The Case for Comprehensive Sex Ed

It’s a little ridiculous that in this day in age, we are still arguing about comprehensive sex ed.  It really, truly is.  Someone even went on record pointing out this absurdity at the International AIDS Conference a few weeks ago.  Why?  Because it’s a truly maddening issue.

Let me make this argument as coherently as I can.  There are two primary reasons why we don’t have comprehensive sex ed in America today: 1) The religious factions of this country are against it because certain religions are against sex outside of marriage and/or the use of contraception and 2) People are afraid that if kids learn about sex, they will start having sex.

Obviously these reasons don’t stand up under logical scrutiny.  First of all, we are supposed to have a separation of church and state, which means that religious sentiments should not be dictating what kids learn in schools.  This is why we teach things like the theory of evolution instead of mandating theology for all high school freshmen.  And second, KIDS ARE ALREADY HAVING SEX.  The average age at which a girl in the US loses her virginity is 14, people.  Teens are having sex.

They’re just not having good sex, or safe sex.

So let me break down exactly why we NEED comprehensive sex ed in the United States.

FIRST, because on average 750,000 teenage girls get pregnant each year.  That’s a shame.  These are girls who are now more likely to end up living in poverty, who are more likely to put off or forgo a college  education, who are more likely to take low-paying jobs instead of chasing their potential, because they got pregnant too soon.  These are girls who are going to have to withstand the medical implications of getting pregnant, who will be ridiculed and shamed, who may be isolated and cast out, because they got pregnant.  And this could easily be avoided if sex were less taboo, and if teens were made more aware of their options when it comes to contraception.

Which brings me to my SECOND point, which is that WE CAN NO LONGER AFFORD TO LET SEX BE A TABOO TOPIC IN THE US.  I know, I know.  The religious right doesn’t like it.  It’s “icky”.  It’s “private”.  Guess what?  Taboos around discussing sex help perpetuate rape culture in the United States.  They prevent partners from having open and honest discussions that would help prevent the spread of STDs including HIV.  Taboos surrounding sex don’t stop people from having sex, they just stop people from having good sex.  They create a dangerous climate in which critical conversations are NOT taking place, where the line between consensual and nonconsensual sex is blurred, where people aren’t talking about getting tested for HIV or STDs before they engage in sexual activity.  That’s a huge problem, and we could start to solve for it by instituting comprehensive sex ed programs.

THIRD, HIV and other STDs are a big problem in the United States.  A study that I actually helped work on (which was unpublished so I’m not going to bother with a proper citation but it was worked on at MacArthur High School) looked at the correlation between states that mandate sex education vs states that mandate health education and the corresponding STD rates.  There wasn’t much of a difference-~-and we couldn’t at that time explain it.  But my guess would be that since sex ed in the United States teaches little about preventing STDs, mandating it wasn’t much help.  If we want to curb the spread of HIV and other STDs, we need to teach people not just that condoms exist but how to use them, and encourage people to get tested and to talk about getting tested with their partners.  We can’t do that with taboos about sex, and we can’t do that without comprehensive sex ed.

On top of all of that, it isn’t as though parents can’t ALSO talk to their kids about why they should wait for marriage or practice abstinence or whatever, if that is what they want their kids to learn.  In fact, having comprehensive sex ed FORCES those conversations, which is really important.  Kids getting advice about sex from other kids isn’t really working.  We need teens to have conversations with adults, and if those adults are too busy burying their heads and hiding behind abstinence-only or disaster-prevention sex education, then we’re never going to get those important dialogues started.

America has everything to gain by instituting comprehensive sex education programs, and pretty much nothing to lose. We could be helping a lot of people, and combating some seriously important problems, by implementing these programs.  And the first step is obviously to repeal the laws that penalize schools that teach comprehensive sex ed.  Puritanical values may have made sense in the 1600s, but this is 2012.  It’s time we caught up with the world we live in.

~ by Randi Saunders on August 24, 2012.

One Response to “The Case for Comprehensive Sex Ed”

  1. […] should have taught me, and should have taught you, years ago.  I think I’ve been clear about how disappointed I am with abstinence-only sex ed in the US, and I definitely don’t want to say that I’m an […]

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