American teenagers need sex education


By Lena Rawley, Staff Columnist

High school students in Las Vegas began protesting their district’s vague and conservative sex education curriculum on Nov. 12. The current curriculum — which offers medically inaccurate depictions of masturbation, abortion, contraception, sexual assault and other topics — angered students, who feel that they are not being adequately prepared for sexual realities. The district’s curriculum fosters not only sexual ignorance, but also a hostile community for survivors of sexual assault who find the abstinence-based program to be ostracizing.

This program is not an anomaly. Poor or nonexistent sex education is startlingly common in the United States — 28 states currently do not require schools to provide any form of sex education. In some states, such as Tennessee, sex education is only required if the number of teen pregnancies exceeds a certain percent. In addition, discussion of contraception is not legally required in a number of state sex education courses — 19 states require sex education programs, if offered, to exclusively discuss abstinence. Furthermore, a considerable portion of the country does not require schools to educate students on sexually transmitted diseases like HIV. Even if information about HIV is taught in a sex education course, by law that information does not have to be medically accurate in 38 states.

The commonality of deficient sex education is unacceptable, especially considering the current rates of pregnancy and STI contraction among American teenagers. Every year, 750,000 teenage girls become pregnant, 80 percent of those pregnancies being unwanted. In addition, American teenagers contract about 20 million STIs annually. Every hour, two individuals age 13 to 29 contract HIV. A comprehensive sex education can curb these statistics.

Studies have shown that American teenagers who were given a comprehensive sex education were 50 percent less likely to have an unwanted pregnancy than students who were given abstinence-based sex education or no sex education at all. Additionally, sex education that discusses emergency contraception has proven to reduce teen pregnancy — in 2000, 51,000 abortions were avoided as a result of emergency contraception. Students who were not given a quality sex education were more likely to contract an STI.

Having no sex education in the age of Internet pornography is also extremely hazardous. A lack of proper sex education has led to the porn industry becoming the main sex educator for teenagers in the United States. Studies have shown that after viewing pornography young men are more likely to have a heightened interest in coercing partners into unwanted sex acts and have an increased expectation of sex from women. Sex education is extremely important in this regard because it helps curb danger by teaching teens the difference between sex in porn and sex in real life. This ultimately reduces the intensity of the effects of porn on young men because they have a greater grasp of what sex actually is.

Additionally, the removal of sex education does not allow for an accurate conversation about sexual consent. Recently, what constitutes sexual consent has been a highly discussed subject. As such, it is necessary to have a program that establishes an accurate definition that will allow for nothing but absolute clarity in sexual situations. Allowing sex education to wane in the United States is unacceptable. Adequate education is key in ensuring that they are properly educated before they become sexually active so the sex is healthy, safe and enjoyable.

Email Lena Rawley at [email protected]