by Marisa Lancaster
The United States’ high teen birth rate can be widely seen in our everyday lives, whether on TV in shows like 16 and Pregnant or The Secret Life of the American Teenager or in our very own communities. The United States is the number one developed country on the list of teen pregnancies and the list for sexually transmitted infections (World Bank, CIA World Factbook). This should be reason enough to teach comprehensive sex education on a national level. Comprehensive sex education teaches abstinence as the best method for avoiding unplanned pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections (STIs), as well as the importance of condom and contraception use to reduce the possibility of pregnancy and STIs. While the US government backs and funds abstinence-only education, teen pregnancy still appears to be a staggering problem. Comprehensive sex education, which still promotes abstinence as the best way to prevent pregnancy and STIs, should be the required way of teaching teens around the country about sex.
It is important to understand the difference between abstinence-only education and comprehensive sex education. Abstinence-only education essentially proclaims that having sex should not be done until marriage and often also teaches children lies such as “condoms cause cancer,” in order to scare children into abstaining from sex. Abstinence-only education also does not teach the use of contraception—if a teen or child was presented with a sexual situation, they may not be able to avoid further problems. Programs that teach abstinence-only tend to oppress the LGBT community, by using gender ideals in their teachings and leaving LGBT students in the shadows about being open with their sexuality. Overall, abstinence-only education fails to give teens the bigger picture. Abstinence-only education instills the idea that teens should not have sex until marriage, and while this is important to some religions and peoples’ morals, it fails to address the possible and preventable obstacles that can start as a teen that continue on through marriage. On the other hand, comprehensive sex education still promotes abstinence from sex, but understands that it is unrealistic for teenagers to abstain from sex. According to the Center of Disease Control and Prevention 47% of teens, ages fifteen to nineteen, are sexually active. Thus it is vital to address the use of contraception and inform teens about STIs. Comprehensive sex programs also address homosexuality, sexual abuse, and how to address peer pressure.
The lack of comprehensive sex education throughout schools is allowing our nation to move backwards to the 1980s and 1990s, a time where STIs were extremely prominent. By not informing children and teens of the danger of these diseases and infections, we are depriving them of their human rights. The abstinence-only policies that are implemented in thirty-seven states are preventing teens from learning critical and life-saving information that would otherwise be taught in a comprehensive sex program.
The most important thing to be noted about abstinence-only education is that the states whose policies advocate abstinence-only education are also the states with the highest teen pregnancy rate, like Mississippi and New Mexico (ThinkProgress, Hall). In addition to the correlation between states’ statistics and their policies on sex education, a study by researchers at the University of Washington in Seattle discovered that teenagers that have gone through comprehensive sex education are 60% less likely to get pregnant or develop an STI before the age of nineteen, as opposed to their counterparts who were only taught abstinence. Teenagers who were taught comprehensive sex education also delayed their sexual initiation.
In my opinion, if you teach your child solely abstinence, you are teaching them ignorance. Some people are concerned about the religious conflict in teaching children and teens comprehensive sex as opposed to solely abstinence; it is important to inform our youth about the real world and problems, like STIs and unplanned pregnancies that could occur in their life, even if they so chose to abstain from sex until after marriage. As a nation, we need to further invest in education of youth because clueless teens on the topic will only grow up to be clueless adults.
The main idea of comprehensive sex education, as said in its own name, is that teens be well informed on sex, contraception, and STIs so that they can make better decisions. Sex education teacher, Chelsea Moore, best sums up the objective of comprehensive sex education with this quote, “Sex has repercussions, but if you’re going to do it anyways, you need to use precautions, such as contraception, to make those repercussions less severe.”