Sex Education Essay, Research Paper
Just say no, or say nothing at all. Either live by the word of the Christian God, or live with disease and unsupportable families. In current abstinence-only sexual education, this is the choice the nation gives to young people about their private sexuality. Clear concise facts have given way to horrifying lectures of the fictional evils of sexual behavior that falls outside the lines drawn by the right wing and the Pope. These tactics do not educate and only damage adolescents and their budding sexuality. By perpetuating an archetype of sexual innocence they only accomplish a spreading of sexual ignorance. Comprehensive sexuality education in every school would end the inefficacy of abstinence until marriage programs and resolve the many sexual problems facing the youth of today.
The state of teenage sexuality in America right now is a dismal thought. Young people lack the most basic information, like how to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. In a number of states it is illegal for educational professionals to give students such information. This leads to American youths being some of the most sexually uniformed in the modern world. These suffocating laws, designed by right wing radicals, prevent schools from addressing the topic even if it is in the best interest of the student. In a report by the respected American Health Consultants, Inc., it is said that,
“Among the seven in 10 public school districts that have a district wide policy to teach sexuality education, 86% of them require that abstinence be promoted as the preferred or only option for teens.”
Abstinence-only sex education forbids dissemination of any positive information about contraception, regardless of whether students are sexually active or at risk of pregnancy or disease. David Landry, senior research associate at the Alan Guttmacher Institute in New York City tells, “What this is saying is that at least one-third of students are receiving information about contraception that is extraordinarily limited, where either discussion of contraception is barred altogether or the emphasis is on its ineffectiveness in preventing pregnancy and guarding against sexually transmitted diseases” (American). This concealment of data will only impair young people for whom it is difficult to find accurate information by conferring with either their parents or peers. Besides the problem of school districts skirting the issues of safe sex and pregnancy prevention, students are completely unaided in understanding the complexities of sexuality beyond mere intercourse, because these topics are considered too controversial, even though they are the topics most applicable to many students lives. “As many as one in two school programs do not discuss more controversial topics, such as abortion and sexual orientation, in their sex education curricula” (American). Adolescents need the whole story on sexuality; deleting all sections that could perchance, in the remotest context, affront someone, leaves unanswered questions and a nebulous comprehension of sexuality. Those who believe that teenagers need to know nothing more than what is currently taught should have a look at the latest research. In his research summary “The Necessity of Comprehensive Sexuality Education In The Schools” John P. Elia reports that teenagers recount that the sex education they have received in school is inadequate
and “frequently at odds with what … they want to know in terms of sexuality and relationships”. Specifically, surveyed adolescents in Liana Clark’s article “Beyond The Birds & The Bees: Talking To Teens About Sex” in Patient Care, say they want to know more about how to prevent AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases (47%), how to use birth control (32%), where to get birth control (28%), and how girls get pregnant (22%). Lack of knowledge in these areas is evident not only in survey but also in medical research. Teenagers comprise the largest age group with STDs because they are largely ignorant about these diseases. Ferdinand M. De Leon, noted sexuality researcher explains that, “The first time many hear of chlamydia is when they learn they have it”. No one can protect himself or herself from a threat they don’t even recognize. In fact, some 31 percent of teen girls were completely unprotected the last time they had sex contributing to the 3 million teens (about 1 in 4 sexually experienced teens) that acquire an STD every year (Teen). Many of these STDs can be cured, or at least alleviated by modern medicine; however, pregnancy and teenage motherhood are not so easily coped with. As sexually active teenagers who do not use contraceptives have a 90% chance of becoming pregnant within one year (Teen), a teen not using birth control unquestionably needs to become quickly educated about it. Despite these damning statistics, the overall U.S. teenage pregnancy rate declined 17% between 1990 and 1996, but these declines should fuel only optimism and not complacency, because the number of pregnancies in females younger than 20 years in the United States continues to approach 1 million per year; “More than three quarters of these pregnancies are assumed to be unintended”
(Hellerstedt) and more than half of these pregnancies (56% of 905,000 teenage pregnancies) ended in births (Teen). Having a child to care for at such a young age is likely to ruin the life of, or at least terminate the hopes of, any teenage girl. In “Kids Having Kids”, a 1996 report from the Robin Hood Foundation, it is revealed that only “30 percent of girls who become pregnant before age 18 will earn a high-school diploma by the age of 30, compared with 76 percent of women who delay child bearing until after age 20. And 80 percent of those young, single mothers will live below the poverty line, receive welfare, and raise children who are at risk for many difficulties as they grow to adulthood” (McIlhaney). Without comprehensive sex education the academic and professional lives of too many young people, will be cut short, too many unwanted children will be born into unstable homes, and too many otherwise healthy people will suffer the pain and humiliation of preventable sexually transmitted diseases.
With the sexual health of our nation’s youth in such dire conditions, new courses of action must be taken. Unsurprisingly, subjugating the sexual behavior of the nations teens is unfeasible and frighteningly fascist. America’s youth must lower their STD and pregnancy rates by personal decisions, but not without any help. Education is the best help they can be given. Repeatedly, sex education (especially the comprehensive variety) has shown to immediately reduce unwelcome pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, and immediately increase contraceptive and condom use in program participants. A recent study by the Alan Guttmacher Institute found that, “young women who receive contraceptive education the same year they become sexually active are 70 to
80 percent more likely to use a birth-control method’ (Teen). Despite this near doubling in contraceptive use, some strong conservatives fear that arming youth with the knowledge to protect themselves from disease will cause them to become sexually frivolous, hopping from one drunken orgy to another night after night. This notion is utterly preposterous. Comprehensive sexuality education does not promote promiscuity or even advance the onset of intercourse. In fact it actually delays intercourse and decreases numbers of sexual partners. Through researching an analyzing numerous independent studies, Charles W. Henderson came to the conclusion that,
“Of 47 studies that evaluated interventions, 25 reported that? sexuality education neither increased nor decreased sexual activity and attendant rates of pregnancy and STDs. Seventeen reported that [it] delayed the onset of sexual activity, reduced the number of sexual partners, or reduced unplanned pregnancy and STD rates. Only three studies found increases in sexual behavior associated with sexuality education? Hence, little evidence was found to support the contention that sex education promotes promiscuity.”
These findings have been proven to work on larger scales than even the most well funded studies. Northern Europe, particularly the Netherlands, has used comprehensive sexuality education for countless years with spectacular results. Jim Farrow, director of adolescent medicine at the University of Washington describes this, “In northern Europe, which is no less sexually active, STDs are a fraction of what they are in the U.S., because the message there is ‘we recognize you’re sexually active and be responsible.’ Here it’s
just say ‘no, you’re too young.’ So they do it on the spur of the moment and they’re unprepared.” (De Leon) Teen pregnancy rates are also lower by this education program. Mischa Heeger of the Rutgers Foundation reiterates that, “With the lowest teenage pregnancy rate in Europe (8.4 per 1,000 girls between 15 and 19), the Netherlands deserves attention They know their children are going to have sex, and they are ready to prepare them and to speak with them about their responsibility? Contraceptives are widely used? the pill is freely available” (Valk). Sexuality education is clearly working and the best means to improve the nation’s sexual well being.
Ignoring studies and statistical fact that prove that sex ed is beneficial to students, anti-comprehensive sex education protesters claim that sexuality education does not belong in the schools because it is simply too “hot” of a topic to be introduced into the public school system. They say such matters are to be “handled in the home”. As nice as it would be to have every parent calmly sit down with his or her children and impartially discuss where to obtain contraception and what an orgasm is, this is not reality. When sexuality is left to be discussed at home, it is left undiscussed. Parents and adolescents may feel uncomfortable conversing about such topics or erroneously feel that it unnecessary. “Parents engage in denial of sexual activity” (De Leon). Of course, not talking about such issues does not merely leave a void of sexual ignorance in a young person’s mind. Adolescents have questions, and when there is no adult to answer these questions “many? learn about sexuality on the streets, picking up incorrect and inadequate information” (Elia). The mass media also dispenses inadequate information.
Adolescents view between “1,900 and 2,400 sexually related images on television annually” (Elia). Many of these messages are inaccurate, contradictory, and confusing. Without sexuality education, these teens have no means of conferring about the images they see with anyone other than friends, who know little more than they do, perpetuating misinformation. Yet still, there are those that persist that teaching comprehensive sexuality education, with it’s emphasis on safe sex rather than unattainable Christian ideals, is immoral, and that abstinence is the only word educators should ever say in response to sexual queries. In our pluralistic society, a religious group’s moral convictions should not be taught as the norm in public schools. Schools should give the facts– not a sermon. As Michael McGee, vice president for education at the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, declares in response to comments on immorality of sex before marriage, “Our message has to be that it is immoral to deprive people of information that can save lives” (Motamed). In seeking to impose their values, abstinence proponents are marshaling arguments that fly in the face of both science and human experience. Abstinence-only advocates contend that they want to send kids into the world with strong characters and good values. Despite arguments by such groups that they seek to teach a “core” set of ethical values, the nature of the values that are stressed betrays a cramped pluralism. These right-wing radicals are a loud minority-not the average person. Studies show that the majority of parents do not want abstinence-only education for their children. The average parent wants comprehensive sex ed for their children. Steve Rabin of The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation made some significant
findings in the Foundation’s latest sex ed opinion poll, “84% of parents want sex-ed classes to teach kids how to get and use birth control,” and “Four out of five parents want teachers to discuss abortion with their kids, and three out of four want them to discuss sexual orientation” (Parents). Sexuality education needs to be changed to fit the desires and needs of society for a comprehensive sexuality education.
For more than a century, public schools have had a limited approach to sexuality education. At best, instruction has been restricted to lessons about sexual anatomy, reproductive physiology, and sexually transmitted diseases. Comprehensive sexuality education, addressing health, development, desire, alternative sexualities, and relationships, is “conspicuously absent in more than 90 percent of schools nationwide” (Elia). Traditional topics such as sexual health, human development, and abstinence are discussed, but not exclusively. This approach more accurately reflects the complexity of sexuality. As Debra W. Haffner, M.P.H., President of The Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS) states, “SIECUS supports abstinence education. But SIECUS does not support teaching young people only about abstinence” (McIlhaney). In this realistic approach to helping young people come to understand sexuality, masturbation, and sexual desire will be discussed as normal occurrences. Currently, in many abstinence-only programs, teachers are instructed to say nothing more about masturbation other than it is something some people do and others don’t, further muddling a youth’s perception of their sexual selves. It is important to help students become sexually self-aware, and have alternate sexualities discussed openly, as they may
be examining their own sexuality. Often homosexuality and bisexuality are forbidden subject matter in a sex ed classroom. Although teachers may never verbalize it, students leave the classroom with an understanding that heterosexuality is simply better than other sexual identities because the latter are not discussed. “To pretend that [sexuality] differences do not exist is unfair to students, who will eventually find themselves? with individuals possessing a variety of beliefs? regarding sexual? relationships” (Elia). Furthermore, to ignore such differences is unfair to students who differ from the “norm,” and causes them to feel invisible and unappreciated. Bisexuals, gays, lesbians, or those who simply do not fit typical gender-role stereotypes are discriminated against and physically and verbally abused in the schools. Sexuality education could address discrimination, and encouraging tolerance, if not acceptance, of these people. This multidimensional approach, teaching students that sexuality is something of the body and the mind, would be a significant benefit to the social and emotional well being of adolescents. For far too long, Sex Ed has been taught in only the most physical terms, the earliest programs merely speaking to the boys about nocturnal emissions and to the girls about menstruation.
“Physical education teachers were responsible for teaching sexuality education–not because they had special training but because usually the only time during the school day when students were segregated by sex was in gym class. Having gym teachers teach sexuality education symbolically linked sexuality solely to the
physical aspects of life and reinforced the notion that sexuality was a physical thing, frequently foreclosing exploration of broader issues (Elia).”
Schools need to release this myopic perspective, and educate students an unbroken view of sex, covering the emotional aspects of sexuality. Sex ed is not merely biology and physicality. Instructing students on sexuality through only description and function of reproductive organs is like teaching a Driver’s Ed class by explaining the internal combustion engine. Included in discussion of the emotional side of sex, relationship and personal skills would be taught. Acquiring these skills would help students manage intimate and sexual relationships. “Many of these skills are likely to be transferable to other aspects of students’ lives” (Elia). For example, communication and conflict-resolution techniques can be applied to relationships with employers, friends, relatives, lovers, and others. With combined schooling on reproduction and abstinence as well as intimacy and desire, comprehensive sexuality education is, in the end, a method that works. As Debra W. Haffner, M.P.H., further states,
“The World Health Organization published a review of 35 studies of sexuality-education programs. It found that the most effective programs for preventing teen pregnancy address both abstinence and contraception? More than 110 organizations — including the American Medical Association, the American Public Health Association, and the YWCA of the USA, the National Council of Churches, and the National School Boards Association — support a comprehensive approach to sex education (McIlhaney).”
Comprehensive Sex Ed works because it is inclusive, whereas abstinence-only approaches are exclusive. Any approach to education that excludes students who are not typical is ineffective.
Abstinence-only education does not work. In fact, it has never worked. Abstinence-only programs tend to rely on lectures as the main educational strategy, substitute slogans for discussion, and exaggerate the consequences of sexual behavior to scare young people into abstaining. Proponents these fear-based programs make broad claims that are completely unproven. They argue that if you tell young people to abstain from sexual intercourse, they will. They promise that these “just say no” programs will keep teenagers from developing “too serious” relationships, from being emotionally hurt, from experimenting with intimacy and sexual behaviors, and, of course, from getting pregnant and contracting a sexually transmitted diseases. There is no reason to believe that these claims are true. Charles Morrison, family living and sexuality educator for Portland schools states, “To preach pure abstinence and nothing else is irresponsible?the research is clear, abstinence programs don’t work. If they did, we wouldn’t have to invent the birth control pill?” (Ferriss) Research on abstinence-only education would probably disturb most of its supporters. Not only is the method completely ineffective, it actually increases STD rates and teen pregnancy. “About 50% of school districts in the South have abstinence-only policies when some of the highest rates of STDs and teen pregnancy occur in the South” (Shelton). And, astoundingly, the results of some abstinence-based programs have actually boomeranged in the opposite direction of the
program’s goal of celibacy. “A recent $5 million abstinence-only initiative in California not only did not increase the number of young people who abstained, but? actually resulted in more students having sexual intercourse after having participated in the course.” (McIlhaney) The explanation for this is unclear, but perhaps the students discredited educator’s message from the lack of believability in their claims.
Abstinence education relies more on scare tactics to frighten young people away from sex, rather than helping them come to their personal feelings on sexuality. These scare tactics, are not merely limited to exaggerations of the truth, but often consist of complete, unqualified lies. For example, the Guttmacher Institute revealed, “Some abstinence-only programs? have distributed information stating that HIV can pass through latex condoms. Even though they’ve been told that this is absolutely false, they continue to disseminate it,” (Shelton). Students, viewing this information as coming from a definitive authority source, would never think to check up on the information, and so will forever walk through life fearing their next sexual encounter. Facing Reality, an abstinence-only program, includes a litany of the consequences of premarital sex, including: “inability to concentrate on school, shotgun weddings, selfishness, poverty, loss of faith, fewer friendships formed, loss of self-mastery, difficulty with long-term commitments, aggression toward women, loss of honesty, depression, and death” (McIlhaney). Considering that four out of five Americans have had their first intercourse as teenagers (Teen) the country must be a pretty bleak place to the average abstinence proponent. So bleak that new federally endorsed abstinence-only sexuality education
guidelines have just been released. These guidelines assert the following warped statements, “*The only way to prevent out-of-wedlock pregnancy and STDs is by sexual abstinence *Monogamy within the context of marriage is the socially expected standard for sexual conduct *Sexual expression outside of marriage will probably have detrimental mental and physical effects” (Elia). It is troubling that this program requires adults to tell young people that a mutually faithful monogamous relationship in the context of marriage is the standard of human sexual activity in the United States. This “information” clearly is not true. The vast majority of Americans begin having sexual relationships before marriage. 74 million American adults are classified as single because they have delayed marriage, decided to remain single, are divorced, or have entered into gay partnerships (McIlhaney). The majority of these adults are involved in sexual behavior and most of them would take offense at students learning this new federal “standard.” The claims of abstinence-only programs are based on neither science nor human experience. “Most young people engage in sexual relationships without negative physical, social, or emotional consequences, and most teen-agers who have intercourse do so responsibly” (Haffner). It is time for those afraid of their own and other’s sexuality to stay out of young adult’s beds.
Teenagers are sexually adults and are not to be “protected” from their own desires. Some abstinence-only supporters say that teens are not ready for sexual intercourse. How can they make one-size-fits-all decisions for so varied a population on such an incredibly personal matter? Perhaps the only reason some feel that teens are
unprepared for the natural advent of their sexuality is that we simply do not prepare them for it.
“Much of the current curricula give students the impression that sexual expression is reserved for adults; minors engaging in sexual activities are “playing with fire.” Fluidity of sexual expression, the language of sexual intimacy, and the creativity of human sexual response are sorely missing in traditional sexuality education programs” (Elia).
This projection of sexuality, as something that is very, very bad for adolescents, will only lead to future sexual dysfunction. Because adolescents are only told “No, no, no!” whether they are 12 or 18 from these abstinence-only groups, sexuality becomes viewed as dirty, unwanted, and unnatural. It is not healthy for a human being to think their inherent sexual feelings are scourge to be wiped out. The psychological damage caused by this is so detrimental to a person, that some members of religions with particularly severe beliefs about sexuality have been known to commit suicide out of self-disgust. Although this is an extreme, “without sexuality education, many people will likely continue to feel badly about their own sexuality and about sexuality in general” (Elia). These negative feelings will stay with them even after marriage, when they are finally “allowed” to have sex. Secretly, this may be the goal of some abstinence programs where many of the lecturers have had terrible, horrifying, and painful sexual experiences, forever perverting their view of sex. Sex is not a tragedy within the majority of persons’ lives. Sexuality is not a pollutant, and people are not to be cleansed of it as such.
Most people are sexual. It is wrong for abstinence proponents to tell people, regardless of their age, to expulse these feelings. For many people abstinence is simply not a reasonable request, like the family doctor requesting you remove cheese from your diet. Sexuality is inborn. People say that adolescents are not or should not be sexual, but holding hands, hugging, kissing, and even being attracted to (having a “crush” on) somebody are all sexual behaviors and are all behaviors common to adolescents, and even children. Influential child behaviorist B.D. Schmitt explains that, “By age 4, most children develop a healthy sexual curiosity. In normal sexual development between ages 3 and 5, children commonly undress together and look at each other’s genitals”. With such child sex play prevalent and expected, why do we demand that upon reaching puberty, the most sexually preoccupied time of a person’s life, all sexuality should cease? It is mystifying that there are those who would support this backward principle, which throughout the whole of human experience, there is so much evidence against. The fact is, that most American young people have their first sexual intercourse during their teenage years (Haffner). Commonly, “40 percent of ninth-graders and 45 percent of tenth-graders have engaged in sexual intercourse” (Elia), an activity they are likely to repeat, regardless of abstinence training. These youth need education on contraception and STD prevention, to stop their sexual experiences from becoming negative ones. Abstinence is just not relevant to sexually active students’ lives. Furthermore, says Charles Morrison, sexuality education specialist, “the message would alienate students already engaged in sex.” (Ferriss). Stressing that abstinence is the only certain way to
avoid pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases may even cause greater harm by indirectly encouraging teens who are sexually active to dismiss condoms and other forms of protection as useless. As said by Dr. Jocelyn Elders, former Surgeon General of the United States “Abstinence is a good thing, and it works for many of our youth?However, I am not willing to just throw away those other youths for which it does not work for one reason or another.” (Stryker) And for these same youths, for whom abstinence will not work, an abstinence until marriage policy means life long celibacy. As with many right wing, religiously inspired programs, abstinence only education completely ignores those who do not travel down the beaten path. Students often are taught with the assumption that they will eventually settle down into a heterosexually based, monogamous, nuclear family and produce children. Homosexuals, estimated to be somewhere between 3 to 10 percent of the population, will never be married. In an abstinence-only sexuality education class these persons aren’t even recognized. Essentially, this approach conveys the message that bisexuals, gays, and lesbians are not fully sexual human beings. Also caused by the strong emphasis on marriage in these programs, those heterosexuals who choose not to marry are made to feel like social misfits and failures. Sexually active homosexuals and unmarried heterosexuals are not failures; it is the abstinence-only program supporters, refusing to acknowledge individualism and alternate lifestyles that have failed them.
The adolescents of this generation have all been failed, regardless of sexual activity. Educators and politicians have refused to enlighten them about one of the
greatest elements of being human and have instead sheltered them from the very information that could literally save their lives. These are crimes without punishment, but crimes that can be rectified. Comprehensive sexuality education can better both the sexual and nonsexual aspects of future students lives, without dictating how they should see their sexual lives. There is a way to protect without oppressing.
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