By Chloe Thompson
Payton Beach, a junior at Kent Island High School, took sex education her sophomore year, but said there was one thing missing — a discussion about sex.
“I haven’t learned anything in sex education…ever,” said Beach.
Beach’s experience is not a rarity.
According to statistics from the Guttmacher Institute, 84 percent of American schools are spending the majority of their dedicated sexual education time teaching abstinence.
According to the organization Advocates for Youth, “No abstinence-only program has yet been proven through rigorous evaluation to help youth delay sex for a significant period of time, help youth decrease their number of sex partners, or reduce STI or pregnancy rates among teens.”
Comprehensive sex education should encapsulate all factors that teenagers have to navigate while transitioning to adulthood, but fewer and fewer schools are working with it.
“If you don’t know what you’re doing, how can you prevent getting (STIs)?” said Kent Island High School senior Matt Hoffman. In May, an outbreak of chlamydia occurred at Crane High School in western Texas. Twenty students contracted the STI. The school has three days of sex education each year, and the outbreak triggered a new Texas law in which the school board wants further teaching of abstinence-only education.
Abstinence-only sexual education is the main way most American public schools choose to educate their students. According to federal law, abstinence-only sexual education teaches, “that a mutually faithful monogamous relationship in the context of marriage is the expected standard of sexual activity” and “that bearing children out-of-wedlock is likely to have harmful consequences for the child, the child’s parents, and society.”
This form of sexual education is frequently accused of being completely ignorant of LGBTQ teenagers, since the teachings only acknowledge cisgender, heterosexual relationships. Comprehensive sexual education is a more open policy, in which sexuality, masturbation, abortion and birth control are all discussed. Comprehensive teaches that, “sexuality is a natural, normal, healthy part of life.” No matter if a school district prefers one over the other, the statistics are straight-forward. Students who are taught abstinence-only sexual education are at a high risk of contracting a STI.
During the 80’s and 90’s, sexual education was usually taught with comprehensive policy, or as the Society for Adolescent Health and Medicine calls it, “abstinence plus” education. The shift towards abstinence only has been very recent. Why the transition? American pop culture and media reflect a teenage lifestyle that is highly sexualized. Whether it be from the music they listen to or the clothes they wear, 21st Century teens are seen by adults as being rebellious or unruly.
“Our (all teens) parents think we do really crazy things.” says Kent Island High school junior Mallory Boyle. “They think everyone (teens) is always doing drugs, or having sex. That’s probably why they don’t want to teach us anything. They probably think teaching us about sex will make us want to go out and have a lot of sex.”
Teenagers need to know more about sexual identity, gender, sexual intercourse, and different forms of birth control. Without any knowledge of the aforementioned, America will create generations of sexually-uneducated individuals, which will in turn, lead to a lack in culture.
“I haven’t learned anything important in sex education,” said Kent Island High School junior Jackie Sproson. “I think learning about different kind of sexualities and different kinds of birth control would help everyone. I don’t see what abstinence sex ed is helping.”