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Sex Education Problem in Modern World

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America Needs Sex Education

Out of all the countries in the world with liberal abortion laws, the United States has the highest teen pregnancy rate, along with a staggering amount of adolescents with STDs (Sorace 1). Also given the information that the United States has a fairly weak sex education curriculum across the country, this statement is not too surprising, since the two often go hand-in-hand. America’s plight with sex education really began in the early twentieth century (Magoon 16). Up until then, the topic had been quite taboo; even education regarding birth control was banned (17). The movement for sex education developed along with the women’s rights movement, as part of their desire for control over their own decisions and futures (17); feminists linked this access to health and sex education to political equality (Shah 54). The first organization to promote sex education was the American Social Hygiene Association, in 1915, and was primarily focused on sexually transmitted diseases, or STDs (Magoon 17).

However, the Great Depression and the two world wars diminished concerns toward the beginning of a growing sexual revolution; it wasn’t until the 1960s and 1970s that things really began to change and take shape (Magoon 19-21). During this time, prohibiting birth control became illegal and Roe v. Wade legalized abortion (21). The Vietnam war encouraged freedom and casualness with sex with the “hippie movement”, and STD rates were reaching new heights; this all sparked a new need for sex education to encourage young people to use contraception, refrain from fornication, seek committed relationships, and avoid STDs (22-23).

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Today, it is up to individual states on how to design sex education programs and curriculums, and because of this, less than half of the country (only 22 states) require sex education that includes with STD/HIV education, and even then these programs can differ within the same state since decisions about schools’ curricula are usually determined locally (Sexuality Education 1). Unfortunately, educators often shy away from teaching sexual education, fearing controversy and facing the prominent social stigma still attached to the subject. However, a lack of sex education can have detrimental and critical consequences, further analyzed later in this paper, such as the previously mentioned pregnancy and STD rates. Therefore, sex education should be a required course for all schools across America, and should be all inclusive in order to provide the best possible education for all students of all gender and sexual orientations, that will not only benefit them in their teenage years but well into adulthood.

The first step in ensuring this is certainly securing sex education as a core curriculum class. Sex education needs to be an essential and required course (or courses) in every high school curriculum across the United States. Currently, the issue of sex education is left to be determined by state laws (Sexuality Education 1); however, to ensure a comprehensive, quality education for all students, a federal law needs to be enacted that establishes sex education courses for all high schools throughout America, and that leaves, best case scenario, no wiggle room for states to get around it. Sex education should also not be limited to one time lectures, or online resources. There needs to be a total change from the “abstinence until marriage” approach that is too often seen in today’s sex education classes; these programs do not teach, yet hardly even acknowledge, sexual behavior or contraception (1). Classes such as these, which use methods instilling fear, shame, and guilt, generally accomplish little in getting students to actually wait until marriage to engage in sexual activities, and in fact usually succeed in doing the opposite (Study Examines…1). And no sex education at all is just as detrimental.

Perhaps America should turn to Europe for advice. In the Netherlands, sex education takes on the philosophy of not teaching, but talking, about sex; communication and questions between students and teachers are encouraged, and a wide range of topics, even including homosexuality, are openly discussed (Sexuality Education 1). In Germany, a comprehensive, non-repressive, dialogue-based attitude is seen in sex education courses across the country; these classes are implemented into the curriculum at several grade and age levels (1). Interestingly enough, the United States’ teenage pregnancy rate is three times that of Germany, and four times that of the Netherlands; also, America’s adult population with HIV/AIDS is six times higher than Germany’s, and three times greater than the Netherlands’ (Adolescent Sexual…1). And finally, in the United States, the use of contraceptives in male and females is significantly lower than in Germany and the Netherlands (1).

This data clearly shows the incredible physical and societal benefits of sex education. It’s simple: sexual health among Dutch, German, as well as French teens is rather exceptional compared to that of the United States, so the secret must be improved and quality sex education for American adolescents. Making quality sex education possible for all American students can directly result in lower teenage pregnancy and STD rates across the country. Another reason sex education is imperative is that it will result in a more open and accepted societal attitude toward sex and sexuality, lots of which are seen in these European countries with quality sex education and better sexual health among teenagers (Adolescent Sexual…1).

However, how is “quality sex education” defined? What all should be included in these sex education classes in order for them to be successful in providing comprehensive, informative, and beneficial education for students? One characteristic is definitely to ensure that sex education classes are all-inclusive. The American sex education that exists today is usually highly heteronormative. As mentioned earlier, only twenty two states (plus Washington D.C.) in America require schools to include sex education in their curriculums (Temblador 1). Out of those twenty two, only twelve are required to discuss sexual orientation, and out of those, three states are required to only discuss negative information on sexual orientation (1). Sadly, only nine states have any sort of positive LGBTQ+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, plus) education included in their sex education courses (1). A survey conducted by the GLSEN (Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network) found that only around 5% of LGBTQ+ students “reported being taught positive information about L.G.B.T. people or issues in their health classes” (Betz 1). Considering the large amount of LGBTQ+ adolescents in the United States and the growing acceptance of this community, it is highly important to educate these young people on issues and sexual behaviors that are specific to them, in order to ensure their safety, health, and well-being. The lack of proper, inclusive sex education is proving to have harmful effects on LGBTQ+ youth. Gay and bisexual men, ages thirteen to twenty nine, make up over two-thirds of new HIV infections; and young LGB (lesbian, gay, bisexual) girls are more likely to become pregnant and/or contract STDs than heterosexual female adolescents (1). These data do not even include the issues of young transgender students, who face an incredible amount of bullying, harassment, and even violence in their schools, far more than their cisgender peers (1).

There is an easy solution to these problems. All-inclusive sex education classes in every school across America would not only provide information about sexual protection to LGBTQ+ youth, but with the classes being taught to all students of all gender and sexual orientations, in the same classroom, it would significantly help decrease judgements, stigmas, and negative conceptions toward the LGBTQ+ population in general, and not only the youth. This would then lead to a decrease in bullying and harassment seen in schools that is exclusive to LGBTQ+ students. In not only a country, but a world, where the LGBTQ+ community is becoming increasingly recognized and, in some places more than others, accepted and finally being granted the human rights they deserve, it’s time to include this diverse and populous community into all aspects of society, including schools.

After having discussed the previous, it is important to examine the different sex education classes that should be included in different grades and at different age groups. Sex education is not something that should only be included in one grade, or even only in high school. It is important to start teaching basic sex education early on, and go further in depth as students grow older, to ensure a fully comprehensive and quality education that will benefit students in school and for the rest of their lives.

In 2012, the Journal of School Health published the “National Sexuality Education Standards” report journal, laying out the essential sex education content that should be included in grades all the way from second grade to twelfth grade. The seven topics chosen as the minimum, essential content for these classes are: anatomy and physiology, puberty and adolescent development, identity, pregnancy and reproduction, STDs and HIV, healthy relationships, and personal safety (National Sexuality Education Standards 1).

By the end of second grade, students should be able to use proper names for male and female body parts, understand that all living things reproduce, identify healthy methods of communication, be able to express if they are uncomfortable being touched by someone, understand that everyone has the right to tell others they do not want to be touched, and explain what bullying is and why it is wrong (National Sexuality Education Standards 1). By the end of the fifth grade, students should be able to describe human reproduction, describe healthy relationships, describe HIV and how it is transmitted and prevented, describe puberty and adolescence and the changes that occur because of, and identify medically accurate information about male and female sexual body organs (National Sexuality Education Standards 1). By the end of middle school (8th grade), students should be able to identify situations of sexual assault, harassment, rape, etc., define sexual intercourse, differentiate between gender identity, gender expression, and sexual orientation, explain methods of pregnancy and STD prevention, and understand prenatal practices that lead to a healthy pregnancy (1). By the time students finish high school, they should be able to describe the human sexual cycle and the hormones involved, understand the differences between and compare the advantages and disadvantages of abstinence and contraceptive methods, describe symptoms of and treatments for STDs and HIV, understand the differences between healthy and unhealthy sexual and romantic relationships, and explain effective methods for ending and avoiding unhealthy relationships (National Sexuality Education Standards 1).

Despite the enormous amount of evidence and reasoning that supports the implementation of sex education in all American schools, there is a large amount of opposition toward it. One popular belief is that it should be the parent’s choice/job when and how to teach their children about sex and related subjects. There is concern held by some parents that what is being taught in school and when it is being taught to their children, is not necessarily agreeable to what the parents themselves would teach their children. Religion is a primary factor here: with most American households being Christian, which condemns fornication, and other sexual behaviors before marriage, it is easy to see why many parents would not want their children being taught about intercourse, sexual behaviors, STDs, contraception, etc. However, this is built on the assumption that all children have parents/guardians who are willing to teach them about such subjects in an understanding and educating matter. Moreover, parents themselves are often not educated enough to provide their children with thorough and accurate information; also, parents are not always providing children with enough education. In a poll conducted by Planned Parenthood and the Center for Latino and Adolescent Family Health, it was found that only 60% of parents are mentioning birth control to their children, and that 43% of parents feel “very uncomfortable” talking about sex and related subjects with their children (New Poll…1). These gaps are too wide to leave the job of teaching sex education up to the parents. In fact, a different poll found that 89% of parents with children in American public schools feel that high schools should include sex education in their curriculums (Sexuality Education 1).

Another common counterargument is that teaching sex education will encourage students to engage in sexual activities, including fornication, and could possibly lead to direct increases in teenage pregnancies and STD rates. Although it is an understandable claim, comprehensive, quality sex education will actually accomplish the opposite. Girls who receive sex education that includes the discussion of birth control are more likely to use it (Study Examines…1). The World Health Organization found that sex education programs which only focus on abstinence have yet to be proven effective, while more realistic and comprehensive sex education classes have been linked to an increased use of contraception and a delay in first-time sexual intercourse (Sexuality Education 1). Allowing students the sex education they need directly results in improved sexual health among adolescents, an increased rate of the use of contraception, which leads to lower pregnancy and STD rates (Study Examines…1).

In a country where teenagers are responsible for a rapidly growing HIV population, and one million teenage girls become pregnant every year, it is no question why sex education should be seen across the American school system (Ankerberg and Weldon). The American government spent over one billion dollars, from 1997 to 2008, on sex education programs that taught only abstinence (until marriage) and included no positive education on contraception (Study Examines…1). It is time to erase the negative connotations and stigmas associated with sex education from society and stop wasting money on programs that do not work, and rather understand the enormous benefits of comprehensive, inclusive, quality sex education for all American students, that will directly result in improved sexual health among American teenagers not only during their adolescent years, but into adulthood as well.

Therefore, sex education should be a required course for all American schools that provides a widely inclusive and informative education for students in order to decrease the rates of teenage pregnancy and STDs, as well as provide a more thorough understanding of the opposite sex and sexual activities for the present and future. In order to make this plan a reality, it is necessary to pass legislation that requires schools to do so, and this should be accomplished, or at least begin to be put into action, as soon as possible.

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