Currently, the decision as to whether to teach and what to teach in sex education are left up to the public school districts. It is a widely debated topic with varying beliefs. Some believe that an abstinence only program is the way to go, but others insist having a more comprehensive program where abstinence is taught in addition with what to do if you do not abstain. There are also those of the belief that sex education is something that should not be taught at all in schools.
Although what to include in the curriculum will undoubtedly have to be fine-tuned, it is of the utmost importance that sex education is taught in schools. Forty-six percent of young people in the United States ages 15-19 have had sexual intercourse at least one time. These young people need to be taught ways to keep themselves as safe as possible from sexually transmitted infections as well as unwanted pregnancies.
There are many people who feel that sex education should not be taught in schools. They believe that sex is a private issue that is better discussed at home between a child and their parents or caregivers. To an extent, they are correct; sex education should start at home. High quality communication between a parent and child about sexuality has been linked to a decrease in sexual risk behavior and negative sexual health outcomes (Byers, Sears, Voyer, Thurlow, Cohen, Weaver 2003). However, in a study conducted in the Spring of 2001 (Byers et al. 2003) the majority of 1,663 high school students surveyed (80%) reported that their parents rarely encouraged questions about sexuality Although some students indicated a desire to talk to their parents more about sexuality, they were unsure how to approach the topic and also anticipated some parental disapproval of talking openly about the subject. Nearly half of the students preferred not to have further discussions about sex with their parents, likely because of anticipated embarrassment or disapproval of current or future sexual activity. Whatever the reason, it is clear that teenagers are not getting the information they want or need from their parents and caregivers alone and schools should be supplementing the information they do get by offering sex education courses.
Although most teenagers seem to be waiting longer to have sexual intercourse, most being about 17 years old their first time, they are not getting married until their mid to late twenties (Guttmacher Institute 2010). This leaves them at risk of unwanted/unplanned pregnancies as well as various sexually transmitted infections for up to ten years. In the same study by the Guttmacher Institute (2010) it is explained that each year almost 750,000 teen girls become pregnant and that eighty-two percent of the pregnancies are unplanned with 7 percent of the teenage mothers getting late or no prenatal care during pregnancy. Sexually transmitted infections in young people ages 15-24 account for nearly half (48% or 9.1 million out of 18.9 million) of all the new cases annually.
In a previous study conducted by the Guttmacher Institute (2006), a decline was shown in the rate of teenage pregnancies in the United States. The study also indicated that although there was a decline, the United States still had the highest teen pregnancy rates in the developed world. Feijoo, Alford, & Hauser (2009) note that the teenage birth rate in the United States is nine times higher than the Netherlands, nearly six times higher than France, and over four times higher than Germany. In addition, our teenagers also experience higher rates of sexually transmitted infections including Chlamydia, which is 19 times higher that the reported rate in the Netherlands. Feijoo et al. suggest that some of the differences in culture seem to make the difference in the statistics. They state that the United States “can achieve social and cultural consensus that sexuality is a normal and healthy part of being human and of being a teen” by following certain lessons they have gathered from study tours of France, Germany, and the Netherlands. These include teaching sex education not necessarily as it’s own subject, but integrating it across school subjects at all grade levels as well as families having open, honest, consistent discussions with their teens about sexuality while supporting the roles of educators and health care providers making information and services available to teens.
There are certain considerations to take in mind when teaching sex education, in order for it to be effective in reducing risky behaviors. According to McKeon (2006) experts have found certain characteristics to help sex education programs be highly effective. Aside from “clear goals for preventing HIV, other STIs, and/or teen pregnancy”, a program should also be “developed in cooperation with members of the target community, especially young people”, and should be “implemented by trained educators”. Keeping these characteristics in mind will help to plan effective sex education programs that will cut the risk of unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections.
Sex education should start at home, but effective sex education programs at school should be available to supplement the knowledge gained from parents or caregivers. Although young people are generally waiting longer to have sexual relationships, they also go nearly a decade running the risk of unwanted/unplanned pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections. Even with a decline in the amount of teenage pregnancies in the United States, we still have the highest teen pregnancy rate in the developed world. When planning sex education curriculum, there are key factors that should be considered so that the program can be effective.
Since our young people spend a good deal of their time in school, it is morally irresponsible for schools to refuse to create and teach an effective sex education program that will help supplement what is being discussed at home. It is of utmost importance to have an effective program in place in order to help lower the occurrences of risky behaviors in teenagers and to keep them safe.
Byers, E., Sears, H., Voyer, S., Thurlow, J., Cohen, J., & Weaver, A. (2003). An Adolescent Perspective On Sexual Health Education at School And At Home: I. High School Students. Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality, 12(1), 1-17. Retrieved from Academic Search Premier database.
Guttmacher Institute (2006) In Brief; Facts On Sex Education In The United States. Retrieved From http://www.guttmacher.org/pubs/fb_sexEd2006.html
Guttmacher Institute (2010) Facts On American Teens’ Sexual and Reproductive Health. Retrieved From http://www.guttmacher.org/pubs/FB-ATSRH.html
Feijoo, A., Alford S., & Hauser, D. (2009) Adolescent Sexual Health in Europe and the U.S. – Why the Difference? Retrieved From http://www.advocatesforyouth.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=419&Itemid=177