Sex Education is not just the name of a wildly popular new show on Netflix. It is also an important part of our educational system. Sex is a part of mental and physical health concerns for everyone, including teenagers, and disliking or denying that fact does not make it any less true. Education systems are failing students right now, leaving them uncertain of how to handle decisions surrounding sex.
Classes for sex education are not mandatory in all 50 states, but they should be because lawmakers have to realize that it’s not as if people just stop having sex once you cross the Colorado border. Even in states that do have sex education requirements, not all currently bar abstinence-only education which leaves youth vulnerable, confused and likely ashamed of their urges and actions.
Twenty-seven states actually require that abstinence be stressed during sex education, but simply telling students not to engage in sex as the best method of protection is short-sighted. If anything, the emphasis should be placed on what the best methods of protection are if you do choose to engage in sex.
After all, abstinence can be summed up as a one-sentence idea: if you do not have sex, you do not have to worry about the risk factors of sex. Having sex is the more complicated choice, because there are so many options for protection that follow, and teenagers have questions.
Comprehensive sex education is important to prevent the spread of STIs and unintentional pregnancies. For example, some young people are unaware of the risks associated with the withdrawal or “pull-out method,” as a method of contraception, even if they have gone through sex education that teaches about methods of safe sex.
Sex education classes are also a great platform to discuss social concerns surrounding sex, such as the concept of consent, the pressure from peers to have sex early, or on the other end of the spectrum, “slut-shaming.” We cannot continue to leave youth in the dark, afraid of and misguided about a natural experience that they may or may not wish to engage in.
More than just more comprehensive sex education, I believe that we also need earlier sex education. As part of my own education, I recall health classes as early as elementary school, but the horror stories of puberty and cautionary tales against drunk driving are what stand out to me.
It was not until tenth-grade health class that I felt I was getting some substantial information about sex and all the many factors surrounding it, and even then I left with questions unanswered. This is problematic, to say the least, considering some people do not wait until tenth grade to have sex, and may have already begun to engage in unsafe practices that they see no reason to change.
Aside from my empirical conclusions that sex education is vital and needs to be improved, research has indicated that comprehensive sex education is associated with lower rates of pregnancy and STI contraction. Abstinence-only education has in fact been linked to increased rates of STIs and teen pregnancy.
The further we get from abstinence-only education, and the closer we get to open discussions about sex, the better off students will be. Especially if those discussions include the provision of contraceptive methods like male and female condoms.
Refusing to speak openly about sex and explain its complex nature does not stop it from happening, and it does not make anyone healthier, or purer of mind and body. What it does is set people up for failure and place them in danger. For everyone’s best interest, comprehensive sex education is the way forward.