The American School/Sex Education
In 2006, President Bush sent a bill to congress with a proposed thirty-nine million dollar increase in funding for schools that taught “abstinence-only until marriage” sex education. A recent review of federally funded sexual education prepared by Henry Waxman (D-Ca) in 2005 showed that two-thirds of the programs had distorted information about abortion, contraceptives, and gender stereotypes. Backed by no credible evidence, one school went as far to claim that five to ten percent of women became sterile after an abortion. Another school incorrectly claimed that the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) could be contracted through sweat and tears. A proposed medical accuracy requirement was attempted to be added on to the legislation, however the effort fell on deaf ears.- (Melling, 2005) In 2007, after a congressional evaluation had been completed, the results of the multiyear surveys proved that there was no difference in how sexual education is taught in classrooms.- (Trenholm, 2007)
Abstinence-Only Education Censors Vital Health Care Information:
According to Merriam Webster abstinence is a voluntary forbearance of a something usually food but in this case sex. In abstinence-only education, two-thirds of all teenagers are having sex before marriage. (Kaiser, 2002) Ventura (2006) estimates in 2002, an estimated 757,000 pregnancies were accounted to 15-19 year olds. Approximately 9.1 million STD’s/STI’s, nearly half of the new STD’s/STI’s in the US, were occurring in people under the age of 25. (CDC, 2001) The numbers are recently on the decline, but not enough to take away from how these programs have failed in relations to their purpose.
Because abstinence-only can only teach children not to have sex, there is a severe shortcoming in the teaching of protection and contraceptives. According to Zabin, (1986) after a school in Baltimore began to provide condoms for those who would use them, the pregnancy rate dropped an astounding thirty percent in the first 28 months alone! Contraceptives have shown to be very effective, not only in regulating a menstrual cycle, but also protecting against pregnancy. In abstinence-only, contraceptives use cannot be taught, as the focus must be complete abstinence. Critics argue that if contraceptives were taught, then it would increase the amount of teenage intercourse, although studies show the exact opposite.- (Pardini, 2001) “It is not realistic that all teens are going to remain abstinent. Withholding information will not change that.”-(Mills, see Pardini, 2001) Mills feels that withholding information can be harmful, even deadly. Abstinence with contraceptives and protective methods makes the most sense in protecting children. Coupling this technique, along with thorough family comprehension, will delay first- time intercourse and help prevent the contraction of STDs/STIs.
Students' View on What Should be Taught
A blind online survey, performed within a global teenage puberty Question and Answer online community, revealed what kids wanted to be taught about sex education. This site allows children between the ages of 13 and 19, and also twelve year olds with parental consent, to ask questions and get the answers not provided to them through sex education programs at school. The question that was asked was, “What would you like to see taught?” Responses demonstrated that education about protection was severely lacking. Objective reasons about what to do if such things occurred, like a broken condom, STDs/STIs, pregnancy, HIV, and AIDs were most common. Education involving things like contraceptives, the morning after pill, and where to find condoms, should be taught in sex education classes and this compensates for that.
Videos are one thing that can be used to discuss sex education with children. Although informational, they do not give the same type of effective information that a thorough conversation with a responsible adult would. “Some schools show a few movies and hand their kids a tampon and a stick of deodorant and tell them to make it their best friend.”-(Govteen, 2007) There is a consensus that showing kids pictures of infested genitals and lying to them about condom failure rates is not the way to teach. Scaring and scarring young kids is not needed and does not work as often as a thorough explanation given by an understanding adult.
Anatomy is another topic of discussion that needs to be addressed. A serious lack of understanding exists, and needs to be fixed. Every day, girls and boys question themselves as being normal or not, because they grow at a different pace than the others they are growing up with. The online global teen community mentioned that the earlier development component has approximately 34,000 members. Most of those teens question whether they are as developed enough or at the right speed. Over the course of January 1, 2007 to September 29, 2007, over 2,000 posts had been on the topic of boy’s’ penis size alone. - (Govteen, 2007) Boys also question circumcision rates; and whether they are or are not cut themselves; bringing in approximately 1,300 questions. - (Govteen, 2007)
Girls tend to accept their development a bit more than boys, as their development is a bit more public than that of boys. This is not to say they have questions just the same as boys do, but they are just in different terms as they have different parts as boys do. Girls worry more about breast size, periods, and appearance. Development in girls varies individually; and it is highly noticeable when girls grow. Menstrual cycles are hard to predict, for the first year of so, and so is the frequency. However, they are usually preceded by a pre-menstrual cycle; where girls endure cramps, bloating, fatigue, and increased irritability.
With the onset of puberty, teenagers begin to experiment sexually. Besides condoms and contraceptives, the teaching of masturbation should also be considered, however careful consideration should be undertaken. A video or demonstration is inappropriate, but a pamphlet or text would do just fine. Children of both sexes go through hormonal swings during this time, and would be less tempted to partake in intercourse if they knew how to relieve their sexual tension and urges.
Teacher's Ideas and Responses
“I am in favor of teaching students how to protect themselves and have safe sex. I want them to be able to make safe decisions,”- (Lenca, Interview September, 2007) says Mrs. Cecile Lenca, a fifth grade teacher at a Midwest Elementary School. Upon this explanation, one can assume that there are teachers who want a variety of lessons being taught, not just the option of no touching.
Mrs. Lenca has had forty hours of training in reproductive health. She has taught reproductive health to her students for many years. When this chapter is taught at the Midwest Elementary School, parental permission forms are passed out asking if it is okay to teach their children reproductive health. Mrs. Lenca makes sure that she maintains her student’s confidentiality and comfort during her teaching. Students are required to hand in pieces of paper after a lesson, just in case their more uncomfortable questions still remain. Not all pieces of paper returned have a question. Most just say “Hi,” but some are legitimate questions that need more attention. “We must remember they are children and are very influential”-(Lenca, 2007).
The top answer from parents when it comes to teaching their children about sex is, “Just say no.” Does it work?
“No, because this is the real world. It is better for girls to realize the pressure that boys will put on them to have sex. It is better for boys to know how to control their sexual drives. Students need to know what is out there to prevent a child from being conceived if they have sex. Students need to know how to prevent diseases. Protected sex is a necessity in today’s promiscuous society”-(Lenca, 2007).
What should be taught in schools? Ninety percent of America’s parents think that sexual education should be taught in schools, but are unsure at to what is appropriate. Should we move away from abstinence-only?
“There is nothing wrong with abstinence. Do I believe ninety percent of people used abstinence before marriage? No. Therefore, students need to know more. The problem comes with what to teach. Ministerial groups say abstinence, Catholics say procreation, and therefore masturbation is out and wrong, homosexuals want their beliefs taught. Since public schools are for everyone, are we opening Pandora's Box in which we have to teach all the above and more? What is the parent’s role in this? Is it truly a responsibility of schools to teach this? I am in favor of teaching students how to protect themselves and have safe sex. I want them to be able to make safe decisions.” - (Lenca, 2007)
America’s schools need to take another look at how sexual education is taught. A balance of abstinence and what to do if something were to go wrong. That’s what should be taught; albeit difficult, it has to be done. Teaching sexual education one way is only one way, when it could be taught several ways, is preposterous and ignorant. Since the public feels that an education on this subject should be taught in our schools, why are we teaching them only one side of the story and not how to protect themselves if the situation arises? Shouldn’t a public education be as rounded as possible? Should we not teach them what to do in case of emergencies? Should we ignore the facts? The information is right in front of us. Will our government take action or will an ugly public debate gain more and more speed? Will the reproductive health program, that is most needed by our children fade into the distance as our youth has?
- What age do you think Sexual Education is appropriate to be taught?
- "Personally I believe that the parents and teachers need to get together and teach the children the parts of the body at a young age, as young as six. Reproductive processes need to be taught at an early middle school age just as or before puberty takes place. This is the time where adolescence takes over and hormones flood the body at a pace never before seen in their bodies. At this age they can now learn what will and could happen when they do have intercourse and if they have a problem during that time."
- What do you think, should there be a balance sex-ed. at home and at school?
- "I think that at a time before the subject is taught at school there should be a meeting with the parents and a discussion should be had over what needs to be addressed and what not to address. When the child comes home from school they should have one on one discussions with their parent’s’ or guardian and discuss any questions not answered at school. This way if the child is nervous to ask their parents they have a teacher to ask and vice versa if they can’t ask their teacher."
- Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation et al. (2003). National Survey of Adolescents and Young Adults: Sexual Health Knowledge, Attitudes and Experiences. Retrieved September 13, 2007, from http://www.rethinkingschools.org/sex/sexmain.shtml
- Pardini, P. (2002). Federal Law Mandates ‘Abstinence-Only’ Sex Ed. Retrieved October 1, 2007, from http://www.rethinkingschools.org/sex/sexmain.shtml
- Centers for Disease Control & Prevention. (2001). HIV Prevention Strategic Plan Through 2005 18. Retrieved September 18, 2007 from http://aclu.org/reproductiverights/sexed/12670res20070822.html
- Louise Melling (2005). Responsible spending: Real Sex Ed. for Real Lives. Retrieved September 15, 2007. http://aclu.org/reproductiverights/sexed/12622res20050218.html
- Christopher Trenholm et al. (2007) Impacts of Four Title V, Section 510 Abstinence Education Programs. Retrieved September 15, 2007, from http://aclu.org/reproductiverights/sexed/12670res20070822.html
- Govteen.org. Retrieved October 1, 2007 from http://forums.govteen.com/forumdisplay.php?f=111 and http://forums.govteen.com/showthread.php?t=228632
- Stephanie J. Ventura et al. (2006) Recent Trends in Teenage Pregnancy in the United States, 1990-2002. Retrieved September 13, 2007 from http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/products/pubs/pubd/hestats/teenpreg1990-2002/teenpreg1990-2002.htm
- Laurie S. Zabin (1986). "Evaluation of a Pregnancy Prevention Program for Urban Teenagers," 18 Family Planning Perspectives. Retrieved September 18, 2007 from http://aclu.org/reproductiverights/contraception/16391res19980401.html