The Failing Sex Education in the US

Teen pregnancies have been on a decline since 1990, which suggests one of two things, either teens are having less sex, or they are using better contraception. However, studies indicate that they aren’t having less sex at all, and teens across the nation have been contracting and spreading even more STIs. Twenty-two states in the U.S. mandate sex education, but only 13 require the information to be medically accurate. Though states and their schools have the right to control sex education, all school boards should require an accurate representation of sex ed.

For the most part, sex education comes in two forms: comprehensive, which views abstinence as a choice and provides information on contraception techniques and abstinence-only, which emphasizes abstinence of any sexual activity before marriage and often dismisses contraception methods. Most public school classes briefly cover HIV, STDs, abstinence, teen pregnancy and how to resist peer pressure. Unfortunately, they don’t always provide information about birth control methods, infection prevention, sexual abuse, sexual orientation and both the ethical and factual sides to abortion. On Sept. 15, 2010 the Center for Disease Control and Prevention released a government report that found “almost all U.S. teens have had formal sex education, but only about two thirds have been taught about birth control methods.”

Sixty-nine percent of teen pregnancies occur between the ages 18 to 19. In 2010, there were 37.8 pregnancies out of every 1,000 white teens, the Hispanic population saw 83.5 pregnancies, and the black population had 92 pregnancies. In 2013, 15 to 19 year old women had a total of 273,105 babies, with a live birth rate of 26.5 (total number of live births per 1,000 of a population in a year). The U.S.’s teen pregnancy rate, though declining, is still substantially high compared to other western industrialized nations.

What kids are actually taught vastly varies, not just from state to state, but from school to school due to most state laws allowing schools to choose their own form of sex education. Sixty-six percent of parents think that the importance of the “waiting to have sex” message is lost when programs demonstrate and encourage the use of contraception. Unfortunately, abstinence-only classes could create more issues unknown to parents and guardians. In these classes, victims of rape and sexual assault are often blamed, slut-shaming and rape culture are common, and the definitions of consent and a healthy relationship are often overlooked and ignored.

Some conservative states go as far as to include anti-gay rhetoric in their teachings, and often omit information on sexual-orientation. Abstinence-only methods can also be fear based and cause great emotional trauma and shame if a student does decide to have sex. Sex Ed. teachers are sometimes prohibited from answering students spontaneous questions if they go outside the curriculum or conflict with the school or state’s requirements. Any mention of sex for pleasure is often glossed over or purposely avoided. According to Women and Gender Advocacy Center, sex positivity is “a broad ideology and worldview (sex positivity) is simply the idea that all sex, as long as it is healthy and explicitly consensual, is a positive thing.”

Access Matters, a Philadelphia nonprofit organization focused on sexual health in high schools, is launching a new Sex Ed. App called “It Matters” in fall of 2015, in hopes of taking advantage of the internet’s ability to and help answer avoided and ignored questions.

Though it is well within state’s rights to dictate how sex education should be taught, it is also in the best-interest of students to have a comprehensive sex education. This would lead to an even further decline in pregnancies, STI transmissions, and other dangers to an individual’s health.