Sex Ed Censored in the States
Originally Published: March 11, 2013
Revised: August 28, 2014
Schools are meant to provide us with the education and information that we need for the rest of our lives. We learn so many topics in school from biology to algebra to literature. But why is it so hard for many schools to teach us the things that we absolutely need to know when it comes to sexuality education?
We could blame it on a few parents who make a fuss because they don’t want their children learning about sexuality. Or we could blame it on those teachers who aren’t trained to teach sex ed or teachers who just aren’t comfortable with teaching about sexuality. These issues can keep us from getting great sex ed, but another issue is that so many states don’t require that sex ed be taught or limit what can be taught.
Abstinence-Only Programs Leave Teens in the Dark
There are 28 states in this country that don’t require public schools to teach sexuality education. In some states, schools that offer sex ed are only allowed by law to use abstinence-only-until-marriage programs, which don’t give students all of the information they need and in many cases actually give students misinformation about sexuality.
Abstinence-only-until-marriage programs are meant to encourage students to abstain from any sexual behavior until they are married. And if sex is meant to be saved for marriage, does this mean gay and lesbian teens who live in states where they can’t marry should never have sex? These programs that focus on saving sex for marriage assume everyone is heterosexual and that everyone wants to get married, and that’s just not the case.
Programs that focus on saving sex for marriage assume everyone is heterosexual and that everyone wants to get married, and that’s just not the case.
Abstinence is the only 100-percent effective way to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). But by their 19th birthday, about 70 percent of teens will have had sex, so teens that choose to have sex need clear and full instruction about how to prevent pregnancy and/or protect themselves from STDs. Research has shown that abstinence-only programs can even discourage teens from using birth control and practicing safer sex, which increases their risk for unintended pregnancies and/or STDs.
Students that take abstinence-only classes do not abstain from sexual intercourse for longer periods of time than those who don’t, according to a study conducted by Mathematica Policy Research in 2007. Yet, since the 90s, the federal government has poured millions of dollars into these programs that research has proven to be ineffective.
Students should be given accurate information through comprehensive sexuality education that teaches them not only about abstinence, but birth control, safer sex, healthy relationships and sexual orientation.
“Don’t Say Gay” Laws Silence LGBTQ Students
Comprehensive sexuality education could be educating teens across the country about sexual orientation and sexual identity. A better education about these issues could help reduce transphobia and homophobia—fear or hatred of LGBTQ people—in schools and help reduce bullying related to someone’s actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender expression.
Schools are meant to be safe spaces for students to feel comfortable in, but many LGBTQ students don’t feel comfortable or safe at school. While comprehensive sexuality education could create safer more inclusive environments for LGBTQ students, there are certain local and state education laws nicknamed “no promo homo” laws that further stigmatize LGBTQ students. These laws specifically forbid teachers from discussing LGBTQ issues or only allow them to be mentioned when teaching about HIV/AIDS. Alabama, Arizona, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas and Utah currently have these types of laws.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. Instead of censoring what is taught about LGBTQ people, states could provide better education about sexual identity and support laws that make schools more inclusive. Some states, for example, have Safe School Laws that protect students from being bullied and harassed based on their actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender expression. These laws protect LGBTQ teens from bullying and harassment and hopefully make students feel less afraid at school.
Birth Control and Condom Blackout
Learning about birth control and safer sex are important aspects of comprehensive sex ed. But one in three teens who have had sex say they did not get any formal education about birth control before they first had sex. Condoms are the most commonly used form of birth control by teens, but 41 percent of teens aged 18 to 19 say they know little or nothing about condoms.
Study after study have shown that improved use of birth control has contributed to the reduced rates of teen pregnancies, but think of how much lower the rates of teen pregnancy might be if state laws required that teens be taught about not only abstinence but birth control and safer sex.
Sex Ed Is Helpful, not Harmful
When students aren’t learning what they need to learn in school, then they find out the information from outside sources including friends, the media and porn. These sources can be unreliable and can give teens inaccurate information about sexuality.
State laws that limit what teens can learn in the classroom or misinform them about birth control, safer sex and sexual orientation can do much more harm and cause confusion. These laws mean teens don’t get the important information they need to prevent pregnancy and/or STDs and create a safe school environment for all students.
We need to make our leaders aware of these problems in schools and try to get them to do something about it. It’s important to remember that your voice and contribution can have a big impact—you just have to make sure that you’re heard loudly and clearly.
Visit Sexetc.org’s Action Center to learn what you can do to make sure teens in your state aren’t in the dark about sexuality.
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