The Importance of Comprehensive Sexual Education
By Albie Nicol
For some of us, high school was two years ago. For others, twenty. Or, maybe you’re in high school right now- if that’s the case, I’m sorry, it totally gets better. Not easier- but better, for sure. In any case, high school is when you’re typically exposed to sexual education, if not through your school institution, through parentals or a trusted adult. But sexual education is often skewed by an institution to reflect the opinions of the society in which the education will take place. For example, a high school student in the heart of Missouri will almost assuredly not get the same sexual education of a high school student in New York City, New York.
Why is this? Because as a national society, we do not yet have the effects of a sex-positive culture. Places in the South of the United States, and the Bible Belt (Mississippi, Utah, Alabama, Louisiana, Arkansas, South Carolina, Tennessee, North Carolina, Georgia, and Oklahoma) will typically only offer abstinence as a form of birth control, will strongly suggest not having sex outside of marriage, and not even discuss the healthy and safe sex practices that more northern and coastal states would teach to high schoolers in a sexual education program.
Okay.. so why does this matter?
The issue of comprehensive sexual education is dire because we need to promote not only a culture of consent, but safe sex for everyone interested in having it. Frankly, teenagers are going to have sex- even if we tell them not too, especially if we tell them not to. When they are only taught abstinence as a form of birth control we are doing active damage to their sexual and emotional health.
Okay, so we’ve discussed the issue. But where’s the science?
I thought you’d never ask. The Journal of Adolescent Health published a paper in January of 2006 entitled: “Abstinence-only education policies and programs: A position paper of the Society for Adolescent Medicine” written by and worked on by John Santelli, M.D., M.P.H. , Mary A. Ott, M.D., Maureen Lyon, Ph.D., Jennifer Rogers, M.P.H., and Daniel Summers, M.D.
This paper details a lot of technicalities about sexual education and its effect on teenagers, but it came to a very important conclusion: “Providing ‘abstinence only’ or ‘abstinence until marriage’ messages as a sole option for teenagers is flawed from scientific and medical ethics viewpoints.”
In fact, all of the conclusions supported by the Journal of Adolescent Health and written by the Society for Adolescent Medicine are pointing towards comprehensive sexual education as the most ethical and important form of sex-ed. Here are some of the highlights:
Abstinence is a healthy choice for adolescents. The choice for abstinence should not be coerced. SAM supports a comprehensive approach to sexual risk reduction, which includes abstinence as well as correct and consistent use of condoms and contraception among teens who choose to be sexually active.
Efforts to promote abstinence should be provided within health education programs that provide adolescents with complete and accurate information about sexual health, including information about concepts of healthy sexuality, sexual orientation and tolerance, personal responsibility, risks of HIV and other STIs, risks of unwanted pregnancy, access to reproductive health care, and benefits and risks of contraceptive methods.
Governments and schools should eliminate censorship of information related to human sexual health.
Government policy regarding sexual and reproductive health education should be science-based. Governments should increase support for evaluation of programs to promote abstinence and reduce sexual risk, including school-based interventions, media efforts and clinic-based interventions. Such evaluations should utilize rigorous research methods and should assess the behavioral impact as well as STIs and pregnancy outcomes. The results of such evaluations should be made available to the public in an expeditious manner.
Current U.S. federal law and guidelines regarding abstinence-only funding are ethically flawed and interfere with fundamental human rights. Current federal funding requirements as outlined in Subsections A–H of Section 510 of the Social Security Act should be repealed. Current funding for abstinence-only programs should be replaced with funding for programs that offer comprehensive, medically accurate sexuality education.
The paper, after highlighting the above points, shows endorsement from the American College Health Association. The doctors of America agree; the nation is supposed to be moving toward comprehensive sexual education to promote the health and well being of the adolescent students in the public school system. For the benefit of our nation's future, we have an ethical call as adults in the narrative to elevate the issue to school boards, educators, and other administrative bodies that have a say in the academic atmosphere.
So how do we get started? Well, here is a list of organizations currently doing the activism work for comprehensive sexual education: article here. But, on a more local level- go to your school board meetings if they’re public. Prepare a letter to send or a statement to read about the importance of sexual education. Here is a good sample one:
My name is Albie Nicol and I am a student at _____________. Today I want to ask the board to integrate comprehensive sexual education into the health/personal wellness classes at our local high schools. While abstinence is a healthy goal for many teens, with societal pressure and teenage angst it’s not always realistic. So, we should be teaching our students how to have safe and consensual sexual encounters if they choose to, alongside abstinence. Teaching abstinence only tactics eventually harms the sexual and emotional health of the student, and results in unwanted pregnancies and STDs.
Thank you for your consideration.
Let’s raise awareness for comprehensive sexual education in our public schools. Take your action today and shape the mental and physical health of students who will lead our future.