If education is the great equalizer, then consider the United States in a repugnant state of inequality when it comes to sex education.
The status of sex education in the United States is inadequate. Only thirty-nine states mandate sex ed. Only seventeen states require sex ed to be medically accurate. Only ten states that mandate HIV education. The youth of America are woefully ill-informed when it comes to their own bodies. This is the result of decades of insufficient policy and lack of continuity within the United States, from years of trepidation on an issue that affects every American citizen.
We the people have always had strong opinions when it came to sex education in our public schools. In the nineteenth and early twentieth century, Americans held the strong belief that young minds ought to “be preserved from the wretched evils of lust.” It took rampant STDs during World War I to get Americans to start teaching about contraceptives. It wasn’t until the ‘70s that the first real debates started, with religious groups getting involved and trying to force down the “corruption of the youth”. In the 1980s, the position of comprehensive sex education was strengthened significantly as HIV and AIDS became more prominent throughout America, but even that wasn’t enough to encourage medically accurate knowledge to be standard. Today, the lack of sufficient education continues to cause issues.
All middle and high schools have had the same goal in sex ed since the ‘80s, to avoid teen pregnancy and reduce the number of STIs and STDs in our population. They’ve failed on even this most basic endeavor. With so few states mandating medically accurate information, we cannot expect future generations to avoid the mistakes of the past. And they’re not.
The individuals enduring the status quo of sex ed today are at a significant disadvantage. There is an obvious link between abstinence-only education and higher teen pregnancy rates. Our young people are becoming pregnant less than previous generations, but still at much higher rates than other industrialized nations. On a ranking of the 20 nations that have gathered complete data sets, Switzerland has the lowest teen pregnancy rate. The United States? Dead last.
Beyond even this, individuals who go through average sex education in America are more at risk for contracting sexually transmitted diseases and infections. In fact, only about one in five sexually active teenagers in the U.S. has ever been tested for HIV. The education system is predisposing young people to be at a disadvantage when it comes to sex, purely because most of us don’t understand the basics.
In my own school, there are high school juniors and seniors that still do not know about generic contraceptive methods, let alone how and when to use them. There is an appalling gap of knowledge in this area, with some individuals’ extent of sex education not going beyond the fables about how having more people in a bed makes it weaker and how sex is addictive. If the extent of our knowledge is based in fear, how are we to mitigate circumstances in which we fail to acknowledge even exist?
Worse, there remains a pitiful incorporation of LGBTQ+ education in our schools. The 21st century has seen a stunning blossom of the diversity of relationships becoming socially accepted within the United States, but our young people are having to do most of the discovery themselves. 27% of young people in the United States are first exposed to LGBTQ+ relationships through TV shows. Another 35% through social media. The amount that learns about LGBTQ+ relationships in school?
Douglas County School District, one of the largest in Colorado, has zero incorporation of different sexual orientations, gender identities, and the importance of pronouns in the modern age. The impacts of such ignorance can be widely seen as hate violence for people in the LGBTQ+ community increasing substantially in the last decade. People from this community are more likely to be the victims of hate crimes than any other minority group within the United States. Individuals are being attacked because of the lack of knowledge coming to our young people, and the subsequent lack of empathy.
There are legitimate concerns that come from religious groups. Such as that sex ought to remain only a means of reproduction, though a pure belief, it’s unrealistic. Teenagers are going to have sex, and if that’s inevitable, we ought to at least make them prepared for the world ahead of them, we ought to give them the correct resources to do it carefully. We ought to make their safety our main priority.
The only way to do this successfully is through a nationwide re-boot of the sex education curriculum. Which, of course, with education being purely a state matter, is nearly impossible. There will continue to be inequality in information on this topic if we leave it in the hands of the government. There will have to be a generational shift and democratic support for change. Until that day comes, however, we needn’t leave our young people clueless.
Instead, we should encourage the utilization of already public information, and start a movement of education and knowledge when it comes to sex. There are a plethora of free resources on the web that allow anyone to understand the basics and start to chisel through the nuances of relationships in the 21st century. Below are two online resources followed by two apps all of which have fantastic, medically accurate coverage on sex ed as well as options for reaching out to professionals with questions.
American sex education is insufficient. Sexual intelligence is abysmal and our young people are paying the price. The is a need for widespread systemic changes in curriculum and teaching methods. For now, we can only encourage independent growth, understanding, and comprehension. It is only in this way that we can alter the status quo and raise a generation of individuals deftly able to minimize the harmful effects and be safe when it comes to sex.