASCD, “in a 1993 University of Texas study, the average condom failure rate for preventing AIDS was 31 percent. But condoms do not make sex emotionally safe either. The psychological consequences of sex can include lower self esteem, which is sometimes linked to STDs, feeling used, regret, difficulty trusting in future relationships, and religious guilt. Typically, the religions in the world today prohibit sex before marriage. Condoms provide no protection from these effects of sex.
The last approach to sex ed is often called “chastity education.” According to ASCD, Chastity Education is based on three premises
Abstinence is the only medically safe and morally responsible choice for unmarried teens.
Condoms do not make premarital sex responsible because they don't make it physically safe, emotionally safe, or ethically loving.
The only truly safe sex is having sex only with a marriage partner who is having sex only with you. If you avoid intercourse until marriage, you will have a much greater chance of remaining healthy and being able to have children.
All of the approaches to sex education have their benefits. But a combination of Comprehensive Education and Chastity Education are the best way to teach sex ed in schools. Why, because one thing we know for sure is that teens are having an alarming amount of sex and a lot of teens have a lack of resources to protect themselves physically and emotionally. It is a middle ground for the two approaches that teaches teens about STDs and contraception but also but also explains the value of abstinence through emphasizing the emotional and physical risks of teen sex. At the end of the day it’s like that saying, “you can lead the horse to the water, but you can’t make him drink.” All we can do is provide as much information as we can about sex, how to make the right decisions and why certain decisions are the “right” ones.
The goal of any sex ed class should not be to just to talk about sexual intercourse. There are so many important topics that go into sex education. These includes information about abstinence, contraception, gender, reproduction, STDs,STIs, pregnancy, safer sex, sexual behavior, sexual harassment, sexual abuse, relationships, sexual anatomy, sexual orientation and human growth and development. Of course all of these topics should not be forced into one physical education or health class and briefly skimmed through over for one year. All of these topics should be thoroughly taught and reflected on. Topics should be introduced based on grade level. For example, 7th graders don’t need to focus on safer sex or contraception until higher grades, when the chances of them having to make safe sex decisions has increased.
In conclusion, it is fundamental that all schools be required to have sex education as a progressing, regular, graded, comprehensive and age appropriate class that counts towards graduation. Sex ed should either be its own core subject or be apart of a Human Biology or Anatomy class. Parents should not be allowed to opt their children out of it but parents should be completely informed about what will be talked about in the class. Knowledge is always power. Please don’t deny teens power over their bodies. Sex education gives teens power to make informed decisions about sex. Join me in support of the belief that all schools should have sex education in every state and in every school.