Change needed in sex-ed curriculums

Only abstinence programs are sanctioned by the government.

Sex education policy is one of the most controversial issues of our time. Because laws regarding the issue are left up to the states, the nation’s teenagers are receiving extremely varied educations. This is an aspect of our education system that needs to change. From abstinence-only education to comprehensive teachings of the entire spectrum of sexuality, to anywhere in-between, some students are getting what they need to know, while others are not.

Thirty-four percent of our nation’s public schools teach abstinence until marriage as the only option. The problem with abstinence-only curriculums is that many teenagers still are choosing to have sex before marriage, and they are not being taught how to practice safe sex. Educators teach students that sex is something that should be experienced only within marriage, which still is good advice for teenagers, but is not a reality for the average graduate. Abstinence-only educators do not teach students about how to protect against unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections. According a survey done by the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance, about 46 percent of ninth- through 12th- graders have had sex. This means that almost half of high school students are sexually active and might not have access to information they need to protect themselves.

During 1998 through 2002, the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act handed out more than $400 million to states to allocate for school districts promising to teach abstinence-only education. To get this money, school districts would agree to an abstinence-only curriculum as defined by the federal government. These focus on the belief that there are social and psychological benefits of abstinence and students are to abstain from sex. Also, it is the only way to avoid STIs and pregnancies.

This means no matter what a student’s morals and values are, they might not be learning necessary information to lead healthy sexual lives in the future if they choose to do so. Studies show students who are taught under abstinence-only curriculums are less likely to use birth control correctly, if at all, if they choose engage in premarital sex. Also, 88 percent of students who pledge in middle school to remain abstinent until marriage have sex before graduating high school.

Sex education courses should be required to include a more comprehensive overview of sexual topics. All public schools should be required to teach students about sexual risks of sexually transmitted infections, unintended pregnancy, how to protect themselves from both and how to prevent and deal with dangerous situations. They should discuss the social environment that influences sexual choices and sexual orientation.

Fran Zerr, Dave Grassman, Meghan Frank and Erik Swenson are University students. Zerr is the senior editorial board member. Please send comments to [email protected]