Collectively, the most awkward stage in most people’s lives occurs during middle school. School dances, off-putting braces, and first crushes all complicate life as a young teenagers. But one factor makes the world of middle school especially hard to manage: puberty.
Puberty can be confusing to young students — as many new thoughts and questions can come up for them during this time. However, while they should be able to turn to trusted adults to help them through it, many teachers across the country have their hands ties when it comes to sex education. This needs to change.
Though sex is widely present in advertising and TV shows, Americans seem to have a problem talking about it. Unfortunately, this problem far extends from the reaches of the classroom. Even after students graduate, the lack of knowledge about sex-related matters contributes to unwanted pregnancies and high rates of STDs.
Sex Education Failings
Those who are opposed to sex education being taught in school fear that it will promote sexual activity among students. However, teenagers will often find out about sex on their own, and if they don’t get the information from a trusted adult, it can increase the likelihood of misinformation.
This lack of education and the abundance of misinformation results in many problems. For example, 45 percent of all pregnancies in the United States are unplanned. The rates for STDs in the U.S. are even more appalling. According to experts in sexual health and STD testing:
- Every year there are 20 million new STDs.
- There are a total of 110 million STDs among men and women.
- Half of new infections occur in those aged 15-24.
- Half of sexualy active people will contract an STD by age 25.
- About 1 in 5 Americans get genital herpes, and up to 90 percent of those affected don’t know they have it.
These widespread problems can be significantly improved with a few simple changes.
Access to Sex Education
The first major issue that needs to be addressed in regard to sex education is access. While not all programs are necessarily effective in educating students, some state laws add barriers for students to even be able to attend their sex ed classes.
According to the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States, some state laws don’t require that students attend sex ed classes, but they may require parents to choose to opt their students into them. Currently, parents in many states can choose to opt their students out, but requiring a parental signature for students to attend the sessions can significantly decrease student attendance.
Additionally, sex ed programs often completely ignore sex education for the LGBTQ+ community, leaving a dearth of access to relevant education and resources for a significant portion of the population (more on this later). This is partially due to a lack of straightforward language.
Another factor that can get in the way of students getting successful sex education is unclear or roundabout messaging. Failing to use clear messaging in terms of sex ed, including avoiding using terms for genitalia, will give students the impression that sex is shameful to talk about. This can prevent them from asking questions about it and fully understanding what they need to know.
The #MeToo movement has shone light onto the prevalence of sexual assault in our culture. The movement has been empowering people to tell their stories of sexual assault. But how did we get into such dire straits to begin with?
Part of the problem is lack of education about consent, which should be taught in sex ed classes. Not only should students be taught that “no means no,” they also need to be taught that an absence of a “no” doesn’t mean “yes.” They should be taught that consent means the presence of a willing affirmation. Body language cues may accompany consent, but those signs alone do not give consent.
Along with sex education, students should be taught about different sexual orientations, even if they are not LGBTQ+ themselves. Teaching students about different sexual orientations can help students better self-identify, accept themselves more, or simply educate peers to be accepting.
Not only is the representation important for personal identification and acceptance, it’s necessary to provide LGBTQ+ students with sex education as well. Gay men have a higher risk of contracting HIV or AIDS, so this is especially important for this demographic. Intersectional sex education could help decrease that risk, as well as be more inclusive to LGBTQ+ students.
Often, there is a backlash to change. However, it’s necessary to keep students’ health as a top priority — they will bloom into the next generation. Sex education gives students the tools they need to make better choices for themselves and can help improve the health and emotional well-being of younger generations.