Every person remembers the awkward “sex talk” we all received in our adolescents, whether it was through a gym teacher, parent, or some other adult we remember it. Maybe for some, they didn’t even receive that cover of the bases when it came to sex or reproductive functions. We are taught at a young age to raise your hand before you speak or to ask a question, but how do you ask a question about something you don’t understand. It is more normalized to make us feel ashamed and embarrassed to ask questions and discuss our feelings, especially in terms of sex and sexuality. We condition this kind of behavior and it eventually leads us to be confused adults about our own sexual experience and overall identity with sex itself.
My own experience of attending a Catholic elementary school was somewhere you were not allowed to ask questions. They told us that masturbation was the equivalent to “nailing the nails into Jesus’ hands”, which I wish I could say was an exaggeration. This took place in liberal California in 2002 but yet still holds the equivalent to early 1950-1960s sex ed talks before SIECUS. My point in stating all of this is to raise the concern of the lack of informative discourse for sexual education in a public sphere, specifically being in our schools. We have put this negative stigma around sex education where it has become a comical anecdote we all share with one another throughout our lives. Schools are hubs of information for young people so why should it not be treated the same when it comes to discussing sex education. In this paper, I wanted to discuss the importance of mandated sex education and the benefits it can bring in doing so. Through different statistics, I will compare how in some states how legislation can influence these different policies and show how the emphasis or lack of sex education affects adolescents.
Sex Education is a huge topic of debate in the United States, but the importance of a proper sexual education should not have to be a debate. When statistically looking at other states requirements of how sex education is mandated you can see the difference in which how information is distributed, or in some cases not at all. In some states, you do not even technically need to give correct medical information about sex. Stated by statistics of the CDC it states that, “Legislation for sex education falls under the jurisdiction of states’ rights, creating disparities in what public school students learn in classrooms across the country. The chart below indicates which states require critical components of comprehensive sex education and whether they mandate sex education at all…” (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2015)
Some of the states that were listed that mandated sex education was California, Delaware, Hawaii, New Mexico, Utah, and Tennessee just to be a few. But in, “Tennessee: Sex education is required if the pregnancy rate for 15-17 teen women is at least 19.5 or higher and in Utah: State also prohibits teachers from responding to students’ spontaneous questions in ways that conflict with the law’s requirements.” (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2015) Why should there be provisions or differences in a conversation that everyone should be having? By doing this we just create more misinformed adolescents eventually doing into a world where they will need to know and understand the basic physiology of their own bodies. Out of 50 states, only 13 of them require that to give accurate medical information regarding sex education. This is not a morality issue surrounding sex, exposing children to young to a topic they don’t understand, well when we do not give them the chance how are they supposed to learn. This is a public health issue and should be discussed more so as opposed to the shameful and negative stigma that surrounds talking about sex in general, let alone teaching children how to understand it.
When looking at these statistics I saw that in some states they would not require sex education but would require the practice of abstinence. Yet they do not teach the students what it is that they are actually abstaining from. In another journal article, I found information stating that “…the United States ranks first among developed nations in rates of both teenage pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases. In an effort to reduce these rates, the U.S. government has funded abstinence-only sex education programs for more than a decade. However using the most recent national data (2005) from all U.S. states with information on sex education laws or policies (N = 48), we show that increasing emphasis on abstinence education is positively correlated with teenage pregnancy and birth rates. This trend remains significant after accounting for socioeconomic status, teen educational attainment, the ethnic composition of the teen population, and availability of Medicaid waivers for family planning services in each state.
These data show clearly that abstinence-only education as a state policy is ineffective in preventing teenage pregnancy and may actually be contributing to the high teenage pregnancy rates in the U.S.” (Kathrin F. Stanger-Hall, David W. Hall 2011) This here stating that abstinence-only programs are ineffective because they avoid the problem rather than discussing it, and make sex overall a problem when it should not be. Growing up in a strict Catholic Hispanic household sex was not something discussed and I feel a lot of it had to surround the negative stereotypes that surround both Hispanic and the Black communities. We are stigmatized for having large families with kids ranging all different ages and where just conversations of contraceptive are not discussed. Sex is a sin until after marriage, abortion is murder, but once you get married you have to provide a family. We are taught to fear sex out of necessity for our own survival rather than learning from it in order to survive.
Aside from the fear-mongering tactics of explaining sex to us or rather not explaining it, but by using this technique we are deflecting the dangers that unplanned and unprotected sex can also lead to. According to the CDC, “The current state of sexual health is a public health concern as rates for STDs, specifically gonorrhea, chlamydia, and syphilis, are at the highest level reported with more than two million cases in 2016 (CDC, 2017)…A dramatic increase of STD diagnoses from 2010 to 2016 can be linked to a lack of funding for prevention programming and a decrease in the amount of comprehensive sex education in school curricula around the nation (CDC, 2017; Planned Parenthood, 2017). Without proper sex education, people are not equipped with proper disease prevention techniques and are more susceptible to contracting an STD.” (CDC, 2016-2017)
In Mississippi, the discussion of contraceptives to prevent STDs or STIs can only be granted approval through the Board of Education, even though it is required by the state to discuss contraceptives to its students. For other states, it lists, “States Where Sex Education Must Be Negative Toward Sexual Orientation: Arizona: If HIV education is taught in Arizona it cannot “promote” a “homosexual lifestyle” or portray homosexuality in a positive manner. Oklahoma: Mandated HIV education in Oklahoma teaches that, among other behaviors, “homosexual activity” is considered to be “responsible for contact with the AIDS virus.” (Guttmacher Institute, 2017) This is a completely manipulative manner in discussing the dangers of STDs and HIV, it warps that somehow sexual orientation is the root of the problem when it really it is having unprotected sex that is the problem. The lack of sexual knowledge is a public health issue and that is how it should be seen and stated in the discourse of the classroom and students.
Furthermore, when it comes to sexual education the emotional and psychological effects on the matter are something that is more often grazed over than discussed. Sex is not just the physical act between two people, it defines our identity and our overall experiences throughout life. Without getting the facts correct we miss out on these aspects and experiences within ourselves. Sexual Education is life skills that every adolescent should learn about so they can later be a part of responsible, informed, and consenting relationships; sexual or not. “Sexuality education standards specifically should accomplish the following:
- Provide a framework for curriculum development, instruction, and student assessment.
- Reflect the research-based characteristics of effective sexuality education.
- Be informed by relevant health behavior theories and models.
- Focus on health within the context of the world in which students live.
- Focus on the emotional, intellectual, physical and social dimensions of sexual health.
- Teach functional knowledge and essential personal and social skills that contribute directly to healthy sexuality.
- Focus on health promotion, including both abstinence from and risk reduction pertaining to unsafe sexual behaviors.
- Consider the developmental appropriateness of material for students in specific grade spans.
- Include a progression from more concrete to higher-order thinking skills.” (SIECUS: Rationale for Sexuality Education in Public Schools 2012) The goals of sex education should be able to address sexuality as an individual but as well to be able to address it in a collective and social setting.
There needs to be a, “…further insight into the degree to which and ways in which health and mental health professionals are / could be working together to contribute to bridging the gap between conceptual, empirical, and practical advancements in understanding the need for and nature of sex education that would best meet the needs of today’s demographic landscape, relevant needs, and known crises…”(Subhit-HSRA 2015) We have to come to an understanding that sex is not just an act but rather the most natural of one for all of us. Sex is about power and just in the way in which we discuss it has to do with that dynamic. By withholding information, passing judgments, morals, all we are doing is being dominant in this submissive discourse with one another. Instead of perpetuating this fear that surrounds sex we need to approach the conversation of “great power comes great responsibility”, because as cliche as that sounds it is the truth. Sex is not just an act between two people, it is an aspect of our identity that we need to understand, love, and appreciate first before we can do this with someone else. We need to allow the discussions to be open about our needs and wants, not just by standards of sex. We need to surround the subject of sex education not just as a required class you need to take in school, but as life skills you need in order to survive. If you do not understand the basics of sex how will you understand the basics of yourself, let alone someone else? It all goes hand and hand in our identity as an individual but also how we all respond, react, and coexist with one another.
Sex Education as you can see regardless of what state or year it is, it will always vary on this subject. Morals, politics, and popular opinions dictate how this information should be mandated when it should not be. This not a moral, politic, or religious issue; it is a public health one and if we started to address the discussion more so as this and in an inclusive manner the result and discussions would benefit greatly.