Author: Juliette Blais-Savoie
About the Author: Juliette is an undergraduate student at the University of Toronto where she studies Human Biology, Evolutionary Biology, and Writing and Rhetoric. Her interests include evolutionary medicine, public health, and science communication. Juliette is also passionate about sports, literature, and environmentalism.
“Where do babies come from?” It’s the question every parent dreads hearing, and for good reason. Sex is a sensitive and frankly, awkward topic for parents to speak about with their children. It is, however, a topic for which every child deserves to have their questions accurately and fully answered, which is why we have good sex education, or at least, why we should have it.
There is currently no federal regulation for Sex Education in the United States, at all, according to Time Magazine. This means that decisions on what is taught and when it’s taught are left entirely to the states. While this may not seem like a big deal to some, the disparity in the timing and quality of sex ed can lead to large variations in public health issues such as teen birth rates and sexually transmitted disease (STD) rates.
The map above contains statistics from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for teen birth rates, by state, in the U.S. in 2009.
Of the ten states with pregnancy rates of 51-64 births per 1,000 teen girls (the highest in the country), only three of them require Sex Ed at all, according to Guttmacher Institute, sexual health research, and advocacy organization. And of those three, only two require information on contraceptives to be presented to students. There is, however, one requirement that almost all of these states share, and that’s a stress on abstinence until marriage, commonly known as “abstinence-only” sex ed.
Although some say that abstinence-only curriculums will dissuade teens from participating in sexual activity, there is no data to support this. On the contrary, states with these policies tend to have higher teen birth and STD rates. This is likely due to the fact that many abstinence-only programs talk only about abstinence, and not about how to be sexually active in a healthy and safe way. Thus, many teens engage in sexual activity before being taught how to protect themselves and others. In fact, nearly 80% of teens become sexually active before having any formal sex education according to an article in Time Magazine. According to Guttmacher Institute, only 24 states and the District of Columbia require sex education. This means that students in 26 states could very well be deprived of learning about sex, puberty, sexuality, and reproduction in a safe and accurate setting, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t learning in other ways.
The purpose of the U.S. education system is to prepare students to be useful members of society. And because the average age Americans lose their virginity is around 17 according to Time Magazine, it makes no sense that the federal government is making sure teens know algebra, but not the basics of safe sex. There is a need for a drastic change in the way sex ed is taught in the United States, or multiple public health issues will continue to prevail among our nation’s youth. Everyone should care about the health of teens in America and the solution is feasible, so the question remains, why haven’t these problems already been solved?
“Preventing Teen Pregnancy in the United States.” Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
“Sex and HIV Education.” Guttmacher Institute.
Sifferlin, Alexandra. “Why Schools Can’t Teach Sex Ed.” Time Magazine.