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The Struggle of Sex Education
FLORIDA, USA – With medical concerns like pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases looming over their heads during abstinence-only sex education classes, teenagers across the U.S. are calling for a more comprehensive sex education policy. They say that sex education that also focuses on contraceptives, condoms and understanding one's body addresses teens questions while soothing emotional concerns that many students believe are all too often left unaddressed.
Katherine, 16, who asked that her full name not be used, wasn't offered a sex education class while studying in a Catholic school in Miami, Florida. She said the only mention of sex was for students to avoid it at all costs.
Katherine said the consequences of this lack of sex education are enormous. "I have no idea how the human body works or what exactly is going on during sex," she said. Because of the lack of information, she said she had two choices: abstain completely or take investigations into her own hands. “Figuring out stuff on my own was not pleasant. I knew that if you had sex you had to wear a condom or you’d get pregnant, but that was about it. When I did have sex for the first time, it ended my relationship with that person. It scared me and I wasn’t ready for it.”
Corinne, a 17-year-old senior in Miami, Florida, said, “It’s a natural instinct. If you go back in history, people were having kids as soon as girls could menstruate. Our biological clock starts ticking sooner than society would like it to.” She asked that her last name and school name not be used since her parents are unaware of her sexual activity and she would prefer not to have this information online.
Corinne was taught sex education as early as fifth grade. She says the true gems were the lessons from her family, lessons she is grateful for. “If the school didn’t teach us, I feel like I would be taught at home. But a lot of negative things could have happened to my friends who didn’t get that education at home. I wouldn’t be as knowledgeable on the subject and know how to protect myself,” she said.
April Vogel, a guidance councilor and sexual education teacher at Miami Country Day School in Florida takes the approach of comprehensive sex education: informing her high school students of safe sex practices and contraceptive use, and emphasizing that the only way to be 100 per cent safe is to abstain from sexual acts.
The experts would agree with her methods. "Comprehensive sex education, which emphasizes the benefits of abstinence while also teaching about contraception and disease-prevention methods, has been proven to reduce rates of teen pregnancy and STD infection," according to Naomi Starkman and Nicole Rajani of the American Foundation for AIDS Research.
“The message is if you’re going to make this decision, then at least do it with your eyes open and know what you’re potentially getting yourself into," Vogel said. "That’s important to me, so I find that empowering. Now there are some people who say that by telling [students] this, we’re giving them encouragement. But my message is that that’s not the case. It goes back to the research. If I was hearing that the best way to approach this problem was by doing A, B, and C, that’s what I would be doing, but I’m not hearing that."
Although Katherine said she believes that proper sexual education would have prepared her for the emotional complexities of sex, she believes it is not too late. “I’d still like to take sex ed," she said. "Even though I've managed to figure out what’s going on on the outside and how to deal with the emotions of it, I'd like to have formal education about what’s going on inside and other things I should know about that I may not already."