“Let’s Talk About Sex Education,” Aubry Collins (2018) — Inquiry 3

Dear Reader,

This was definitely a hard paper for me to write, but I hope my passions could show through in my writing. I decided to research the topic of sexual education because I find it interesting, and I went to a school where we were taught virtually nothing on the topic, which I remember bothered me and even my teachers quite a bit. I really struggled having to write a more formal paper, and it was discouraging at times trying to find resources that supported my exact opinions. As I began going through the material, however, I realized that this paper or the material in it could actually be helpful to someone. I personally believe the way sex education is taught in schools is extremely ineffective, and as I read materials both supporting and opposing my opinions, I only felt more sure of my own. I think I learned a lot from this writing process about overcoming difficulties to inform and inspire others. At times, I wanted to quit writing or write less in general, but I kept going because I feel this message is important. Hopefully, by reading this paper you could consider learning more about how our schools teach sex education or even taking action on the matter. I know that I am particularly proud of this paper and the struggles I went through in writing it, and if I could inspire just one person I think it would be especially worth it.


Let’s Talk About Sex Education

The abstinence-only approach to sexual education is ineffective in preventing pregnancy and STDs, yet it is still widely taught in elementary and middle schools. The issue of sexual education is debated on both political and religious levels; however, the fluctuating rates of teen pregnancy and spreading of STDs has brought this controversial topic to the forefront in the past few years. Sexual education should be reformed in all schools to protect and educate teenagers about STDs and unwanted pregnancy.

There are varying views on how adolescents and teens should be educated about sex. Some believe that no sexual education is the best strategy to keeping teenagers from having sex, because the less they know, the less they will consider sex. More religious types support teaching that sex should be saved until marriage, yet they avoid educating on STDs and contraceptives. The most effective sexual education, however, is a comprehensive sexual education that includes material on anatomy, contraceptives, and strategies to make sex safer. To reduce rates of both STDs and unwanted pregnancy, a comprehensive sexual education is most necessary.

To begin, the absence of comprehensive sexual education has been shown to result in a greater risk of unwanted pregnancy. In “Abstinence-Only and Comprehensive Sex Education and the Initiation of Sexual Activity and Teen Pregnancy,” a survey taken by the National Center for Health Statistics found that comprehensive sexual education resulted in a lower risk of pregnancy in adolescents. Kohler et al. explain the data, saying, “adolescents who reported having received comprehensive sex education [are] significantly less likely to report a teen pregnancy compared with those who received no sex education at all” (348). These findings prove that knowledge of safe sex helps adolescents to make better judgments on their own actions, because they have a broader range of information on the risks of sex. This is further supported by a study that author Amanda Beadle analyzes in “Teen Pregnancies Highest In States With Abstinence-Only Policies.” She writes, “Researchers at the University of Washington in Seattle found that teenagers who received some type of comprehensive sex education were 60 percent less likely to get pregnant or get someone else pregnant” (1). Comprehensive sexual education has been shown multiple times to decrease pregnancy rates in teens, and therefore it should be taught in all schools to better the lives of sexually active students.

To continue, the logic behind abstinence-only education or a lack of education all together is that if children are taught to abstain from sex, they will do exactly that. This logic, however, is not true because in the United States, 15-24 year olds make up 25% of the sexually active population (Kohler et al. 345). Since so many teenagers and young adults choose to be sexually active regardless of their previous education, it is much more reasonable to teach them how to be sexually active in a safe way that prevents unwanted pregnancy and diseases. Southern states suffer especially from the results of inadequate sexual education, as they tend to incorporate religion into their curriculum. Roy Oman et al., authors of “Comparing School-Based Teen Pregnancy Prevention Programming: Mixed Outcomes in an At-Risk State,” write, “Teen birth rates are at a record low in the United States, with a live birth rate of 34 per 1000 among 15-19 year olds in 2010. However, states in the South and Southwest have teen birth rates significantly higher than the national average” (886). Yet again, this data shows the ineffectiveness of abstinence-only teachings. To decrease the high pregnancy rates in the South, the authors participated in a study where middle school students were taught two different sex education curriculums, and then afterward reported on their attitudes about sex. The study actually found that students who received a thorough sex education were more likely to abstain: “Specifically, students in the comprehensive [Teen Pregnancy Prevention] intervention were significantly more likely than students in the abstinence-only [Teen Pregnancy Prevention] intervention to report choosing to abstain in a situation in which they could have had sex in the past 3 months” (891). This outcome is actually not surprising, as learning about sexual activity gives teenagers and young adults more information on the risks that they base their decisions off of. Comprehensive sex education includes how STDs are spread, how someone can become pregnant, and what some alternatives to sex are. This information makes teens feel as if they have more options and know more about the risks of sex, which results in them abstaining for longer. Therefore, abstinence-only education only leads to higher pregnancy rates and more sexual activity in teenagers.

Furthermore, abstinence-only education does not effectively teach adolescents about contraceptives or avoiding STDs. In “Abstinence Only Until Marriage Programs: Ineffective, Unethical, and Poor Public Health” the author, Sue Alford, lists several false or unproven claims that abstinence-only curriculums teach. Many of these falsehoods centered around contraceptive use, claiming that condoms are ineffective in preventing STDs nearly a third of the time. These claims result in sexually active students being less likely to use contraceptives, as they believe they are ineffective or not worth it. In fact, Alford wrote, “recent research shows that abstinence-only strategies may deter contraceptive use among sexually active teens, increasing their risk of unintended pregnancy and STIs” (2). By avoiding teaching about contraceptives or even providing false information, abstinence-only programs do a disservice to their students by putting them more at risk for catching and spreading diseases. These curriculums could even be considered ethically and morally wrong, due to the fact that they limit information that could be beneficial to young people’s health. If all teenagers were taught the correct or most effective ways to use contraceptives, the spread of diseases and rate of unwanted pregnancies could substantially decrease, which would improve the quality of life for vast amounts of people.

Further, STDs are a growing problem that put the physical and mental health of thousands of sexually active teens at risk. In fact, Psychology Today reports:

…nearly half of high school students have been sexually active, and half of all new sexually transmitted infections occur among people ages 24 and younger. In 2014, people ages 13 to 24 accounted for 22 percent of new HIV infections. (“How to Improve”)

Clearly STDs prevent a greater issue than many realize to teenagers, and this risk could be diminished if they were given more knowledge on how to use or attain contraceptives. The rate of STDs transmitted in young people will only continue to increase unless something is done about their knowledge of and access to contraception. Consequently, abstinence-only curriculums could be considered dangerous, and even unethical, because of their distribution of incorrect information and their limiting of vital knowledge for healthy sexual relationships.

While it is unlikely that sexual education in schools will be completely reformed any time soon, there are some compromises that can be made in the short term. One of the most popular compromises for sexual education is pediatricians or parents talking to their children about sex. It is understandable why some parents are worried about the sexual education their child would receive; some even fear comprehensive sex education encourages teenagers to have sex. By leaving sex education to the hands of a parent or trusted doctor, parents may feel more inclined to discuss important issues like contraceptive use without the fear that their children will get the wrong impression. In fact, a report by Psychology Today states one of the key ways to improve the sexual health of young adults is for them to have discussions about important issues like contraceptives with a trusted adult (“How to Improve”). Students do not necessarily have to learn about safe sex from their schools; however, it should be required that they discuss safe sex with a pediatrician or parent for the sake of their own health.

Religious schools are a much more difficult aspect to address though, because teaching safe sex may actually go against the religious values of the school. Teaching about contraceptives could be more lenient in this case, yet there should still be the option for adolescents to learn about them. One possible solution could be having a separate class or online course on contraceptives that parents and their children can decide on taking. In this case, there would be an option for students to learn about contraception, but with much more control over the situation from the parents’ perspective. Hopefully, this system would help parents to feel more comfortable about letting their child take the course. While it is not an ideal situation, there is at least credible information available to the students that outweighs material they could learn on the internet or through other uneducated peers. To sum up, while a completely comprehensive sexual education may be impossible to implement in some situations, it is possible to make compromises so that all students can have the option to learn more about safe sex.

In conclusion, abstinence-only education is ineffective in preventing young adults from having sex, and it is unethical because it denies students trustworthy information that could help them live healthier lives. Abstinence-only education is also proven to increase the risk of obtaining an STD or becoming pregnant. Comprehensive sex education, however, lowers the risks of both of these occurrences and actually results in young adults abstaining longer. It is unlikely that a completely comprehensive curriculum will ever be adopted and taught in every school, but it is important that our political and educational officials consider making alterations to abstinence-only programs for the health and safety of all young adults.


Works Cited

Alford, Sue. “Abstinence-Only-Until-Marriage Programs: Ineffective, Unethical, and Poor Public Health.” Advocatesforyouth.org, Advocates for Youth, July 2007, www.advocatesforyouth.org/publications/publications-a-z/597-abstinence-only-until-marriage-pr ograms-ineffective-unethical-and-poor-public-health. 

Beadle, Amanda Peterson. “Teen Pregnancies Highest In States With Abstinence-Only Policies.” ThinkProgress, ThinkProgress, 10 Apr. 2012, thinkprogress.org/teen-pregnancies-highest-in-states-with-abstinence-only-policies-8aa0deeebb4 1/. 

“How to Improve Sex Education.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 4 Aug. 2016, www.psychologytoday.com/blog/evidence-based-living/201608/how-improve-sex-educat ion. 

Kohler, Pamela K., et al. “Abstinence-Only and Comprehensive Sex Education and the Initiation of Sexual Activity and Teen Pregnancy.” Journal of Adolescent Health, vol. 42, 01 Jan. 2008, pp. 344-351, doi:10.1016/j.jadohealth.2007.08.026.

Oman, Roy F., et al. “Comparing School Based Teen Pregnancy Prevention Programming: Mixed Outcomes in an At Risk State.” Journal of School Health, vol. 85, no. 12, 2015, pp. 886-893. OhioLINK Electronic Journal Center, doi:10.1111/JOSH.12343.