Sex education is perceived by some parents as pornographic material presented to their vulnerable teens by drooling, lecherous perverts who pass themselves off as teachers. In a few unfortunate, rare cases this may be true. But generally, sex education is knowledge. And knowledge is power.
Sex education should be taught so teens aren’t frightened and bewildered by the changes their bodies are experiencing. It should be taught in a supportive environment where kids feel safe asking questions that feel awkward. It should be taught so they know what birth control choices are available, and how to properly use them. It should be taught so they can stay free from sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), and know what to do if they contract one. It should be taught so they understand the process of conception and pregnancy – and the options available if they become pregnant. And sex education should be taught so teens absolutely, positively, unequivocally understand that “no” means “no.”
Two types of sex education programs are currently utilized in the United States: abstinence-only education and comprehensive sex education. Abstinence-only programs advocate avoiding intercourse until marriage, and underscore the benefits of refraining from sex. While this is a considerably noble approach that could dramatically decrease unwanted pregnancies and STDs, it may be difficult for some teenagers with raging hormones to abstain. In a Center for Disease Control (CDC) study conducted from 2006 to 2010, 43% of female teenagers (4.4 million) and 42% of male teenagers (4.5 million) had already engaged in sexual intercourse at least once.
A comprehensive sex education program, on the other hand, covers a wide range of topics related to sexuality. This typically encompasses information about abstinence, as well as education regarding contraception and STDs – a much more complete approach to a very sensitive and controversial subject.
Teens should also learn about contraception, including birth control pills and condoms, to not only be informed about pregnancy protection – and how such responsibility falls upon both the boy and the girl – but to avoid STDs and other maladies. They also need to learn about these diseases – ranging in severity from gonorrhea and chlamydia to hepatitis and HIV/AIDS – and how to discern between the truths and myths surrounding them (such as the erroneous belief that the HIV virus can be contracted from a toilet seat).
Age 13 is probably appropriate for a teenager to start learning about sex. They’re old enough that they won’t be robbed of their childhood innocence, and at a reasonable age to prevent an increase in teen pregnancy and the spread of STDs. The alternative – and not a very viable one – is ignorance. The biology of sex should also be taught, so teens can understand, without panic or uncertainty, the multitude of changes taking place in their pubescent bodies.
Many teenagers have a murky idea of what, exactly, constitutes sex. Some don’t believe that oral sex is real sex, or are afraid that using a tampon will rob them of their virginity. Sex education that provides solid facts can invalidate those beliefs and replace them with more realistic, less confusing information.
Whether it pleases parents or not, many teenagers are having sex. According to Planned Parenthood, 7 out of 10 teenagers have had sex by age 19. A sexually transmitted infection has afflicted one out of four teenage girls. Yearly, 7 out of 100 female teenagers gets pregnant.
To lessen these statistics, sex education, in broad terms, should teach teens to stay healthy and safe, to support healthy relationships and recognize unhealthy ones, and to disallow their life goals to be diverted by an STD, an unplanned pregnancy, or a physically or emotionally abusive relationship. Even if parents are trying to impart sexual awareness upon their children, sex education should still be available in school to reinforce or augment what teens are learning at home, especially if they’re hesitant to ask their parents questions that may be met with shame, disappointment or anger.
Today’s teenagers have access to numerous sources of sexual information, including TV, the Internet and other students – and much of it is incorrect, misleading and could lead to troubles during their teen years or later in life. And simply being told not to have sex – without any supporting reasons – could tap into a teen’s rebellious streak and make them more intent to try it. They might also resort to Googling it for their myriad of unanswered questions, only to end up on pornographic sites, or sites that present sex as mere objectification.
When sex education is taught in schools, it imparts correct information and accurate facts, dispelling lies and rumors that teens may have picked up elsewhere. It also helps when the info is presented caringly and non-judgmentally, without resorting to scare tactics. And it is erroneous that sex education encourages sex when, in fact, it does the opposite. The more teenagers know about sex, and its concurrent responsibilities and potential consequences, the less likely they’ll be to engage in it – or to at least engage in it in a much more conscientious manner.