Sex Education

Sexuality is almost tangible at the very center of teenage growth. It reeks havoc through almost everyone – each type interesting, unique, and at some points, mortifying. Rampant sexuality comes with consequences beyond unrelenting angst and confusion; most likely, teen sexuality brings forth teenage sexual activity. Therefore, the adult population tries to teach it – condoms on bananas, cheesy videos with terrible quality – creating cacophonies of uncomfortable kids staring at the clock, counting the seconds until escape – all signs of a generic sex-ed class that most of us think of. Although awkward, these courses intend to serve a helpful purpose: to avoid teenage pregnancy and the spread of sexually transmitted diseases. Even so, sexual education has the power to suppress natural sexuality and shame those who indulge in it. In a high school in Melbourne, a pamphlet advertising abstinence was spread – comparing sexually active girls to pieces of tape – becoming less and less ‘sticky’ with each sexual act (Badham). Sexual education being used to shame sexual activity is shockingly common and has more downfalls than its possible benefits.Advocating for abstinence alone in sex-ed classes in order to discourage sexual activity is ineffective and should not be in curriculum anywhere. If students are not supplied with useful and informed facts, they cannot make decisions on their own – just handing them a button and asking them to stay celibate until marriage doesn’t change their opinions. Instead, giving the proper instruction in sex-ed class can create an impact on students and their decisions moving forward. In a majority of public high schools, there are often numerously disparate groups of diverse people that come from different cultures and backgrounds, creating an enormous melting-pot of opinions regarding sex and sexuality. Just like any other debatable belief, not everyone is going to agree on what is acceptable morally when regarding sex. There may be some who disagree with current beliefs and facts about sex and sexual activity. A public school, however, doesn’t need to address all the dissenting views in its student body to be adequate and informative. Individuals can believe in what they want to believe – but from the stance of public education, all kids should be taught the importance of safety, the use of contraceptives, and the facts of STDs and the possible resources they can use to ensure a healthy sex life. The newest and most informed education is the best way to help young people face their sexuality – by being educated – so they can be ready for any obstacles they may face. Simply teaching abstinence is ineffective and doesn’t adequately teach a young person about sexuality in full. Sex has been a core part of humans since the beginning of homo sapiens genome. However, human sexuality is different than pure sex – it may be something more complex and confusing. It turns out that human sexuality evolved to bring groups of individuals together; to ensure survival. It was most importantly a bonding function, with the interest of reproduction becoming secondary (Fisher). Therefore, sexual desires may not be intended for exclusively physical pleasure, but to become more emotionally and mentally connected with others and to create a community (Shpancer). Sexuality in social creatures, such as in humans, have evolved to be center of a community. If so, shouldn’t it be natural for sexually-developing adolescents to want to experience their sexuality? In reality, that is exactly what happens. A part of growing up is growing into your sexuality. As early as ten, some boys may start to think about their sexuality – in a year-long study, about 6% of 9– 10-year-old boys reported sexual fantasies, which increased to 66% among 13– 14-year-olds (Fortenberry). Most young kids grow up to be sexually active – most commonly, during their teen years – In 2011–2013, among unmarried 15–19-year-olds, 44% of females and 49% of males had had sexual intercourse (Adolescent Sexual and Reproductive…). Continuing into adulthood, most individuals in 2018 are sexually active. According to the Journal of Human Reproductive Studies, 90% of a studied 11,000 adolescents between 18 and 27 years of age lost their virginity before marriage, as of 2015 (Kar). In all of these studies, the consensus is clear – that teens and young adults are going to be sexually active – that it is natural and common in society. No matter what, there should be readily available information at the hands of young people. Although some teens decide to be abstinent; for religious purposes, personal decision, or to avoid pregnancy, they still have the right to be informed. With the growing number of people becoming sexually active, there needs to be a change in how the education system assesses sexuality and sex. Teaching a message of only abstinence is ignorant and tosses aside what is important to recognize – with all these people becoming sexually active, there is a higher risk for disease, pregnancy, or unforeseen consequences. It is true – the most effective way to prevent the consequences of sexual activity is to remain abstinent. It rules out any possible STDs or pregnancy and it is the best way to ensure safety. Encouraging abstinence in sex-ed programs is important, but neglecting to discuss sexuality in order to promote abstinence is hurtful. The CDC found inconclusive evidence that abstinence-only programs helped young people delay sexual initiation; nor did they change other behaviors, so why wouldn’t the public education system encourage safety and knowledge regarding sexual activity? In contrast, the same study by the CDC found that comprehensive programs – those that discussed sexuality and safe sex in depth – found favorable effects on multiple adolescent behaviors, including sexual initiation, number of sex partners, frequency of sexual activity, use of protection, frequency of unprotected sexual activity, and sexually transmitted infections and pregnancy (Santelli). Abstinence-only education pushing ‘pledge’ buttons and conservative-based curriculum doesn’t do much. A Californian study on abstinence-only programs found that students enrolled were more likely to report becoming pregnant or causing a pregnancy (even though it was unlikely that it was the direct cause) (Collins et al). States that employ abstinence-only sex education often are more conservative and rural than states with a more broad curriculum. These state’s legislative powers often vote for abstinence-only programs that align with ‘good Christian values’ and bring in a conservative mindset to sexuality – ignoring LGBTQ groups, condemning those who embrace their sexuality with an element of shame and embedding religious values into education. ‘Abstinence-only until marriage programs’, or AOUMs, what these programs are often called, are damaging and ineffective, as stated in studies by several Southern universities. In these studies, AOUMs have consistently been dubbed “a failure” in deterring teens from risky behaviors and have gobbled up millions of dollars and learning-hours along the way (Burns). They often withhold medically correct information, snubbing health professionals and scientists. Even so, they keep appearing in public schools in the South and in relatively rural states; receiving millions of dollars in funding by Congress. Researchers reported that more than $2 billion has been spent on domestic abstinence-only programs between 1982 and 2017, and $1.4 billion in foreign aid for AOUMs (Burns). With all this taxpayer money going towards public education, it is only right and fair that evidence-based and medically supported programs are taught in public schools.Sex-education is often decided by states for their own state, which is often when AOUMs and strictly-abstinent programs are initiated. Conservative states are more likely, as said before, to vote in the conservative direction pertaining to sex-education and abstinence. However, right-leaning states also suffer the worst statistics concerning teen pregnancy and the spread of HIV/AIDs, where states that vote more liberally concerning sex-education have the lower rates. Of the eleven states that require bare minimum sex-education to none at all, half of them are in the top twelve states with the highest amount of teenage pregnancies, and all of them are the American south (Adolescent Sexual and Reproductive…). There is a similar trend with HIV/AIDs as well – In 2016, the CDC found that “The South accounted for 53% of the 18,160 new AIDS diagnoses in the United States, followed by the West, the Northeast, and then the Midwest,” (HIV/AIDS). It is ironic that states with the highest rates of teen pregnancy and HIV/AIDs are those who supply the least amount of education, but it presents the dilemma that needs to be solved. In areas where STDs run rampant and teen pregnancies are much more common, there needs to be a greater influx of information through education besides AOUMs. An education-based advocacy group – Advocates for Youth – surmise that initiating new programs that are dubbed ‘comprehensive’ have the possibility of “helping youth delay onset of sexual activity, reducing the frequency of sexual activity, reducing the number of sexual partners, and increasing condom and contraceptive use” (Comprehensive Sex Education…). Comprehensive programs don’t avoid the ‘touchy’ subjects – by doing so, they better educate young people just beginning to internalize and analyze the idea of sexuality.One significant facet often ignored by abstinence-only programs is the subject of sexual activity outside of heteronormativity. There is a severe lack of information being made available to today’s students about disparate sexual orientations, often alienating LGBTQ youth. Data from the CDC shows how few sex-education programs are inclusive of LGBTQ youth. For example, “only 19 percent of US middle schools provide curricula or supplementary sex education materials that can be deemed LGBTQ-inclusive. This lack of education leaves a large number of LGBTQ youth without the tools to maintain healthy sexual lifestyles and to protect themselves and their partner when engaging in sexual activity.” This is also incredibly important because different groups within the LGBTQ youth community are more likely to have begun having sex at an early age and with more numerous partners compared to their heterosexual peers. They are more likely to have sex while under the influence of alcohol or other drugs, less likely to use condoms or birth control when they have sex, more likely to contract HIV or other STIs, and more likely to experience teen pregnancy (Hudnell). There is such a gap in LGBTQ information in sex-ed curricula that in 2015, several scientific and activist organizations called for a new approach to sexual-education that includes and validates LGBTQ youth – including the Gay/Lesbian and Straight Education Network, the Advocates for Youth, the Human Rights Campaign, the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, and the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States. Later in the year, sixty-one additional organizations joined the ‘front’ (Hudnell). As of now, with little to no change in the proposed direction, there needs to be new legislation to incorporate LGBTQ education. However, that is very unlikely because President Trump has reversed liberal sexual education reforms, stepping back further from where the U.S. was in 2015. It will take a unified Congress to reform sexual education to include a more diverse base of education (Burns).Even though sexual activity may be a part of the mainstream human experience, it carries consequences; without the proper information, reckless and uninformed sexual activity may negatively impact young lives and society. For example, teen pregnancy and young parenthood have negative consequences for the young parents, the child, and society. The newborns will grow up to have greater educational, economic, behavioral, and health challenges than those in a stable two-parent household. Even further, teen childbearing costs U.S. taxpayers between $9.4 and $28 billion a year through public assistance payments, lost tax revenue, and greater expenditures for public health care, foster care, and criminal justice services (Health). According to the Urban Child Institute, teenage parenting is one of the major risk factors associated with early childhood development. In addition to its other effects, teen parenting is likely to hinder a child’s social and emotional wellbeing – “When a baby is born to a teenage mother, he is likely to have more difficulty acquiring cognitive and language skills as well as social and emotional skills like self-control and self-confidence,” (How Adolescent Parenting…). With incredible burdens on the child and the family due to teenage parenting, it makes more sense to prevent pregnancy through education than raising a child with a young parental unit. It costs society less money to try to prevent teenage pregnancy – through comprehensive sex education – than to raise a child born to often disadvantaged and impoverished parents. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, “teenage mothers are also more likely to live in poverty and depend on public assistance,” (Teen Pregnancy Prevention).Another consequence of uninformed or reckless sexual activity is the transfer of STDs – infections that can affect persons of all racial, cultural, socioeconomic, and religious groups in the United States. According to The National Academy of Science, people in all states, communities, and social networks are at risk for STDs. Even in 1997, it was found that 12 million Americans were infected with STDs – most of them under the age of 21. Adolescents and young adults remain to be the most susceptible to STDs (Institute of Medicine). In 2017, two decades later, the CDC estimated that “nearly 20 million new cases of gonorrhea, chlamydia, and syphilis … occur each year in the United States,” and that about half of these infections affect young people 15 to 24 years of age (HIV/AIDS). HIV/AIDs is one of the biggest killers in the nation and is one of the most common among the slew of sexual diseases that affect a multitude of Americans. It may be true that individuals need to hold themselves accountable for their actions, but some people may need governmental help and support through a disease or a pregnancy, causing millions of dollars to be spent. Education at a young age could do so much to help adolescents understand the facts of sexually transferred diseases. Sex and sexual behavior are natural for most individuals and sex-education needs to embrace the tide of change concerning new philosophy about sexual orientation. Through the weaning off of abstinence-only programs and using programs that actually work in the long run, the United States can do more to prevent unwanted pregnancy and the spread of STDs. By including information about birth control, possible options and tools for teens, such as Planned Parenthood, and teaching acceptance to sexuality outside of heteronormativity, and not disregarding those who were victim to sexual assault, there is a possibility to bring forth a new dialogue that speaks better to students. Abstinence-only programs do not work, putting emphasis on virginity and waiting does not work, and shaming sexually active young people does not work. What does work is a new approach to education – to better prepare young people for lives as sexually and mentally healthy adults.