Moira the Explorer: Educating Sex Ed
February 27, 2012 • 1,245 views
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Everyone is familiar with the scene from the 2004 comedy Mean Girls featuring the school gym teacher teaching a sex education class: “Don’t have sex. You will get pregnant. And you will die.” Though meant to be comedic, this scene is all too familiar to many students in schools across America. But should sex ed classes teach more than abstinence? Should they teach students about contraception or even orgasms?
No adult wants teenagers engaging in sex, for fear of teenage pregnancies and the proliferation of STDs. This is a reasonable fear. And logically it seems clear that one must simply stop teenagers from engaging in sex to end the problem. However in 2006 the teenage pregnancy rate increased for the first time in over a decade. I believe abstinence is not going to work as the only method, and a more encompassing sex ed could combat the problem of teen pregnancy along with many others. Sex ed is the one subject that will apply to every student, and it contains information that is desperately needed.
Many topics are still considered inappropriate for the classroom. In my 10th grade health class very little time was spent discussing the pill, and the implications of taking it. Yet many young girls in our area ask their parents for it because they believe it will make them safer. In elementary and middle school we are told about our respective genitalia, but no time is spent on explaining the other half. Almost no time was spent discussing orgasms. This leaves many adolescents confused, and many are left venturing into a scary world of sexual activity that they know little to nothing about. I’m not saying teachers should give students tips on how to have sex, just an explanation that these things exist.
A Pennsylvania House Bill outlines compulsory sex ed in all public schools. One section of the bill states that students must be taught: “The benefits of and reasons for not engaging in sexual intercourse.” This seems a little similar to the Mean Girls mantra to me. I spoke to a Harriton health and sex ed teacher Mr. Curyto: “Our state is abstinence plus (we are not abstinence only) which means we are required to teach the benefits of abstinence, which is essential for those that have this position. Then we cover how to practice safe sex, if and when students choose that for themselves. So we cover both sides of the topic, which is necessary since we are a public school meeting the needs of all students.”
Mr. Curyto’s acknowledgement that Harriton is a public school has vast implications. A recent article in the New York Times spotlighted a local school (Friends’ Central) and their revolutionary sex ed class. The class “Sex and Society” not only discusses STDs and contraception, but the stigmas and preconceptions attached to sex, and how they differ for males and females. They discuss the social implications of the “lingo” used when discussing sex, as well as the emotional implications if one becomes sexually active before he or she feel comfortable. The class discusses the subject as a whole, and looks to educate students on a topic that is so often considered taboo.
The Friends’ Central class is an elective at a private school. The sex ed curriculum at Harriton is one part of a mandatory health course. So part of the issue is that Harriton students cannot be given the same information simply due to time. Mr. Curyto explained that he and the other Harriton health teachers try to teach as much on the topic as possible. Though a large portion of time must be spent on STDs and the fact that abstinence is the only guarantee of safety, there is also discussion of the emotional side or how sex is portrayed in the media. I asked Mr. Curyto if he felt restricted by the curriculum set by Harrisburg and he responded: “Not in terms of curriculum but in terms of time. We don’t have enough time in class and would like an opportunity to have an elective for seniors to go deeper.” This phenomenon is certainly echoed throughout Pennsylvania and elsewhere in the country. Students are not receiving an all-encompassing in-depth education on a subject that is pertinent to their emotional and social well being.
Inarguably, Scientia est Potens. Knowledge is power. Giving students more knowledge on the subject of sex only gives them more power to make better decisions. Laurie Abraham, the writer of the New York Times article, spoke to many students from the Friend’s Central school. She explains how one boy stated that he became much more conscious and sensitive of his girlfriend after taking the “Sex and Society” class. The boy related how instead of pressuring his girlfriend, he made sure to ask her if she would be comfortable before making any more physical advancements in their relationship, and the two had an honest discussion about the issue, something that would not have occurred had the boy not taken the class. Surely many teenagers (male and female) could use some sensitivity on the issue. Surely many could use some more information.
Changing teenagers’ attitudes towards sex may be much more effective than using scare tactics. Though it is scary, teenagers are going to have sex. But if they can approach it in a healthy, informed way, perhaps it would not be the end of the world.