Column: Sex education is failing the youth

Abstinence-based sex education causes more issues than it solves.

Sex education across the United States is in crisis. Only 22 of the 50 states require any sex education, and only 19 states require that if the sex education is provided that it be “medically, factually or technically accurate,” according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

The definition of “medically, factually or technically accurate,” differs from state to state, making it difficult to understand what exactly is being taught to young adults across the country. So what is “true” in one state might not be in another. Not to mention that LGBTQ sex education is almost nonexistent in public schools across the U.S. Something doesn’t sound right here, does it?

If I was not lucky enough to have a mother who was not afraid to have real discussions with me about sex, then my sex education class in my sophomore year of high school would have led me to believe that every sexual urge I have should be stuffed deep down inside of my brain right next to questioning the efficiency of standardized testing and my wish to be paid the same as a man. Thanks, public school.

I recall feeling paralyzed with fear in class while being told for a full 20 minutes that the only way to stay safe from sexually transmitted infections and unwanted pregnancy was abstinence, “but that was my choice to make.” And as a 15-year-old girl who had already lost her virginity, I wanted more answers than that. Thank goodness for the poorly printed worksheet with a sentence summary about only a few different contraceptives was handed to me right before class was dismissed.

The type of dismissive attitude about sex education I received is what causes the ignorance, confusion, fear and pain that often leads to an unwanted pregnancy or the contraction of an STI.

The U.S. public schools’ abstinence-oriented sex education program under-educates and misleads young people on sex, sex safety and gender, and it is a danger to the overall health of the public. Title V, an abstinence-only program that became federally funded in 1996, is much to blame for the poor sex education residing in our public schools. The states that accept Title V funding must teach sex education around the federal government’s definition of “abstinence education.” Thankfully, states can reject Title V funding and 23 of them have.

However, Congress introduced the Special Projects of Regional and National Significance Community-Based Abstinence Education Program, now known as CBAE, to the nation in 2000. States can not reject CBAE, but if enough people jump through enough hoops “a community or school can block CBAE programs from operating by organizing to have the program removed from the community, or changing school or state code to allow only comprehensive sex educators,” according to Advocates for Youth.

However, we are better than we used to be, I have to give public school that. The 1960s brought more light on sex education and, according to the National Center for Health Statistics, teen pregnancy rates have continued to decline since then. This correlation is no coincidence. Open discussion and education must lead to safer sexually active people. Who knew?

I honestly have a hard time understanding why certain people can not grasp the idea that when topics are fully and openly discussed that issues begin to decrease. Knowledge is power. This obviously applies to sex education, so I wish that public schools did not shy away from the responsibility they inherently have: to educate. Just because sex is a topic that can be uncomfortable, it is not an excuse to not properly educate young adults on a matter that is important to their own health and safety.

It is essential that Congress begins to reform sex education in order for it to be better mandated, defined and inclusive of everyone; otherwise, abstinence-based sex education will continue to be more harmful than helpful for young adults and their sexual experiences.

Contraceptives need to be discussed in much more depth. LGBTQ sex needs to be involved in the curriculum. Sex with more than one partner needs to be discussed. All different options for pregnant teens need to be taught. “Medically, factually or technically accurate” needs to be narrowed down to strictly medically and factually accurate and defined nationwide.

Young adults should be encouraged toward safe sex with inclusive discussion and truth, not bullied into it with the fear of the unknown.

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