Sex education should not be a scare tactic
Published: Sunday, May 29, 2011
Updated: Sunday, May 29, 2011 16:05
What is the best approach to take when teaching sex education?
The phrase "Make love, not babies" has always been a common mantra of mine. As a woman and as a feminist, I am very much aware that people of all ages, genders and orientations are engaging in sexual activity.
When talking about sex, one of the most heated debates that often surfaces is the issue of sexual education within our schools. The overall goal of teaching our students about sex is to delay them from having sex. At least, that is how a recent study in Psychological Science perceives the situation.
The main goal of this study was to examine the notion that those who wait longer to have sex will be safer lovers. According to the study, the overlying assumption is that a delay in having sex will reduce sexual risk-taking and, with it, unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases. Ergo, if you don't have sex now, you will be a safer lover later. Personally, I don't find this assumption to be very accurate.
Neither did the study.
The study itself involved 1,000 pairs of identical and fraternal twins. These twins, 11 years old at the start of the study, were questioned on biological, social and psychological factors. Then at age 24, the twins were asked about the risks that they take in their sex lives. Numerous runs of the data led to the same conclusion: "You take two twins who share 100 percent of their genes. One has sex at age 15 and one at 20. You compare them on risk-taking at 24, and they don't differ."
And so, the research concludes that abstaining from sex will not necessarily make you a safer lover. In contrast, there is no real correlation between sexual risk-taking and the time you become sexually active. This means that abstinence-only education is an ineffective method of protecting kids from the risks involved in having sex. We can see this in Florida, as well. Here, 51 percent of high school students report that they have had sex, according to amplifyyourvoice.org. Furthermore, Florida has the 11th highest teen-pregnancy rate in the nation and more than 48,000 people living with AIDS.
With that said, instead of sheltering kids from sex, why not teach them about it?
Teaching comprehensive sexual education involves educating our students about all options of safe sexual behavior; include both the teaching of abstinence and other methods of birth control.
This method of teaching is extremely effective in both delaying sex and encouraging safer sex. In fact, a 2007 study by medical website WebMD noted that teenage girls who received sex education were 59 percent less likely to have sexual intercourse before the age of 15 compared to those who did not get sex education before their first time having sex. For teenage boys, it was 71 percent. In addition, teenage boys who were taught comprehensive sex education were three times more likely to use birth control when they did have sex.
Knowledge is indeed power, and sexual knowledge is no different. I actually attended public schools right here in Orange County. My high school's sexual education program revolved around us, the students, being made scared to have sex. I remember quite explicitly hearing premarital sex compared to used bubblegum: "Who would want to chew used bubblegum?" was our guest speaker's main argument.
After that premarital presentation, the speaker asked each of us to take a commitment mint. If we took a mint, we were promising to not have sex until marriage.
Needless to say, I didn't take a mint. Based on Florida's sex statistics, those who did take a mint, have broken their promise several times over.
The bottom line is that comprehensive sexual education does not encourage sex, much like how comprehensive abstinence programs do not guarantee chastity. And in a society where sex is literally plastered along our highways and popping up on our computer screens, one would hope that the conversations we have about sexual activity would be both more balanced and more open.
Trust me, it's possible to make love and not babies. It's possible to have sex before marriage in a safe and real way. It's possible to be a safer lover; that's what condoms are for.
We just have to make sure our kids know that too.