Sexual Education in the U.S.

Sexual education is a hot debate topic among those involved in the education community in the United States. The health of students is in question as schools offer different teachings across the country. (Photo permission of Flickr)

As teens transition through puberty into adulthood, their sexual health and lifestyle begin to develop. High school students are constantly exposed to erotic material, through media and peers, and hormones overtake many of the body’s controls. In order to help teenagers comprehend the situation, schools must help, but what standards are educators held to when it comes to sexual education?

Prior to graduation, every student in North Carolina public high school must complete a course called Health and Physical Education. North Carolina Public Education Standards require all teenagers to learn about the human body, mental and emotional health, and how to maintain a wholesome lifestyle.

Although states are not required to regulate curriculum, every class must teach sexual education to certain standards. These topics include STD/STIs, contraceptives, and reproductive organs. NC Youth Connected says “comprehensive sex education” encourages abstinence and reduces teen pregnancies. Comprehensive goes undefined, but the program teaches about both abstinence and contraception.

Sex education differs by state, as the education standards for the program are not under federal control. Only 24 states in the United States mandate sexual education. It is common that districts are able to form their own curriculum as well. Therefore, some areas of the country participate in abstinence-only teachings while others follow a more comprehensive lifestyle.

Recently, those involved in creating education standards have added growing intensity to a debate about the proper way to instruct teens on sexual health. Primarily, parents and teachers continue to pose questions about what is morally acceptable for students. In addition to personal beliefs, researchers have conducted studies to illustrate the most effective methods of health education.

Abstinence until marriage, comprehensive style, and consent inclusive programs are the top three practices in place across the United States.

There are 18 states in the country that require educators to teach students about contraceptives. Legislation is still in place that provides funding for states like Arizona and Florida to teach abstinence-only programs. The curriculum frames the belief that students should avoid sexual intercourse until marriage. It also indoctrinates the negative impacts of teen sex, yet it does not teach about the use of contraceptives.

A study completed by the American Journal of Nursing analyzed the impact of abstinence-only education on teens. Results showed that “the more abstinence was stressed, the higher were the rates of teen pregnancy and births”. The federal government continues to encourage a program, through funding, that is extremely ineffective and has the opposite impact of what it is expected to do.

While there may be many reasons for the failure of abstinence teachings, improper knowledge of how to have safe intercourse is likely the most prominent. Teens are then caught in a “reverse psychology” trap where they feel more intrigued to do something they are told not to do.

Students are less likely to achieve academically when they are pregnant or have STDs. Unprotected sexual intercourse is commonly linked to destructive behaviors and poor school performance. Enforcing abstinence-only programs can be extremely detrimental to student health.

Comprehensive style techniques are another type of sexual education that is common in the United States, including in the state of North Carolina. Instead of simply teaching abstinence, comprehensive educates students about abstinence as well as contraceptives. The big idea behind the program states that abstinence is the only way to completely prevent all STDs and pregnancies, but teens also learn about the proper way to use preventative methods.

Because the program is completely transparent about students’ options, it promotes health and helps teens to make the right choices regarding their own sexual health. Data revealed that “teens who received comprehensive sexuality education were 50% less likely to report a pregnancy than those who received abstinence-only education”.

Students that do not have to worry about being unsafe are much more likely to excel socially and academically. Comprehensive sexual education assists students in understanding that exploring their own individual desires is acceptable. A better option than abstinence teachings, comprehensive methods are still missing an important piece of the puzzle.

The recent #MeToo movement is now provoking teachings of consent to be in place through sex education classes. There are only eight states that require students to learn about the topic, but a growing amount of teachers and parents are pushing for a curriculum change.

The main goal of the states incorporating consent into the class is to support healthy relationships and avoid sexual violence. In an immense battle against rape culture and sexual assault, some teachers and researchers are in agreement that teachers should involve consent at a much younger age. Starting as young as elementary schoolers can help students to develop a stronger meaning of what proper intimacy and concurrence is.

Incorporating an understanding of what consent is can better teach students to respect each other as well as themselves. It also helps teenagers how to develop stronger relationships. As society develops more definite explanations of what consent means, high schoolers should be able to properly develop an understanding of their own bodily privileges.

Schools can now integrate consent into curriculum of comprehensive sexual education, providing many benefits to teenagers. Students can better apprehend boundaries and self-respect, as well as appreciating that of their peers. Creating a trustful community and ownership of one’s own body is strong encouragement for healthy, successful teenagers.


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