A Teen's Take on America's Sex-Ed Problem
There's a lot more to sex education than just strapping on a condom and going at it. Unfortunately, most sex-ed curriculum in school districts all over America leave it at that. Or, they provide even less information with “abstinence-only” programs that discourage sex altogether. These schools push for us—the students—not to have sex by providing literally no info on the different sex organs, consent, STIs, contraceptives, and many other important aspects of sex.
These inadequate programs are one of the big reasons why, as the CDC reports, there is a birth rate of 24.2 per 1,000 women within the 15-19 age group. What's more, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reports that half of the 20 million new cases of STIs each year are from the 15-24 age group.
As these statistics show, America has a sex education problem.
We are psychologically constructed to want to do the things that we are explicitly told not to do. So, telling us not to do something will just make us even more curious about what those things are like. With sex, we will want to know what the big deal is—and why everyone’s so insistent that we don’t have it. To make matters more confusing, there’s a culture in schools that makes you feel like if you're not having sex, you are not "cool.” It’s almost like you are not fulfilling a required high school experience.
So, what do we do about this? During my first semester of college, I was involved with a group called Peer Health Exchange whose main goal was to provide knowledge and skills to adolescents so that they could make healthy, comfortable decisions about sex. This program is taught by college students to kids at under-resourced high schools across America. When I first joined the program, I was shocked that instead of instructing these students to “just say no” or telling them what not to do, they provided information about resources and ways to make healthy decisions. They hold workshops on consent, contraceptives, influences from societal norms and media, and many others that uncover some of the “hazardous” questions teens might have about sex.
A program like this one is the start to helping bring those statistics on teen pregnancies and STIs down. I've seen firsthand how different kinds of sex education can impact our lives, having been raised on lectures that told me to use a condom or not have sex at all, to working with a program that doesn’t just revolve around abstinence.
If, even with abstinence-only sex education, teens choose to have sex, why not provide the necessary protection we need in order to stay safe? Why not expose us to the correct information and statistics and give us a holistic sex education program?
Schools can’t leave sex-ed at simply “don’t do it.” We're going to do it. Schools can’t leave things at just using a condom. Sex is not, like anything else between two intimate people, that simple. There are things about consent and pleasure that everyone needs be aware of.
Furthermore, because of the fear that is imposed by abstinence-only lessons, some of us don’t know that sex can be a fulfilling activity instead of something that everyone is just doing. Our development as sexual beings is stunted. If limited sex education continues to exist, then most of us will not know about the resources that exist if something goes wrong.
I believe a progressive, nationwide program is what all school districts need. There is no reason not to have it. Everyone deserves to be aware of the risks and even the pleasures of sex. A lot of life happens through trial and error, but there are some things with sex, such as consent, that should not be left to trial and error. The safest thing to do is to provide us all with the right sex education.
Instead of telling us not to do it, sex-ed should give us information we need about the pleasures and risks of sex so we can stay safe. After all, the “just say no” mechanism does not work for someone who decides to say yes.
By Daniela Riedlová, 19