Sex education started in the military. One of the earliest sex education movies warned soldiers about contracting STDs while away from their homes, and how it could affect their families. In fact, in the movie the soldier sleeps with a prostitute, contracts syphilis, gives it to his wife, who gives it to their child, and so the soldier commits suicide. Though drastic, the message of the movie is clear, had the man remained faithful or if he had practiced safe sex, he would have never been in this situation. A direct parallel to sex education in schools cannot be drawn, as this situation includes the moral element of adultery; however, the importance of sex education is clear. According to an article in The Daily Beast, sex education was increasingly resisted during the sexual revolution of the late 60s and early 70s. It was during this time that sex education became a political issue. Like in the film, there are two options, remaining abstinent or practicing safe sex. As more information during the 60s about sexually transmitted diseases came to the attention of the public, there was a greater movement for abstinence-only programs. Now the conflict boils down to two sides who both want similar results. Sex education has been wrapped up in a whirlwind of religion and politics.
Essentially, there are two ways to go about educating students about sex. Abstinence-only programs promote abstinence, and do not teach about the use of contraceptives. On the other hand, there are programs that not only teach abstinence, but also acknowledge that teens will become sexually active, and educate the students about contraceptive use. The abstinence-only program is one that ignores the issue at hand; hormones are raging and teens will grow increasingly interested in wanting to engage in sexual activity. Often times the abstinence-only program does nothing to help encourage the use of contraceptives, it only condemns them. For the students who choose to have sex, despite the plea for abstinence, they will either be left to research on their own, or risk an unplanned pregnancy or an STD.
In 2002, Robert Rector of the Heritage Foundation, and a supporter of abstinence-only programs said, "Sexually transmitted diseases are tightly linked to promiscuity and casual sex.” "Abstinence is the principal program that will address the core issue. Safer sex isn't going to do it” (usatoday.com). Though he may be right that STDs are linked to casual sex, ousting the education about contraceptive use creates a larger problem. Denying that information creates a society of youth who are uneducated, and still choosing to be sexually active.
Many schools that do not take on an abstinence-only program are criticized and accused of encouraging teens to have sex and experiment. Though this may vary from school to school, it seems more practical to educate students about how to have safe sex, than to only tell them to not have sex at all.
There are many opinions about what sex is and what it means. To some, it has religious connotations, as sex is how a couple are to consummate a marriage. The Bible also says that sex is for marriage. Religious ideas aside, many agree that sex is more than just a physical activity, and more than an innate animalistic desire. Many believe it is an emotional act that ties two people together. In our society, sex is everything from a tool, to a sin, to a game, to an emotional or sacred bond, to a carnal desire, to an advertisement tactic. Sex will never mean the same thing to every person, but it will always be present in society.
Despite the varied views about what sex is and what it is meant for, the issue at hand is educating the youth about sex, and more importantly about safe sex, and acknowleding that sex will never mean the same thing to everyone.
The best approach would be a compromise from both sides of the issue. It is obvious that the most effective way to avoid unplanned pregnancy and STDs is to remain abstinent. It has nothing to do with religion, it’s a fact. However, it is also important to understand and admit that not every student will remain abstinent until marriage, and those students should be educated accordingly. We must plan for every outcome, and in doing so sex education should be a comprehensive approach that doesn’t encourage sex, but doesn’t deny that it will happen. Students, and youth in general have a choice, and they should be as educated as possible in making that choice.
Story by Sarah Berentson
Berentson is a senior majoring in English and Spanish. Comments can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org
Graphic by Hannah Charlton