By Sierra Talcott
One of the conversations parents tend to dread most with their kids is the one about sex. This conversation usually isn’t the most helpful either. There might be some mumbling about a condom and a banana, but that is generally it. With this mindset, the Internet or trial and error becomes the best teachers, and while trial and error can be a good method for some things, pregnancy prevention is not one of those. I remember the first time I had sex, the guy told me afterwards that he was not sure if he had put the condom on right. As a young woman who did not want to get pregnant, this was not something I wanted to hear.
This is why sexual education from a young age is so important. Not only does it help inform young adults about sex, but it also makes conversations about sex less taboo. This can lead better conversations about pregnancy prevention, but also just about sexual experiences in general. This is a good thing, especially for women, as we can have a harder time climaxing than men. Why not talk about the g- spot and variety of positions, because let’s face it, sex is fun! With the appropriate knowledge about how to have safe sex, young adults can be more open about their experiences and create more positive ones. Withholding sex education doesn’t stop sex, it just leads to the potential of more negative sexual experiences.
The United States has one of the highest teen pregnancy rates among first world countries. For every one thousand girls aged between fifteen and nineteen, about 57 become pregnant every year. This means that about 615,000 teenage girls who become pregnant each year in the United States. Of that number, eighty two percent of the pregnancies are unintended. With six out of every ten young women having sex, the odds of pregnancy are very high for most teenage girls.
Teenage mothers are at a higher risk for illness, stillbirth, miscarriage, and neonatal death. They are also less likely to graduate from high school and more likely to live in poverty and rely on welfare. Not only do they bare the costs of an unintended pregnancy but the rest of society feels the effects as well. $9.4 billion is lost each year from tax revenue, public assistance, child healthcare, foster care, and criminal charges, all stemming from unplanned teenage pregnancy.
This leads to the question, how can we help reduce teenage pregnancy rates? The answer to this is comprehensive sexual education. Comprehensive sexual education is based on teaching girls about self- agency and their rights as individuals, and is gender focused. It involves teaching about human development, anatomy, and reproductive health as well as sexually transmitted infections. Comprehensive sexual education also teaches about how to explore the positive values associated with sex and teaches young people about how to identify sexual abuse, as well as many other issues with regard to healthy relationships.
Comprehensive sexual education has often been surrounded by myths that this type of education encourages teenagers to have more sex. This has been proven to be untrue. Research conducted by the National Survey of Family Growth showed that teens who received comprehensive sex education were fifty percent less likely to experience pregnancy than those who received abstinence-only education. States who teach comprehensive sexual education tend to have the lowest pregnancy rates.
Comprehensive sexual education not only delays sexual experiences in youth, it also focuses on teaching age-appropriate sexual education to youth. Kindergarten through second grade students learn about family structure, their body parts, and also what to do if they are inappropriately touched. In third through fifth grade, students learn about puberty and start to learn about HIV. In sixth through eight grade, students learn about relationships, decision making, and how to resist social pressure. In later grades, students learn more about sex, including abstinence. This information being taught is vital to setting youth up for success later in life. Comprehensive sexual education doesn’t only teach about sex but also about relationships and how to have healthy ones, which is something that is helpful for everyone to learn.
While comprehensive sexual education has positive results, there has been backlash against it, primarily from conservative-minded people. As of 2018, only 24 states mandated sexual education for youth. Thirty-seven states require that if sexual education is taught, abstinence must be taught along with it. Out of those thirty-seven states, twenty-four state that abstinence must be stressed. This is compared to only thirteen states that require that sexual education must be medically accurate. Looking at the numbers, it is clear that states care more about teaching abstinence than providing medically correct information, which is astounding. This is also detrimental to youth, because abstinence-only education is not only ineffective but can give youth a skewed idea of what a healthy relationship looks like.
Abstinence-only education often stresses that sex should be saved for marriage, which in reality is not what happens in most intimate relationships. A recent survey by the Guttmacher Institute, concluded that ninety-five percent of Americans have had sex before marriage. With this being the case, clearly abstinence-only education is an outdated way of thinking.
Our youth deserve the best education possible when it comes to sexual education, and comprehensive sexual education is the way to do it. We live in a world where sexual relationships are constantly evolving, and it would be a disservice to the next generation to not give them the tools needed to have healthy sexual relationships. Sex is not only fun, it is also a healthy thing to do and should be treated as such. While abstinence is still important for youth, they need to have the tools in place to stay safe if they choose not to go that route. The consequences of not educating youth about safe sex falls mainly on teenage girls, who have every right to be taught how to prevent pregnancy so that they can choose what route they would like to take in life.