Why Transparent Education about Sex is Important for our Youth Now More Than Ever
By Natalie Daniels
In the United States, research titled “Sex and HIV Education” from Guttmacher Institute shows that 39 states have laws that require sex and/or HIV education in schools. 28 states require the teaching of both sex and HIV education. Although these states mandate sex education and HIV education, there is no promise that the information taught is correct.
Out of these 39 states, 30 are required that these education programs meet specific requirements. For example, 17 states need to teach content that is medically accurate while 19 are required to include information on condoms and contraception.
While some states require contraceptive education like condoms and birth control, certain states promote abstinence as the main contraceptive. 37 states including DC require sex educators to teach abstinence. Out of those 37 states, nine cover the basics of abstinence while 28 stress it.
Yes, it’s important for abstinence to be included in sex education but so should contraceptive methods to help prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. There are 4 levels of abstinence education. Level zero has no mandate on the specific information taught within sexual education. Level one requires for abstinence to be covered along with medically accurate sex/HIV education. Level two requires abstinence to be promoted along with sex education depending on the state. In level three, abstinence or abstinence until marriage is stressed.
Data shows that solely stressing abstinence does not prevent teenagers from engaging in sexual activity. Co-authors and co-researchers, Kathrin F. Stranger-Hall and David Hall wrote a scientific data-based article about the effects of abstinence education on pregnancy titled “Abstinence-Only Education and Teen Pregnancy Rates: Why We Need Comprehensive Sex Education in the U.S.” Specifically, looking at their most recent data in 2005, level three states have the highest rate of teenage births “averaging at 73.24 teen pregnancies per 1000 girls aged 14–19.” This means that the more emphasis on abstinence causes a higher rate of pregnancy instead of preventing it. On the other hand, looking at level one states, the rate of teenage pregnancy is at its lowest with an average of 56.36 teens pregnancies per 1000 girls aged 14-19. The data proves that a combination of educating young teens about contraceptives along with abstinence reduces the rate of pregnancy.
Along with the risk of teen pregnancy, comes a risk of getting an STD. According to CDC research titled “STDs in Adolescents and Young Adults,” people ages 15-24 make up 50% of STDs in 2018.
At the forefront of this risk are LGBT youths. Guttmacher Institute reports only 11 states and DC require that sexual orientation be included in sex education. About four percent of LGBT youth say they had positive education and discussions about sex in their health classes. Seven states refuse to positively discuss homosexuality and rather put an emphasis on how it is not accepted by the general public. Without sex education with an emphasis on LGBT youths, they will either feel clueless about safe sex or look to other places that will fail to provide accurate information. This outcome leads to higher reports of LGBT teens getting STDs.
With sex education comes the importance of teaching consent to youths. Data from the Guttmacher Institute reports that only nine states cover consent regarding sex in their health classes. With the rise of the #MeToo movement, consent is more important than ever for young people to learn. It’s every person’s right to agree or not agree to sexual activity and there are straightforward cues that every person should know. Without teaching consent, there is a loss of vital communication that is needed when engaging in sex.
I was fortunate enough to have sex education in middle school and high school that taught me about contraceptive methods and abstinence. Every question would be answered regardless if it pushed any “boundaries.” I felt like I was in a comfortable environment that was educating me on the many topics involved with safe sex: emotional and physical. Sex education wasn’t regarded as wrong or taboo, it was just taught. That doesn’t mean it was promoted. Educators knew that some teens would engage in sexual activity no matter how much abstinence was stressed so instead, they provided us with as much information on safe sex as possible.
With these topics bubbling around in my head, I had the chance to have an open dialogue with my mom. Healthy conversations about sex are just as important in the home as in school. Talking comfortably about sex with people you trust doesn’t encourage sexual activity but rather helps guide someone on how to make smart decisions.
Teenagers might feel like home is a safer space to be open about these topics instead of at school. Some may feel that school is that safer option. And some unfortunately don’t have any option.
While education and discussion take up a large part of young people’s experience with learning about sex, media is also involved. There is a mixture of media that is unrealistic and some that are realistic.
Here are some of the more realistic films and TV series that show an accurate portrayal of sex and sexuality for young people.
1. “Sex Education”
This Netflix show talks about sex through honest conversation and wittiness. It follows Otis, the son of a sex therapist, and his decision to start an underground sex clinic at his high school with the girl he has a crush on. The show depicts difficult topics ranging from adolescent erectile dysfunction to sexual assault on public transit. It also focuses on defining positive and toxic LGBT relationships among youth.
This movie follows high school student Juno and her journey with an unplanned pregnancy. The comedy tackles teen pregnancy through honest dialogue in a mature and sensitive way.
3. “Everything Sucks”
The Netflix series only has one season but it’s about high school students and their parents navigating life in the 1990s. While the actors who play the characters actually look like they are in high school, they also deal with realistic situations that teenagers face. For example, the show follows one character, Kate, and her journey into finding her sexuality as a lesbian. The show depicts her journey in a sensitive and honest way.
While it’s beneficial to have positive images pertaining to sex and sexuality in the media, it’s necessary to include actual sex education for young people. I was able to learn about sex education and make safe smart decisions based on the things I was taught. Every young person deserves that education. The process starts with realizing that accurate sexual education is the only way for young people to make safe decisions for their futures.
Natalie Daniels is an editorial intern for Dreamlette. She is a journalism major at Emerson College with a love of storytelling. Her favorite topics include entertainment, fashion, lifestyle, social issues, and music.