I wrote another one of those papers. That’s right, I wrote about something controversial and this time it was sex. I said it. Sex. Sex. Sex. For my senior research project, I am developing a sex education curriculum that benefits in preventing STIs and pregnancy among teenagers. You can read it below, and continue reading to learn about a podcast I was recently featured on.
Since the beginning of time, there is one thing that has kept our society flourishing, developing, and evolving. Over time, however, sex has become much more than the reason for procreation; for thousands of years, sex has been associated with social status, recreation, and sin. Sex today is more openly viewed, allowing for a variety of accepted sexual activities and relations among adults, young adults, and even teenagers. With the amount of young people having sex, different problems have risen over the past couple of decades. Teenage pregnancy has become so abundant in some places that it has become socially acceptable and the Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) are seen in young people now than ever before. One of the more alarming facts, though, is that America has the highest teenage pregnancy and STI rates than any other developed country in the world.
America needs to step up their game in sex education in order to see improvement among healthy sexual practices. It has been proven that abstinence-only sex education is ineffective when it comes to prevention of pregnancy and STIs, yet our government still refuses to provide the funds for forms of comprehensive sex education. We need to see a change in the way we teach sex to teenagers in order to improve our health in America.
Teens are having sex; in fact, by the age of eighteen, nearly seventy percent of females and sixty-two percent of males have had vaginal intercourse (McKeon). The fact that young people are sexually active is no secret to society, and we see a rise in risky sexual behavior when parents try and deny the fact that their teens are having sex. Young people, aged fifteen to twenty-four, represent a fourth of the sexually active population and they have contracted a total of fifty percent of America’s STIs. On top of that, girls aged fifteen to nineteen have the highest rate of Gonorrhea and the second highest rate of Chlamydia in America (“State Policies on Sex Education in Schools”). America also experiences 850,000 teen pregnancies annually, a drastically high number when compared to other countries (McKeon). These things can be easily prevented by a factual, in-depth look at sex and educating the youth of America on contraceptives, STI prevention, and other safe sex practices. Comprehensive sex education (defined as “effective at assisting young people to make healthy decisions about sex” on Advocates for Youth) can also teach teens valuable skills such as saying “no” (McKeon) and how to deal with peer and cultural pressure (“Implementing Sex Education”). Sex education is not about providing teens with the means or ideals to have sex, but it is to teach them about the risks and how to prevent those risks in the likely case that they will have sex.
According to Alex Henderson of AlterNet, there are five Western European countries that teach sex education to teenagers better than America does, and the statistics prove him right. The Netherlands, Switzerland, Spain, France, and Germany all have very open views about social sex. From tolerating prostitution, to accepting pornography and permitting the union of same-sex couples, these countries provide a stark contrast to our more conservative American views. Some may argue that the Europeans’ views on sex could have a negative impact on their teens (by encouraging them to have sex, resulting in widespread pregnancies and infections), but their low teenage birth rates and even lower STI rates prove differently.
The Netherlands not only allow gay marriage and prostitution, but they also provide their teens with comprehensive sex education. In 2009, their teen birth rate was around five for every thousand girls while America’s teen birth rate topped nearly seven times higher at thirty-nine for every thousand girls. As for Gonorrhea, the Netherlands had thirteen in every one hundred thousand girls infected with this STI and America was at a shocking 458 per one hundred thousand (Henderson).
Spain has only recently adopted liberal views on sex and sex education, but they have seen a tremendous increase in healthy sex practices throughout their country. Much of Spain agrees, in fact, that, “…the most effective way to reduce the number of abortions is through easier access to contraception and more sexual information, not less” (Henderson). Teaching their children at a young age about healthy sex, they agree, is the reason behind their decline in abortion rates. Providing their youth with the education and means to use contraception while having sex has—surprise, surprise—lead to fewer unexpected pregnancies and a lower abortion rate.
In fact, Spain’s open views encouraged mother Angela Carson to raise her teenage daughter away from America’s social conservatism. She felt that the narrow views common in American citizens—particularly those located in the Bible Belt—were creating social problems in the country. Henderson points out in his article the harsh reality that is social conservatism and how it directly affects the rate of teen pregnancy. A study done by the Centers for Disease Control in 2008 actually showed that the teen birth rate in the Bible Belt (states located in the southern part of America whom typically adopt more conservative, religious values) exceeded sixty percent of girls out of every one thousand. The high amount of students not taught about contraceptives is due to the more closed views about premarital sex and social sex in some of these states. They are deprived the information that their parents and teachers owe them in order to practice safe sex. This lack of information results in poor sexual decisions which only add to the rate of teenage pregnancy (Henderson).
People can deny the idea that sex education does, in fact, prevent teenage pregnancies and STIs, but they cannot argue with the statistics and facts that prove the effectiveness of comprehensive sex education. Most of the well developed countries in the world teach their children about safe sex, contraceptives, and STIs. Educating students about sex does not increase the rate of teen pregnancy or infections, it does the exact opposite.
The Cable News Network recently did a study on the effectiveness of the famous virginity pledge. It is estimated that nearly an eighth of teens in the United States participate in taking this pledge, promising to abstain from sex until they are married (Tamkins). Although the pledge has shown to delay sexual activity through their teen years, recent studies have shown that it does not necessarily keep the pledger from participating in premarital sex. In fact, Tamkins argues that most of these pledgers lose their virginity around the average age of twenty-one and teens who choose to take this pledge are just as likely to have premarital sex as those who choose not to.
The personal decision to pledge your virginity is not a wrong one. It does not hurt society when someone decides to pledge their abstinence and choose to not have sex; however it can be a problem when teenagers take the pledge due to inaccurate information that they have been provided about sex. It has been proven that pledge takers, if they decide to have premarital sex, are less likely to use contraceptives, which can result in unexpected pregnancies or the contraction of an STI (Tamkins). The virginity pledge does not prevent pregnancy or STIs; if the pledge taker decides to participate in sex, they need to be informed about pregnancy and infection prevention.
Their choice not to use contraceptives could be a result of the abstinence-only sex education they may have received as a teenager. Taught with biased views about condoms and birth control, most of these programs only inform kids about the disadvantages of these contraceptives (Tamkins). Young people tend to be trusting in their education from adults that they deem responsible and well-educated. Teenagers who are taught about sex from a trusted adult will be more believing in the ideals and “facts” they might be given. This is why there are people in the world today that truly think that condoms and other forms of birth control do not work to prevent pregnancy. It is vital that teenagers are taught the facts about sex in an unbiased and comfortable environment in order for them to fully benefit in any relationships they will have. Requiring schools to teach reliable sex education is something America needs to consider when it comes to the youth of our country. Currently, the United States does not have a national policy that encourages sex education in schools; they, instead, leave it up to the individual school to decide (Wallace). This results in a lack of sex information that should be provided to every teenager in America, which is why we have the highest teenage birth rate out of all the other developed countries in the world.
When a sex education program tends to only preach about abstinence (thus leading to the form of abstinence-only sex education), it tends to leave out valuable information that needs to be taught to young people in order to lead healthier lives. Some abstinence-only programs do choose to teach students about STIs and STDs but they fail to talk about prevention which is not the full amount of information that teens need to know.
Brigid McKeon discusses in their article that, “no [abstinence-only] program has been proven to delay sex and improve protected sex.” They continued to elaborate that eighty percent of federally funded sex education programs provided students with false information including false information about the effectiveness of condoms, the “risks” of abortion, and falsely intertwining religious beliefs with scientific fact.
In fact, “no highly effective sex education or HIV prevention education program is eligible for federal funding because mandates prohibit educating youth about the benefits of condoms and contraception” (McKeon). The fact that our American government chooses to not associate with some of the most important health education a student can receive is extremely disturbing to me.
Overall, abstinence-only forms of sex education do not provide accurate and positive information about sex. As discussed by Planned Parenthood, “abstinence-only sex education excludes talks about birth control, safer sex, and sexual orientation,” and does not talk about sex in a positive connotation. This form of sex education leaves out some of the most vital information to help teens prevent pregnancy and deadly diseases throughout America.
Although abstinence-only programs are not at all effective at improving the health of teens, teaching abstinence alongside a factual based program is a smart idea. Abstinence is the number one, one hundred percent effective, form of pregnancy and STI prevention. Teaching only abstinence and disregarding the facts, however, is not a positive and effective way to keep America healthy. Our teens need to know these facts because of these reasons.
Teenagers need to be taught the facts in order to prevent the nineteen million STDs contracted by young people annually (“11 Facts About Sex Education in the U.S.”). Teenagers need to be taught the facts to learn how to prevent the 850,000 teen pregnancies that happen each year (McKeon). Teens need to know the facts so they can live healthier lives. It has been proven that, “teens who get comprehensive sex education are 50% less likely to have unintended pregnancy” (“11 Facts About Sex Education in the U.S.”). Learning about contraceptives (and how to use them) and the prevention of STIs will only benefit the lives of our teens.
It is very important that young people are taught about sex in a classroom environment. Sex is prominent in the twenty-first century and children are exposed to the likeness of it from a very young age. They learn about sex from their parents, their friends, and even the media such as music and movies (“Implementing Sex Education”). Some of these sources can provide misleading information to kids that result in them having the wrong information about sex. For example, sex is portrayed in multiple different ways in the media; from love to lust to “entitled” sex, teens can get the wrong idea about what sex is about, or how sex really works. Teenagers need to have the chance to learn about sex in an educational and positive environment so they can clearly learn and understand the facts.
With the addition of comprehensive sex education programs in schools, America has seen a rise in healthier decisions made by teens. Comprehensive Sex Education has been proven to delay sex among teens as well as lower the incident of unprotected sex and lowering the birth and STI rates among teens (McKeon). Arming teens with the facts allows them to make more conscious and mature decisions when it comes to having sex. Like I mentioned before, teenagers are already having sex and there is not much we can do to stop them, but we can teach them how to make healthier decisions when it comes to sex and comprehensive sex education is the foundation to that.
America has already begun to see improvement from the application of comprehensive sex education. Between the years nineteen ninety-one and 2004, America’s teen birth rate declined by twenty one percent mainly due to the increase in sex education programs teaching about contraceptives (McKeon). To see a birth rate fall by more than twenty percent in a thirteen year period is a major accomplishment among our educators and youth of America. This improvement should only act as foreshadowing for the future of the health lives of our teens. If we continue to teach young adults about contraceptives, STI and pregnancy prevention, and how sex works rather than the horrors of sex, just “how babies are made”, and the reasons why they shouldn’t have premarital sex, we will witness the birth and infection rates among teens begin to decline into the pit of Tartarus, never to be seen again.
Looking back, teaching with abstinence-only sex education programs is unbeneficial in the decline of teen birth and STI rates. Although including abstinence in a sex education program could work alongside facts about contraceptives, infections/diseases, and sexual activity, teaching abstinence alone only works as a scaring tactic on teenagers that are, quite frankly, already having sex.
Including comprehensive sex education in our schools is a vital move that our government needs to make in order to improve the lives of our teenagers and the health of our country. Instead of our government spending over one billion dollars on ineffective abstinence-only programs, they need to be encouraged to fund more reliable forms of sex education that will help our teenagers to make healthier decisions about sex for the rest of their life. Not teaching teens the facts about sex will only lead to an increase in teenage pregnancies and STIs throughout the years, things that are not only economically and socially hard to accept, but that hurt the lives of the young people that are affected by them daily.
If one were to doubt the effectiveness and importance of comprehensive sex education, just remember what Planned Parenthood stated, “Medically accurate sex education is an investment in our children’s future—their well-being.”
Providing proper sex ed to teenagers is very important to me. Being a teenager myself, I have seen the negative effects of abstinence-only sex education and can only hope that America notices that there needs to be a change.
I was recently featured on a podcast called Lucifer’s Young Ladies. A podcast diverging from mainstream ideas and beliefs, these two atheist sisters talk about the negative effects of Christianity and beliefs associated with the religion. They asked me to speak on their second episode about my paper and my thoughts about abstinence-only forms of sex education. You can listen to the podcast here.
Image courtesy of memphisflyer.com.