Let’s talk about sex (ed)

It’s a subject often skirted around. The public and lawmakers alike hesitate to take on an issue bordered by such irreconcilable sides. On a national scale, health and sexual education courses are startlingly inconsistent often due to the lack of federal or statewide guidelines. Only 22 states and the District of Columbia require public schools to teach sex ed- while the remaining 38 leave the formation of curriculums (should they even choose to provide such a program) to individual school districts. Additionally, a mere 12 states require students be taught about contraception, and only seven require the information be medically accurate.

Meanwhile, students are caught in the crossfires as polar forces debate contrasting solutions, dealing with constant exposure to sexual imagery as well as soaring rates of sexually transmitted disease in the meantime.

Conservative-leaning camps preach the value of purely abstinence-based teachings, protesting what they see as force fed course material (otherwise known as a complete and inclusive sexual education) from the depths of hell. Members fear a comprehensive approach to sex ed would encourage increased sexual activity in teens (and before matrimony). They are of the opinion that robbing children of their innocence is past the bounds of a school’s influence.

However, it is naive to assume students’ innocence might be robbed in school alone. If anything, health education should serve to counter and correct the misinformation youths may encounter or seek out elsewhere. Furthermore, innocence is hardly a combatant of the teenage pregnancy and contraction of STDs proponents of abstinence-only programs so zealously strive to prevent. Such innocence could be translated into ignorance when according to the Center of American Progress as of 2013, 41 percent of 18-19 year olds reported they knew little to nothing about condoms. Today’s reality, as reported by Molly Masland of NBC news, is that 66 percent of high schoolers have had sex by their senior year, and curriculums preaching abstinence alone fail to cater to the majority of the student body. With 65 percent of sexually transmitted diseases being contracted by Americans under 24 years of age, and according to the Center for Disease Control and the Kaiser Family Foundation, a quarter of new HIV contractions in those under 22, it’s essential that educators focus on how to handle sexual interactions safely. In no way does this promote students’ sexual activities, but it does work to prevent the consequences of sex going on regardless.

Students should be made aware of the physical and emotional consequences of sex and encouraged to make healthy, informed decisions as to their own bodies and relationships rather than be denied valuable guidance.

The World Health Organization, after studying 35 programs worldwide, found no evidence that comprehensive, inclusive sex-ed classes encourage sexual activity. Instead they found that abstinence-only programs are decidedly less effective than those that also include safe-sex practices. Similar conclusions were reached by both Planned Parenthood and Guttmacher Institute.

While less than half of high schools teach all 16 topics determined by the CDC as crucial components of an adequate health education, some have made considerable efforts to include positive instruction on sexual orientations, gender identities, and address harassment and violence. Since LGBT youth are disproportionately affected by negative aspects of sexual health and are often excluded by health education (if not discriminated against), support has risen for more inclusive curriculums to make high school a safer environment.

Acknowledging the enormous issues of sexual violence, harassment, gender inequality, and even rape culture in the classroom is one of the many important steps we can take to combat these very issues. Consent needs to be stressed to all (where I only remember being told to watch my drink for roofies) in order to advocate safe and respectful future sexual relationships.

Though my very own Gull Lake Community High School’s health program may be considered fairly comprehensive, I felt the nearly palpable absence of what I perceived as crucial information. It was almost as if pages had been torn from my textbook, to be compensated for later with google and hearsay (that said, I’d much rather receive this data from an actual, reliable educator). I cannot recall one mention of consent or a true acknowledgement of violence and harassment. Gender was not covered, pardon anatomical diagrams and physical definitions and the spectrum of sexuality went undiscussed.

Although I appreciated the inclusion of contraception and STDs in the curriculum, I can’t help but believe that a more complete range of topics would best serve an increasingly diverse student body. The formative years of high school signal the development of personal identity for most students, sexuality included. Lessons in the classroom would not only aid questioning teens but encourage a sense of normalcy and acceptance from their peers. In almost any case, it is my perspective that higher understanding of a subject is infinitely more beneficial than enforced ignorance, and this issue is no different.

See this article on the Reflection: https://glhsreflection.org/2016/09/26/lets-talk-about-sex-ed/

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