Sex is everywhere.
The radio blasts music laden with sexual innuendos hidden behind catchy lyrics and electronic beats. The sexualization of women in order to market products (beers, cars, and even fast food) is a practice common enough to be considered a norm. Even children’s television shows feature cleverly hidden sexualized jokes.
However, when confronted with the reality of sex, adults tend to shy away from the conversation. Many parents deny the possibility that their own teenage children might be sexually active, repeating the mantra “it’s not my kid” to justify their ignoring the topic. Ironically, a large number of these parents are wrong; the truth is that forty-seven percent of high school students are sexually active, and over sixty-four percent of high school seniors have had sex. And while condom usage has increased in the past few decades, student-surveys reveal that over forty percent of high school students do not regularly use a condom during sexual intercourse, and around fourteen percent of these students do not regularly use any form of protection whatsoever.
If students were taught about sex as well as practices that could increase their safety, would these statistics be different? Because the truth is that while sex is everywhere, education about sex is not. In this country, sex education is neither mandatory nor required to be medically accurate in dozens of states, and—thanks to a law passed by Congress in 1996—public schools have to teach “abstinence only” sex education in order to receive federal funding for health programs.
Between 2004 and 2008, five authoritative reports unanimously showed that abstinence-only programs neither help teenagers delay the onset of sexual intercourse nor help them reduce risk-taking behaviors. Furthermore, the studies confirmed that abstinence programs frequently include medically inaccurate information regarding contraceptive methods, abortions, sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), and sexual assault.
While a majority of teens do receive some form of standardized education about STDs, the majority of these teenagers, and over 80% of girls, receive this information after they have become sexually active. Consequently, for eighty percent of girls, important information about protecting their own bodies comes too late.
In contrast, try to find a student who wouldn’t know how to protect him or herself in the event of a fire. A student who hasn't been told to “stop, drop, and roll”? And yet, the likelihood of a child being injured or killed in a fire is only about 1 in 25,000. The likelihood of a child being sexually assaulted: 1 in 4 for girls, 1 in 6 for boys.
The idea that medical aspects of sex education are important is irrefutable. They should be taught accurately and effectively reinforced as students reach adulthood. However, being medically accurate does not equate to being comprehensive. Sex education is more than just discussion about anatomy and communicable diseases; it is about being human. It is about safely and respectfully interacting with one another and exploring our own identities; it is about our lives— and that is not something that should be limited. Rather, comprehensive sex education is something that needs to be expanded and mandated.
From the moment we enter kindergarten, we are taught to “keep our hands to ourselves,” to “use our words,” and that “no means no.” These phrases, although simple, are direct in conveying their message and are drilled into our heads until we believe that the response would be automatic. Of course, if this were the case, then situations involving consent would be far less messy; if we all “kept our hands to ourselves,” then there wouldn’t be any sexual assault cases to begin with. So what happened? Why are these seemingly fundamental lessons not ingrained within us?
These lessons concerning consent are not established in us because people (educators and students alike) assume that, after we pass a certain age, they already are. Children may be repeatedly instructed to keep their hands to themselves and use their words, but those phrases mean something different at age five than at age fifteen. We assume that accurate information is being taught in our schools, so we do not feel the need to ensure it with legislation. Currently, students in many states could be taught that one cannot get pregnant during her period, that oral sex cannot transmit STDs, or that AIDS affects only the LGBTQ+ community. The truth is that we do not know what students are or are not learning because schools are not required to teach them comprehensive sex education in the first place.
Ninety percent of parents in the United States believe that sex education programs should be required to discuss contraceptive methods, STDs, and healthy relationships in their curriculums. Sex is everywhere, so it’s time that sex education is everywhere as well.
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