Changing Sex-Ed in America

Think back to your high school sex-ed class. For some of you that’s farther back than others, but bare with me. What do you remember from that class? Anything? Let me refine that question, do you remember anything that actually had an impact on the choices you made and are making regarding your sexual lifestyle?

According to a story by NPR in 2004, “the debate over whether to have sex education in American schools is over.” In the poll cited in the story, less than 10% of people in the U.S. do not think that sex-ed should be taught as part of the school curriculum. Ten years later in the year 2014, I would say this is probably still a fairly accurate statement. But just because sex-ed is taught in schools does not mean it is effective. I would argue that the real problem America faces with sex-ed is the quality of the education. According to the same NPR story, the biggest debate is regarding the inclusion of other methods of safe sex besides abstinence. But this is still missing a crucial point, which can be seen by the fact that America “has the highest teen birth rate in the industrialized world.” So clearly the way that America is approaching sex-ed isn’t working.

Let’s take a look at the actual laws regarding sex-ed in American schools. According to the National Conference of State Legislators, “all states are somehow involved in sex education for public schoolchildren.” Putting aside that private schools aren’t covered under this statement, it is crucial to look at what “somehow” means. In this case, that does not mean that all public schoolchildren are required to have sex-ed. For instance, “19 states require that IF provided, sex education must be medically, factually, or technically accurate.” This doesn’t necessarily mean that in all 19 of these states sex-ed is required, although we must give the legislators points for attempting to ensure that sex-ed does include a science-based aspect which is a key component for thoroughly covering the topics included in sex-ed. What about the other aspects though?

The definition of “sexual health” (presumably something that sex-ed is intended to teach), according to the World Health organization, is:” … a state of physical, emotional, mental and social well-being in relation to sexuality; it is not merely the absence of disease, dysfunction or infirmity. Sexual health requires a positive and respectful approach to sexuality and sexual relationships, as well as the possibility of having pleasurable and safe sexual experiences, free of coercion, discrimination and violence. For sexual health to be attained and maintained, the sexual rights of all persons must be respected, protected and fulfilled.” This is what should serve as a basis for sex-ed in America. Currently there is not enough emphasis on the “emotional, mental and social well-being in relations to sexuality”. That is why America has the teen birth rate that it does. Until America changes its attitude about what constitutes “sexual health,” the teen birth rate is going to stay relatively high. This change must start somewhere, and what better place than in schools, where we attempt to form bright young minds who will contribute to society in the future?

According to the CDC, sex-ed programs in schools, specifically those that are not abstinence-only and actually include information on HIV/STD protection, are far more effective in achieving measurable improvements in the rates of good sexual health practices by teens. Included in these improvements are a decrease in the number of people teens are having sexual relations with, increasing the age at which teens first engage in sexual relations, increasing the prevalence of the use of condoms among teens as well as increasing the likelihood of teens to use some form of protection. In addition, according to a study by the University of Washington, a sex-ed program that covers all aspects of sexual health is more likely to decrease the teen pregnancy risk.

Overall, I believe that providing young people with the information they need to safely engage in sexual relations that pertains to all the facets of a healthy sexual lifestyle is key to decreasing the risks of teen pregnancy and STDs.