overview: what’s it all about?
As students enter upper middle school and high school, teenage hormones begin to flow. Crushes, dating, and more become a lot more relevant in school. While most students might find their school’s sex education “gross” or “embarrassing”, the curriculum is actually incredibly important for a multitude of reasons. In many public schools, sex education is either lacking or not even present, and there can be serious side effects. Stigma’s around topics such as STI’s, teenage pregnancy, the LGBTQ+ community, and more, can lead to a more conservative approach regarding what is taught. Inadequate sex education harms teenagers on multiple levels; it’s not limited to sexual experiences or relationships, in fact, it includes mental health and non-sexual relationships as well. So the question is, how exactly does sex education relate to mental health, and how can we teach it better?
what do current curriculums look like?
Currently, only about 45% of high schools in the nation teach all 13 major topics that the CDC(Center for Disease Control) believes are vital to a comprehensive sex education (Anderson). The 13 topics are as follows:
- how to obtain condoms
- how to correctly use condoms
- the efficacy of condoms
- the importance of using both a condom and another form of contraception at the same time
- the importance of using condoms consistently
- preventive car necessary for reproductive and sexual health
- the importance of limiting sexual partners at a certain time
- how to access legit information, products, and services related to sexual health
- influencing and supporting others and yourself to avoid risky sexual behaviour
- how STD’s are transmitted
- the health consequences of STD’s
- how to create and sustain healthy relationships
Unfortunately, other incredibly important topics such as sexual orientation and sexual health are left entirely out of the classroom. Some states even prohibit public schools from teaching different types of sexual orientation.
Even worse, 32 states either don’t educate students on sexual orientations, or teach them that it’s bad to be anything but heterosexual and cisgender. (Guttmacher) Many states have certain topics–such as HIV–be considered “opt-out”. If the parents of a child would prefer that their child not learn that topic, the school is obligated to not require that child to be in the class.
Another concern that many don’t think about is the lack of training when it comes to sexual health counselors. Many times in public schools sex education is taught by another teacher, due to underfunding. (PP) It’s difficult for both the teacher and the student to receive a comprehensive education if the teacher has not been able to receive proper training. Often times, if your math teacher is trying to guide you through serious sexual health topics, and they don’t have the skills to address the uncomfortable feelings that will arise, it is not beneficial for the students.
image to the right: four main topics of discussion for a comprehensive sexual education, according to the CDC
bstinence; the popular, but harmful, sex education
Abstinence. One of the most popular approaches to sex education when it comes to teens. What is it?
Abstinence-only sex education essentially teaches students to not have sex. At all. More often than not, schools that have an abstinence based education won’t teach many other topics related to sexual health; STD/STI prevention, contraceptives, sexual orientation. 28 states in the U.S. “stress” abstinence: essentially, they teach this to be the primary approach to sex. (Guttmacher) So what makes it so bad? If teens are taught to not have sex, they can’t get pregnant or put themselves at a risk of STI’s or STD’s, right?
There are many drawbacks to an abstinence-only based education. One of the main ones is that while the goal of the curriculum is to discourage teens from having sex at all, it still happens regardless. And when teens who have been through abstinence-only education do have sex, they are not well-educated on topics such STD’s or contraception. A sexual health counselor at Menlo School commented that in his experience, “when students are more informed about their own bodies, and their own sexual health, they are actually less likely to have sex. And if they do, it’s safe sex.”(Fauver) Furthermore, Mr. Fauver believes that one of the biggest detriments of America’s sex education is the lack of discussion around the emotional aspect of sex. Often times, in abstinence based curriculums, topics such as consent or what a healthy relationship is are entirely overlooked. (NASN) Abstinence-based sex educations are more likely to negatively discuss the LGBTQ+ community; this can lead to mental health issues with LGBTQ+ youth, as they feel out of place and demonized.
essentially, abstinence based education leads tounhealthy teen relationshipsunsafe sexbad mental healthdisparities among LGBTQ+ youthall of which we don’t want. let’s educate our youth!
conclusion: let’s wrap it up.
okay, okay, so what’s the point of all this info? here’s the deal: we need to fix our sex education. we need to educate our youth. we need to provide a safe and inclusive educational environment. right now, we aren’t preparing teenagers for relationships and sex. we need to ensure that if they do have sex, they understand consent, safety, and risks. the benefits are not limited just to safe sex–mental health will improve. teenagers will feel comfortable, and as a community, we can bring down the suicide and depression rates. let’s educate.
how can you help and engage?
in the comments below, answer me the following! respond to others and start a discussion!
- how can you educate and safely encourage those around you?
- do you think your school has a comprehensive sex education?
- what do you think are the most important topics to discuss?
- what ideas do you have to help your community/school?
works cited – click this!