When many people think about sex education, cringe-worthy thoughts come to mind. It was probably in middle school, where everything is awkward enough, and now you are being forced to talk about sex… how awful. Depending on where one went to school, you maybe have practiced putting a condom on a banana or maybe sex education was a strictly horrible example of the way sex is bad and only for married couples. The question to ask, why is sex education so bad? Shouldn’t educating the young on important topics be praised, especially if these topics can help save lives? Somewhere over the years, the United States thought it was important to educate the young on safe sex practices, but since then there has been a disconnect between the education being taught and how useful it truly is.
Sex education often does not go beyond the anatomy and/ or teaching about AIDS/HIV, but really have many people do we know with those STIs compared to herpes or chlamydia? There needs to be a change in sex education across the country because daily more and more teens are being taught false truths and/or they are a part of minority groups that are often forgotten.
The start of sex education stems from many forces but two of the biggest factors include public health concerns and social trends. The public health concern began during WWI when STD’s were rampant amongst soldiers, causing Congress to pass The Chamberlain-Kahn Act in 1914. According to the Future of Sex Education, “the Chamberlain-Kahn Act, allocated money to educate soldiers about syphilis and gonorrhea”, and this was the start of sex education in the United States.
From 1914, until the 1980s, different progressive groups tried to begin a program that helped educate the public through different mediums, such as movies or books, but the public was not supported. Christian groups would protest sex education because Christians saw sex education as promoting promiscuity. People protested sex education because they believed schools had no business teaching young people about such a personal matter, rather the education belonged to family members or churches. In the 1980s, the arguments against teaching sex education began to unravel, through research refuting the idea that teaching sex education encouraging sexual activity. Second teen pregnancy hit an all-time high and was an AIDs epidemic.
According to Debra Haffner in her book, A Call to Action, “ by 1989, 23 states had passed mandates for sexuality education, an additional 23 states strongly encouraged sex education, 33 mandated AIDS education and 17 additional states recommended it”(3). The 1980s can be considered the start of sex education, but it also was the start to of new legislation laws beginning passed such as the Adolescent Family Life Act (AFLA), which teaches abstinence-only-until-marriage programs. Programs such as AFLA teach sex education but focused on instilling fear by suggesting that premarital sex is harmful, and according to A Call to Actions, AFLA “provide distorted and inaccurate information about STDs, HIV and prevention methods, and promote stereotypes, and biases based on gender, family structure, and sexual orientation.” Since 1996, abstinence-only-until-marriage sex education has slowly begun moving out of school systems across the United States but there remains a discount between public and private schools, and most teachings vary depending on location.
Sex education across the United States varies, but 24 states require sex education and 33 states require education about HIV/AIDS. FOSA even talked about how only 20 states required sex and/or HIV education to be medically, factually or technically accurate. According to the National Conference of State Legislature, “medically accurate” refers to “requiring that the department of health review curriculum for accuracy, to mandating that curriculum be based on information from published authorities upon which medical professionals rely.” On the other hand, 35 states allow legal guardians to opt-out representing the child, and 4 states require parental consent before any instruction. From the research above, it can be concluded society believes sex education is important, but why do schools focus on teaching abstinence?
At Oxford, a team performed a meta-analysis examining the causes and effects of young adults being primarily taught sex education through the idea of abstinence, and the effects it can create. In the United States, most programs promote abstinence, with the goal to foster decisions making in the students. The main issue surrounding teaching based on abstinence is it usually leaves out any teaching of contraceptives, and or focuses primarily on body development. Body development is an extremely important topic to discuss, but if a school chooses to primarily focus on puberty rather than sex, they are hurting the future of their students. According to the textbook, “ninety-seven percent of males and 96% of females had received at least some formal sex education,” however, the information provider was about the prevention of HIV/AIDS or being abstinent and learning “how to say no to sex” (350). The study draws an interesting conclusion about why abstinence is seen as the most effective method because parents would rather believe their child is not sexually active and hope if they keep promoting a certain ideal, the child will follow suit.
Many parents do not want to open the door of having the talk with their child because it can be extremely awkward, and maybe they, themselves, never had the talk from their parents. Maybe they fear they will not be able to answer any questions the child has, or maybe they fear if they talk about it, it is giving the go-ahead for children to become sexually active. However, according to a survey by CDC, “more than 47 percent of all high school students say they have had sex, and 15 percent of high school students have had sex with four or more partners during their lifetime. Among students, who had sex in the three months prior to the survey, 60 percent reported condom use and 23 percent reported birth control pill use during their last sexual encounter.” The statistics show that teenagers do have sex, whether their parent knows or not and if teenagers are going to have sex, it is extremely important to educate them on all the different safety practices available.
Many schools support sex education, but the United States as the highest teen birth rate in developed countries. Furthermore, the CDC states young adults have over “9.8 million new STDs cases a year and 3.2 million affect females who are infected with at least one STI”. CDC explained, “human papillomavirus is the most common STI among teens; some estimates find that up to 35 percent of teens ages 14 to 19 have HPV.” Sadly, females have the highest rates of Gonorrhea, and the second-highest rate of Chlamydia of any age group, while males who have STIs, often have no symptoms which cause for many infections to go unreported. Overall, STIs in young adults are extremely prevalent in the United States, even though sex education is taught in almost every state, which draws the question- there is a disconnect between the education beginning taught and how students use the information?
One of the biggest disconnects is how sex education in the United States is exclusive to the majority, leaving out some of the most vulnerable groups, such as the LGBTQ community. Research shows that the LGBTQ youth has the highest risk of being involved in an unhealthy sexual relationship, and the lack of sex education programs could be the blame meaning there needs to be a push for inclusive programs. According to the Human Right Campaign, “for LGBTQ inclusive programs are those that help youth understand gender identity and sexual orientation with age-appropriate and medically accurate information; incorporate positive examples of LGBTQ individuals, romantic relationships and families; emphasize the need for protection during sex for people of all identities, and dispel common myths and stereotypes about behavior and identity.” Even though society has continued to be progressive and open to the Research shows that the LGBTQ youth has the highest risk of being involved in an unhealthy sexual relationship,
Many individuals believe sex education is failing students across the United States. According to the USC Department of Social Work, “only 13 states require sex education to be medically accurate, leaving a lot open to interpretation.” Having comprehensive sex education allows students to be told the truth about what can happen if they choose to become sexually active, and it strives the create an inclusive environment for all different identities and relationships. Furthermore, students who feel more informed, make safer choices, resulting in fewer pregnancies and STIs when they are taught medical facts. The current problem with why sex education varies so greatly across the United States is because the information is regulated by the states, leaving teachers to have to research what topics and information they deem important to be taught. Sadly, this can cause the information to be false or outdated. Furthermore, sex education falls under the jurisdiction of states’ rights, creating disparities in what is taught (2). For example, according to an infographic by USC Social Work Department, Florida sex education focuses on ‘stressing abstinence’, and Idaho has no sex education at all. Each state has a different idea of what is necessary or important to be taught.
Sex education is extremely important, but one of the biggest disconnects to ensuring a truly healthy relationship is through teaching young adults what a healthy relationship is and what it looks like, outside practice safe intimacy methods. With the divorce rate over 60% many young adults, may not have an example of a healthy relationship. If students are taught about warning signs of an abusive relationship, or how too properly community in relationship, it could help change the current stigma surrounding marriage and relationships. Furthering sex education, including teaching about healthy relationships opens the door to being about the individual in a wholesome way. A relationship is not strictly about sex; rather they are about being able to have communication between two individuals. Sex education needs to help inform young adults about different topics, which will benefit them through both the physical and emotional aspects of sexual relationships.
The disparities push educators into adopting a new method of Comprehensive Sex education. According to the USC Department of Social Work, Comprehensive sex education “includes age-appropriate, medically accurate information on a board set of topics related to sexuality including human development, relationships, and decision-making, abstinence, contraception, and disease prevention.” The idea behind comprehensive sex education is focusing on the entire individual, though being mindful of the emotional impacts on young adults engaging in sexual intercourse. California is the leader in changing their sex education, but other states have a more aggressive approach to sex education. While sex education has not completely changed, families across the United States have improved upon communication skills, which have helped decrease STI and unplanned pregnancies. If young adults are receiving factual information from a trusted provider, the more prepared they will be when they have to make their own decisions regarding sex. Research published in the Journal of Adolescent Health stated “teen who was informed about contraception had a lower risk of pregnancy than those who were taught strictly about abstinence.” Currently, young adults often further their sex education after they have started being sexually active. Furthering your education after, often, it is too late because it only takes one bad experience or mishap to alter one’s life.
If the United States is the leader in teen pregnancy and has an overwhelmingly high amount of teenagers with STDs, it can be concluded, something needs to change. Currently, in the United Kingdom, as of 2020, they will be starting a new program that will require relationship and sex education. The new laws will enforce all secondary schools to teach relationship and sex education, and primary school will be required to teach relationship education. The United Kingdom found it was important to update their previous guidance because it was written over 20 years ago, and since then, many things have changed. According to The Sexual Help Charity, “We (parliament) are pleased to see to that the guidance emphasizes the importance of inclusive education and covers crucial subjects like consent, different types of families and relationships, safe and respectful relationships, menstrual health and online safety.” Adapting to new ideas helps children understand the healthy relationship and accurate sex education which will promote good sexual health for all different relationships.
The United Kingdom’s, new sex education is similar to the comprehensive sex education many people are striving for in the United States. Having proper sex education for young adults it is crucial because if safe sex is practiced always, it is most likely to be practiced every time. Keep in mind teaching about safe sex is not an encouragement for students to have sex. Rather, it is pushing the child to think about what is best for them by giving all the facts and realistic outcome which could occur from having sex.
Lastly, various studies show that there is a big need for a new method surrounding sex education. The current sex education was helpful 20 or 30 years ago, but when young adults are more open about sexuality, they need to be properly educated about safe sex practices. Being taught in comprehensive sex education in high school can be extremely helpful in instilling a deeper understanding of relationship whole, and safe sex practices. If schools begin to adopt a better-rounded education, which is inclusive of all different preferences, students will be well educated in sex educations. The most important aspect of changing sex education is having a teacher who is educated on the topic. Having an educated teacher will hopefully make students well more relaxed, and give them realistic honesty answers to any question they may have. Hopefully has, the United States continues to become more progressive and being accepting of different groups, they will begin to change how they view sex education, realizing withholding information is only going to hurt the students, rather than help.
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