When it comes to most middle school and high school education, you always have the obvious courses that are taught, history, science, mathematics, and english. These are obviously what are considered “required” subjects in the education fields, individual curriculum courses are guided by the U.S. Department of Education, and then decided by the State Department of Education. The hot question on many parents and students minds is, where does sex education fall in? Many states either don’t require sexual education in their schools, or they use “abstinence only” methods of teaching to middle schoolers and high schoolers, even though there are three popular methods of teaching it. These methods are abstinence only, comprehensive and abstinence plus education. There are a lot of important questions to go along with sex education, but many people wonder which method of sex education is the best one. Which provides the best results from teenagers and adults alike, abstinence only, comprehensive, or abstinence plus education?
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For years sex education and sex in general has been seen as a particularly taboo subject, especially when it comes to adolescents and very young adults. The most popular of sexual education methods is of course the ever popular abstinence only method. The Department of Health and Human Services defines this as “…The law as an educational or motivational program which:has as its exclusive purpose, teaching the social, psychological, and health gains to be realized by abstaining from sexual activity; teaches abstinence from sexual activity outside marriage as the expected standard for all school age children; teaches that abstinence from sexual activity is the only certain way to avoid out-of-wedlock pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, and other associated health problems; teaches that a mutually faithful monogamous relationship in context of marriage is the expected standard of human sexual activity; teaches that sexual activity outside of the context of marriage is likely to have harmful psychological and physical effects…and teaches the importance of attaining self-sufficiency before engaging in sexual activity.” (Van Dyck, Peter C.) In a nutshell, this means that abstinence is the only way to completely prevent pregnancy and STD’s and that is the expected cultural and social norm. Abstinence only education began in 1981 when Ronald Reagan signed the Adolescent Family Life Act (AFLA) “Through AFLA, the federal government for the first time invested on a small scale in local programs designed to prevent teenage pregnancy by encouraging “chastity and self-discipline” among teenagers.” (Daliard, Web.) Since then, abstinence only education is the second most popular form of sex ed, with 13 states using abstinence only as their primary source of sexual education.
There has been a lot of controversy over the years about abstinence only education and AFLA as a whole. Iin Heidi Adams and Lela Williams book Children and Youth Services Review, they refute many of the ideas of abstinence only education, stating, “The Sexual Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS) supports abstinence as the most effective and preferred method to avoid unwanted pregnancy and STI exposure, yet calls into ethical question some of the key theoretical assumptions of abstinence-based programming.” (Adams, Williams, 1,876) They are basically saying that teens are being uninformed with this method, and they do not know how to protect themselves because they are missing an entire part of their education to actually be healthy. There has also been a lot of controversy with AFLA because it is primarily funded by the Catholic church and the itself has many Catholic, conservative undertones within the bill itself.In addtition, they also do not explain the uses of condoms and birth control for men and women alike, and it is in fact frowned upon. In Erin Chapmans, From Object to Subject: Young Women’s Experience of Sexuality Education Within Sex-Negative Taboos, she quotes C. Nelson and M.H. Martin who agree with Adams and Williams saying, “Unfortunately, our nation’s youth are often cast as voiceless pawns in this debate as the adults’ attentions stray from questions of the content and delivery of sex education and, instead, allow their discussions of policy and practice to spill over into principled, religious, and political battles of “who should serve as children’s ultimate moral authority—are social mores, and particularly sexual mores, to be inculcated by schools or by families?” (Chapman, 13) What they are saying is that people are using religious affiliations to excuse not teaching about sex, rather than choosing what is the best for their children, and they in turn do not get a say in the matter.
Comprehensive sexual education is the least popular form of sex education to be taught in schools. This is defined as, “teaches about abstinence as the best method for avoiding STDs and unintended pregnancy, but also teaches about condoms and contraception to reduce the risk of unintended pregnancy and of infection with STDs, including HIV. It also teaches interpersonal and communication skills and helps young people explore their own values, goals, and options.” (Alford, Web.) In Darlene Hines Effectiveness of a Theory Based Comprehensive Sexual Education Program at a Baltimore City High School, a study was conducted at Baltimore City High School to see how comprehensive sexual education worked in a real high school setting. She states, “It was imperative for the adolescents to believe that they were at risk for pregnancy and STIs (Perceived Susceptibility), and become aware of the seriousness of the potential outcomes of engaging in sexual activity (Perceived Severity). (Hines, 4) Once the teenagers were educated and understood that there were potential consequences to their actions they became much more aware of what they were doing and that caused many of them to become more aware of their actions or stop them all together. Even though this seems like it would be a really good form of education, it is the least popular of the three when it comes to school districts.
The third and final form of sexual education is Abstinence Plus Education. The main goal of abstinence plus education is “Programs which include information about contraception and condoms in the context of strong abstinence messages.” (Alford, Web.) Abstinence only education not only teaches teens and young adults about the importance of birth control, but at the same time they promote abstinence until marriage programs. C. Kripke states in American Family Physician on the subject of Abstinence plus preventing HIV and aids infections, “Based on limited data, abstinence-plus programs increase knowledge, reduce pregnancy rates, and decrease incidence of unprotected sex and frequency of sex.” (Kripke, 955) Based on numerous statistics and test results it is no wonder that Abstinence Plus Education is the most popular form of sexual health education in the United states, and has proven to be more effective.
Sex education is obviously a very important factor in health education in high schools, and according to studies, Abstinence plus programs are the best way to teach sex ed. Because they not only teach about the importance of understanding the health factors that come with sex, but also the risks, and how to protect yourself if you do chose to have sex, instead of pushing abstinence on teenagers. This has proven to be the most effective method of sex ed.
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