Sex Education: Does it Really Work?
"Forty percent of today's fourteen year old girls will become pregnant by the time they are nineteen" (qtd. in "The Effects" 632). This statistic may indicate that the sex education programs in the United States are not controlling the effects of sex by teens. "The United States has the highest teen pregnancy rate of developed countries" ("The Effects" 632). I believe that the people of this nation need to look at the current sex education programs and see if they are properly addressing the problems that sex education was intended to stop. The three major reasons why sex education is taught in our schools are: 1) to discourage teens from having sex at younger and younger ages; 2) to stop the spread of AIDS and other STDs; and 3) to prevent teenage pregnancy. I believe that the sex education programs being used today are not effective at controlling these three problems. Today's sex education programs are abstinence based. "Washington has spent some $31.7 million developing abstinence only curricula" (Shapiro 56). By looking at the problems sex education tries to solve, we can improve the sex education programs by putting the problems in order of importance. This will prove that teens having sex at a younger age is the reason for the failure of sex education in this country. To counteract this problem abstinence should be taught to children under the age of 16. Then when the children reach the age of 16 they need to be taught AIDS and condom education.
AIDS and other STDs are an important reason we have sex education. AIDS education is supported in all fifty states: "Sex education is only formally required or recommended in 47 states" (Gibbs 61). This shows that AIDS education is considered
more important than sex education. AIDS can be spread by the transfer of bodily fluids such as blood or semen from an infected person to one who is not. This includes sexual activity, intravenous drug use, and blood transfusions. Many people are still contracting AIDS through sexual contact even though there has been a nationwide awareness program. It is a fact that "2.5 million teenagers are affected by sexually transmitted diseases each year" ("The Effects" 632). This statistic does not take into account AIDS cases. That is a large number of teens that are missing the message about safe sex and abstinence. This shows how poorly our current system of sex education is working. Because if it was effective, these numbers would be much lower than what they are. Condoms can prevent the spread of AIDS sexually, but the use of condoms requires a change in one's sexual habits. "Once patterns of sexual intercourse and contraceptive use are established, they may be difficult to change" (qtd. in Whitehead 69). "One survey shows that among sexually active 15 year olds, only 26 percent of boys and 48 percent of girls had sex education by the time they had first intercourse" (Shapiro 58). This is one reason that AIDS education has not been totally successful. It relies on sex education to stress condom use, but many young teens are forming their patterns of contraceptive use or nonuse before they are educated enough to make the right decision.
Another major problem sex education tries to solve is teen pregnancy. "American teenage females experience about one million unplanned pregnancies each year" ("The Effects" 632). "About thirty-seven percent of teenage pregnancies end in abortion and about fourteen percent in miscarriage" (Whitehead 73). The social consequences of teens having children are great. If a teenage mother does not finish high school or become married there is a seventy-nine percent chance that the mother and the child will be poor (Whitehead 73). Teenage girls have greater control over their fertility today than they had
in the past, and yet the percentage of births to unwed mothers continues to rise (Whitehead 73). This shows that sex education has failed to slow the rate of teen pregnancy.
Teens in this country are having sex at a younger and younger age. "In 1970, five percent of fifteen year old girls and 32 percent of seventeen year old girls reported having had sex; by 1988 the figures had increased to twenty-six percent of fifteen year old girls and fifty-one percent of seventeen year olds" (Whitehead 72). Another survey by the Centers for Disease Control also came up with similar numbers. They reported 40% of 15 year olds reported having sex in 1993; but in 1970 only 10% of 15 year olds reported having sex (Shapiro 57). This shows how dramatic the increase of young sexually active teen girls is. This may not seem like a problem at first glance, but when you look at the circumstances surrounding young girls having sex the problem becomes clear. "The younger a girl is when she begins to have sex, the more vulnerable she is to its risks. She is less likely than an older teenager to be in a steady relationship, to plan her first intercourse, or to use contraception" (Whitehead 74.)
As a result, girls who had their first intercourse at age fifteen or younger are almost twice as likely as eighteen year olds to become pregnant within the first six months of sexual activity (Whitehead 74). Some researchers believe that teenage girls are at greater risk for STDs than adult women because their cervical lining is not yet fully mature and is therefore more vulnerable to pathogens (Whitehead 73). These facts indicate that young teens engaging in sex are not protecting themselves properly. This proves that teens having sex at a younger age are more vulnerable to AIDS and pregnancy.
Summarizing, I feel that sex education does not effectively protect teens from the consequences of having sex. I also feel that because teens are having sex at a younger age
than ever before, they are outrunning the sex education programs. These programs were not designed for teens that are having sex at the age of twelve. This causes sex education to fail because many teens are having sex before they are receiving sex education in the high schools. Also, many of the sex education programs are abstinence based, and teens are having sex. Without proper knowledge of how to use a condom, many teens are left unprotected from diseases and pregnancy. To solve these problems a number of changes in the sex education system need to be made. Sex education needs to be taught in schools at a younger age. Sex education also should teach teens how to use a condom and teach AIDS education.
First, sex education needs to be taught in schools. Many parents do not know the facts about AIDS or diseases. Having parents teaching their children sex education at home is only going to put strain on the parents, and it will leave some teens uneducated about sex. Many parents would choose not to teach their children about sex education, because they feel uncomfortable talking to their children about sex. Public opinion agrees that sex education should be taught in schools. "Nine in 10 Americans agree: Schools should teach kids about sex" (Shapiro 56). What Americans disagree on is what form of education should be taught in schools. I believe that parents should be offered the opportunity to come to the sex education class's with their children, so they can learn what information their child is receiving. That way the schools could act as a beginning point for the parents and child to talk about sex comfortably in their home. It would also solve the problem of parents who disagree about what should be taught.
I believe that their should be two different levels of sex education for children of different age groups. Children under the age of 16 should only be taught abstinence. This would slow the trend of 13, 14, 15 year olds having sex. It would also decrease the
numbers of teen pregnancy because these girls are the most likely to become pregnant. Teen girls of this age group are also more likely to get a sexually transmitted disease, because they are more likely to have sex with older more experienced teenagers. In a survey 75% of women had first intercourse with a partner older than themselves, and 51% of these partners were already sexually experienced (Sex Education 900). Teaching abstinence to these young teens would encourage them to say no. I also think that teens over the age of 16 should be taught condom and AIDS education. This would allow older teens that engage in sex the protection they need. It would decrease the threat of AIDS and pregnancy. The key to the age separation is that at some time eventually nearly everyone has sex. By not teaching teens in school about AIDS and birth control they would not have received much of the information they need to know about the risks of sex and how to protect yourself.
First abstinence training needs to be taught in school at the age of 10. This is a young enough age that all the children should be in the program before they make and uneducated decision about sex. The children should be taught some type of abstinence training every year at least and once a semester would be better. The classes would have to be 30-40 minutes long 5 days a week for about 2-4 weeks. That would be enough time to make the programs effective. These classes should teach the young teens how to say no to an over aggressive partner, what the risks of having sex are, and how healthy relationships work. This would provide the young teens a way to examine their relationships and determine the quality of them before they have sex. One boy told Sheehan this, "I'd like to hear more stories....how they met....how they kept the love alive" (Sheehan 11). This proves that many teens want to learn about relationships. They
want to learn about what makes a good relationship and how to maintain it and this is the perfect age to start teaching these skills to the young teens.
The second part of sex education should include AIDS and condom education. This program would be taught at the age of 16 and up. I think these classes should also be taught once a year because at the high school level it is harder to find time for sex education classes. This program should be 4 weeks long and 45 minutes a day. It should be taught very interactively not as a lecture. There should be a lot of time devoted for discussion of the issues covered each day and for questions. There should also be a private councilor available to the students that need it. The AIDS education portion of the class would discuss how AIDS is spread. It should also discuss the effects AIDS has on your body when you contract the disease and teach people to be sensitive to people who have AIDS. Along with AIDS education condom education must be taught. Condoms use is the only way that AIDS can be prevented sexually besides abstinence. Without good condom education AIDS will spread out of control by sexual intercourse. The condom education program should stress that condoms are the best contraceptive devise for most teens sexual patterns. Condoms prevent the spread of disease, and they also prevent pregnancy. Condoms education should also stress that condoms are not 100% effective. "Changes in temperature, rough handling or age can cause the latex to weaken or become gummy, it is important to store condoms properly and handle them with care" (qtd. in Whetstone 98). The program should teach teens the proper way to use a condom and the proper way to store them. This would decrease teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases too. I also think that the relationship aspect that would be taught to the earlier age group should also be taught to this age group. The teens at this age would already have a good idea of what they would like in a relationship and the program could
go more in depth that way. This step of the sex education process would really focus on getting teens ready to handle a sexual relationship in their adult lives. This program would not just include condom and AIDS education but it would include life skills.
In conclusion I feel that sex education should be taught in schools at the age of 10. Some teens are having sex at age 12 or younger so sex education needs to be taught at a very early age. Sex education should include abstinence training for teens under the age of 16 and condom and AIDS education for teens over the age of 16. The abstinence portion of the program would discourage teens under the age of 16 from having sex. This is the highest risk group for the risk of pregnancy and the spread of disease. The second part of the program would teach older teens the relationship skills they will need in the future and stress condom use and AIDS education. Together the 2 parts of this program with produce the desired results that other sex education programs in the past have failed to produce.
Gibbs, Nancy R. "How Should We Teach Our Children About Sex?" Time 41 (May 24 '93): 60-6.
Shapiro, Joseph P. "Teenage Sex: Just Say 'Wait'." U.S. News &World Report 115 (July 26 '93): 56-9.
"Sex Education in Schools: Peers to the Rescue." Lancet 344 (Oct. 1 '94): 899-900.
Sheehan, Sharon A. "Another Kind of Sex Ed." Newsweek 120 (Oct. '94): 10-11.
"The Effects of Three Abstinence Sex Education Programs on Student Attitudes Towards Sexual Activity." Adolescence 26 (Fall '91): 631-41.
Whetstone, Muriel L. "How Safe Is Safe Sex." Ebony 49 (July '94): 96-8.
Whitehead, Barbara Dafoe. "The Failure of Sex Education." Atlantic Monthly 274 (Oct. '94): 55-80.
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