Sex, it’s one of the most taboo topics within all of the United States, and Americans are obsessed with it: pornography, music, tv shows, even burger commercials seem to contain a certain sex appeal, these elements are seen in everyday life and yet addressing it in any way, especially to our children, seems to mean the deathwatch beetle of moral and civil society as we know it. Cinema is the most visible example of this belief system, with Americans being perfectly comfortable showing gunfire, violent deaths and explosions to their kids but any indication of romanticism beyond one kiss or short moments of nudity are met with extreme criticism at best and a boycott with conversations about the morals and what type of material parents will not allow their children to watch. Sex and the subjects relating to it are typically had at home, at school or never at all, and for the past several generations society has been comfortable with this status quo, seemingly without realizing the drastic effects not having a proper sex education has on young people. The current sex education students get in the United States is appalling and the consequences of an improper education are something that is not only faced by the individual but by the communities that these individuals reside. It’s time to come face to face with the state of America’s sex education system and understand the necessity of a comprehensive curriculum, for that exposure allows young people to take control of their bodies, their health and their right to education.
The American public education system is a stepping stone for young Americans across the country. Over a decade of a child’s life is dedicated to acquiring and cultivating academic, philosophic and social skills all with the aims to prepare the individual for being a future productive adult, living within the current century, and thus it would seem logical that our education systems have a well-balanced inventory of academia, including a capable sex/health curriculum. According to the World Population Review, it is one of the world’s most educated countries ranking at #6 with 45.6% of the entire population having at least received a high school Diploma. The United states have one of the best education systems in the world and it has historically been something our country has been very proud of…so if this is the case why does the institution have such major flaws and why are educators, medical professionals and historians alike claiming that public education is decreasing in quality not growing?
This is the first major question that should be answered, for, in order to look at the state of education and where to go from there, one must see the starting point. There is a growing understanding that public schools in America are intended to be the blueprint for a developing generation. An institution that prides itself on its dedication to the art of teaching and learning, a place that will ensure the growth and productivity of its country and the people who reside within it. However, the fact is known and the message is clear, public schooling has steadily become a system riddled with flaws and long term consequences. With curriculum standards being different within every school district, the guarantee of a quality education, no matter where in the 50 states a child resides in, is an unsupported notion.
While there are so many areas that one can focus in on and dissect, so many areas that are falling behind, sex education and health class in general is often overlooked or outright ignored completely. With such a controversial history, the origins of sexual education is an extensive subject matter. Sex Education first emerged as a public concern in the United States in the early to mid 1800s. The YMCA (Young Men’s Christian Association) and the American Purity Alliance was one of the first organizations to recognize the need for education and teaching of that variety and the need only grew from there. In the 1910s when soldiers I kept returning home from the war with easily contractable STI such as chylamida and gonohrhea the action for creating curricula became much more fast acting and by the early 1920s, “sex ed” was officially a subject matter that was capable of being taught in schools.
Morality Based Arguments And How They Affect Curriculum
At its most abstract level, the very way that sex education is taught seems to have some fundamental flaw, there is the rising observation that many educators teaching health and sex classes are not comfortable with the curriculum. Over the past several decades sex education in the classroom has changed, more and more school systems are talking about the act of consent and different forms of birth control along with the standard anatomy and general overview of sex and sexual related health. These changes however haven’t equated the difference in the things the curriculum is lacking. Sex ed and health classes in general are unlike a typical academic classes, there isn’t a specific teacher there to teach the subject matter, and thus many teachers become awkward when teaching the lessons. Even some educators have been outspoken about the issue, Gaye Chapman, a public school teacher at Cleveland high school in Oregon, believes that public schools need to address LGBT subject matters in a far more comprehensive way. Back to the concept of teacher comfort, the reason Chapman says it is so important is because an uncomfortable teacher is ineffective.“The kids are going to pick up on it right away if you’re not comfortable, then they’re not going to have fun, they’re not going to be comfortable if you’re not comfortable.” The entire environment surrounding sex effects the students’ ability to learn, since the subject matter is often talking about bodies many can find the nature of class uncomfortable, but in order for the information to properly reach students there can be no level of judgement or disinterest, when a educational filiatator doesn’t treat the subject seriously, the likeliness a student can relate to a class diminishes.
A question that has yet to been answered is “why haven’t there been major reforms in sex ed?” If the United states has 750,000 women under the age of 20 becoming pregnant each and every year why hasn’t anyone done anything about it? If abstinence only education is failing why haven’t schools addressed the issue? The honest answer: Parents. Parents have the largest say in sex ed and health curriculum. Since there is no federally recognized sexual education / health curriculum for U.S public schools the decision of what is taught within each school district doesn’t come from the state but rather the parents and PTA boards within every town. Many parents fear that their children will be looking at material they deem inappropriate or that if their children learn about sexual topics then they will engage in sexual acts prematurely.
Abstinence only Education
However the use of sexual education throughout North American History has been on a base level about two different things, getting students to understand basic biology, and to promote Abstinence until marriage programs. Since 1982, the federal government has spent over two billion on abstinence-only-until-marriage ‘sex education’ programs. These programs must adhere to a strict regime of what this form of education should look like, with the “exclusive purpose (of) teaching the social, psychological, and health gains to be realized by abstaining from sexual activity. Abstinence-only-until-marriage sex education came to a brief stop in the year 2010, but has been reanacted within recent years, with funding for these programs increasing threefold from 2015 to 2017. In fact the American Government invests over 175 million dollars annually in ‘abstinence-only-until-marriage’ programs.
Now, abstinence-only-until-marriage advocates have rebranded their programs as sexual risk avoidance (SRA) programs, in order to separate themselves from the backlash of being labeled “Abstinence only education” and to ensure a new stream of federal revenue that will support them. There are several problems with the abstinence-only-until-marriage, First, almost no abstinence-only-until-marriage program has been shown to have any impact on young people’s behavior. In layman’s terms, SRA or abstinence only education, doesn’t work. Despite protests from abstinent until marriage educators, the truth of the matter is that sex education programs that include lessons on both abstinence and birth control have a better track record of helping young people wait to have sex. According to Wolters Kluwer, which isa global provider of professional and medical information, programs like SRAs are required to withhold information on contraception and condom use, except for information on failure rates.Abstinence-only curricula have been found to contain scientifically inaccurate information, distorting data on topics such as condom efficiency and the class material commonly promotes gender stereotypes.
There are lasting affects to not having a proper sex education, ones that go over teenage pregnancy or youth testing positive for STDs. Sex education or lack there of can most definetely affect your adult life. Julie Jesk, a sex educator and professor she sees how this first hand from the clientiel that walk through her office. “I see a lot of people who then end up being embarrassed, or even worse feeling shame,” Jeske said. “Shame is one of the biggest obstacles to a healthy sex life. Shame is immobilizing to people.” Jeske also goes on to say “The biggest thing I see in my office when I work with adults, is bringing in comfort around sex. Some people feel more comfortable having sex than they do talking about sex. Talking about sex can be so uncomfortable for people. I think it starts with who is teaching sex, if they are more comfortable they are modeling how people can be comfortable talking about sex.”
How Comprehensive Sex/ Health Education Could Affect Your Life
Now since each state has their own set of rules for what sexual education looks like, the language for what sex education should look like differs. However going off of the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States comprehensive sex ed “includes age-appropriate, medically accurate information on a broad set of topics related to sexuality including human development, relationships, decision-making, abstinence, contraception, and disease prevention.” Research published by the Public Library of Science, shows that when sex education is comprehensive, students feel more informed, make safer choices and have healthier outcomes — resulting in fewer unplanned pregnancies and more protection against sexually transmitted diseases and infections. This is an incredibly important statistic because on a whole, nearly 80% of sexually active teens between ages of 15-17 had no formal education before the first time they had a sexual experience. Whats this means for school systems is that there curriculum would be adding adding lessons on anatomy and anatomy healthy relationships, consent, body image, stds in both a preventative / treatment standpoints and making sure to talk about sex in a multifaceted way.
If Sex Ed Doesn’t Get Reformed, Public Education Has Failed Its Students
When only 15 states in the nation require sex education to be medically accurate, (Connecticut not being one of them) a lot is left up to interpretation in teenage health literacy. This leaves room for an abundance of bias from school administration or singular educator belief, some of these biases can be detrimental to a student’s learning and to more critically to their health. It is not uncommon for schools to show videos or bring in guest speakers when teaching sex ed curriculum and depending on the school district the types of information the student body is being taught can change drastically. For example Human Relations Media, a film company that produces a line of teen health videos has a diverse array of sexual health shorts that schools can show. The company offers schools different versions of the same subject matter, version A being labeled as “non judgmental” while version b is called “abstinence centered” with rhetoric claiming students who are sexually active before marriage are letting not only their future partner down but “you, your school, and your community.” As mentioned previously, school districts will also bring in guest speakers. Presenters, like women Pam Stenzel whose talk is on “The High Cost of Free Love” who within her presentation compares girls who’ve had multiple sexual partners with a chewed piece of gum. Stenzel goes on to say “Now who would ever want a chewed up piece of gum?” This vile statement not only imposes a belief system on youth but also as a statement creates a very dangerous environment when talking about sexual assult and consent, an aspect of sex ed that abstience only doesn’t cover. Elizabeth Smart was 14 years old when she was abducted, raped and held captive outside her home in Salt Lake City Utah. She recalled in an interview with ABC news that after the event she realized “I’m that chewed piece of gum.” This can not be the education young people receive in America, no survivor of sexual assault should be made to think that they are damaged or undesirable, these are lessons that should not be taught in school. Elliot Altomare, a comprehensive sex educator in the state of Connecticut believes schools need to create large amounts of change within the current curriuculum. Altomare sees sex ed as a class that has an insurmountable importance to students, “A large part of understanding the world is understanding our bodies, you can’t do that if you are constantly shamed out of asking questions.”
Comprehensive sexual education must be taken to the forefront of America’s schooling concerns, the current state of the curriculum allows many students to be excluded, shamed or lied to. Our educational requirements would be appalled if teachers were expected to lie in a history or science or math class, sexual education must be viewed in the same way. The United States has already experienced first hand the effects of this failing educational sector, whether it be the deaths of 600,000 people during the 1990s AIDS epidemic, or our rates of sexual abuse or unlawful abortions or spreading of STIs or teen pregnancy, the fact of the matter is without the proper and comprehensive education, people will die. At the end of the day this is an issue about education, power dynamics and belief. Religious groups, independent grassroot movements and lawmakers all believe that the youth of today should not have access to the correct information and will spend millions of dollars annually to keep that status quo. Young people are constantly being undermined, misrepresented and mistreated. It is time that changed, it’s time for young people to claim their right to autonomy and respect and accurate information. In instances like these, education has always been the solution, so let it be the solution for this movement too.