By Rachel Brandt of Deleting the Adjectives
I remember the first and only real sex education class I ever had. I was 17, sitting in a senior world religions class, shifting uncomfortably in my standard issue desk as I tried to figure out why I was looking at a freeze-framed thermal image of a man’s penis.
This was a Catholic college prep school, complete with uniforms and the occasional nun. It was obvious my teacher was going out on a risky limb and using the guise of the class’s more worldly nature to show us how a condom worked before we all left for college. Later I found out he had been moved from a teaching position to one of counselor, and I’ve always wondered if that scratchy VHS tape about the mechanics of sex and birth control was the reason.
The soap box of abstinence only sex education spins furiously around the idea that leaving comprehensive sex education out of the equation is the only way to prevent teenagers from having sex. There is a fear that explaining sex in all its mundane medical details will encourage more frequent sexual activity or a greater number of partners. The main problem is it asks teenagers to accept an adult recommendation of not doing something that is fun without explaining why waiting might another option.
Many people, for or against the sex ed movement, are surprised to find that teens that received a comprehensive sexual education were 60% less likely to get pregnant or impregnate someone and were not more inclined to have sex more often or with more partners. States with abstinence only instruction have the highest teen pregnancy rates in the country; States that stress abstinence-only education had a teen pregnancy rate of 73.24 teen pregnancies per 1000 girls aged 14–19, while states with comprehensive sex education that included abstinence as on option had the lowest teen pregnancy rates at 56.36 teen pregnancies per 1000 girls ages 14-19.
Countries with comprehensive teaching structures such as France, Germany and the Netherlands have much lower teen pregnancy rates, as in less teen pregnancies per capita, than the United States where abstinence only education is still a common practice. A study of 1,700 heterosexual teenagers ages 15 through 19 from all over the Unites States also showed that teens who received abstinence only education were actually more likely to engage in vaginal intercourse than youth who received an all-inclusive sexual educations course.
Contrary to a somewhat popular belief, a comprehensive sexual education does not encourage teenagers to engage in frivolous sexual encounters. Instead it shows the immediate gravity of being sexually active by outlining all of the health risks. Teens learn how sexually transmitted infections are contracted and the symptoms of STI’s such as HIV, herpes, chlamydia, gonorrhea and HPV. Often an all-inclusive sex-education will include those health risks incurred by using different kinds of birth control and the potential for them to fail.
Additionally, it provides access to someone who is trained to teach sex education, gives teens an opportunity to ask questions about sexual activities, and dispels rumors commonly circulated amongst teenagers, which include, but are not limited to:
• You can’t get pregnant the first time you have sex.
• You can’t get pregnant if you do it standing up.
• Inserting Coca-Cola or other carbonated drinks into the vagina after sex will kill the sperm and prevent pregnancy.
• Girls can’t/don’t enjoy sex and never will.
• You can’t get pregnant if you have sex while on your period.
• Having sex once means that you can’t say no to future encounters or partners.
• Using a tampon nullifies your virginity.
• Sex is like it is in the movies or on television.
• If you love someone, you will be ready to have sex with them.
• Your virginity is something you give to your boyfriend/girlfriend as a gift.
• Jumping up and down after unprotected sex will prevent you from getting pregnant.
• Guys always want sex and are always ready to have it.
Instruction that supplies so much information can be utilized in a situation where someone is feeling pressured to have sex. Many times teenagers feel that in order to show or prove that they love their partner they must engage in sexual behaviors, but an education gives them solid health reasons why waiting might be better for someone at their age. The “if you love me” conversation is easily combated with facts learned in a sex ed class.
As a parent, especially the mother of a young daughter, I want to promote agency. I want her to know about her body and how it works. I want her to know she can say no or say yes. I want her potential partners to know what she knows, so they can make educated decisions together. I want her to know the risks and benefits of sexual activity. I want her to be educated. I want her to be happy with the decisions she makes, and I want her to be healthy.
Supporting sex education in school and pairing it with our own conversation at home opens lines of communication that may very well not exist otherwise. It lets our kids know they can come to us with their questions instead of their peers or instead of taking what they see in the media at face-value. It also means that we can talk to our teens about why we think they should or shouldn’t wait. It makes us a resource and gives us an opportunity to share our experiences. We become a reliable source of information instead of someone they might view as disconnected from the issue or other issues they are facing as they transition from child to adult.
And an educated kid is more likely to make good decisions.
This post was originally published on Feminspire.
About Rachel Brandt
Originally from Gary, Indiana, Rachel Brandt is a writer and photographer lucky enough to live in sunny San Diego with her tech-savvy husband, her dance-obsessed 5-year-old daughter, and two unruly rescue pups. Her blog, Deleting the Adjectives, is a no BS look at parenting and personhood post-kids. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.