Written by: Audrey Perdue
Consider your high school health class’ unit on safe driving. Actually, scratch that; consider your elementary school assembly on safe driving. From early on, kids recognize that driving and wearing a seatbelt is a part of life, and teachers recognize that teaching those young, impressionable kids how to be safe on the road will provide them with information they’ll remember later on.
Not once, though, are we ever taught not to drive. Driving is dangerous, so we’re told, but if one is responsible, there’s nothing wrong with it. Driving is a part of life.
Sex, also, is a part of life. While it may not be as casual a conversation topic as local traffic is, there’s no reason sex education shouldn’t be treated the same way as safe driving. Furthermore, nothing is pressuring a child to drive. No amount of songs about cars or episodes of Overhaulin’ makes a child feel inferior to those who drive cars. On the contrary, sexualization in forms of media that children may consume could have damaging effects on a child as they age.
November 2017, 13-year-old Millie Bobby Brown was titled “one of the sexiest women on television.” According to the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC), about half of 11- to 16-year olds have seen pornography online mostly by accident. Girls as young as 10 are marketed to and expected to learn makeup. Younger and younger with every generation, children are being conditioned to become ‘desirable’ significantly faster.
All the while, parents and educators are still too afraid to talk about sex to young people. Because of this, adolescents (and sometimes children) are oftentimes learning through misinformation, due to their only resources being online. Online information is not always incorrect, but it’s arguably safer for them to learn from an adult they trust.
Technology has created a new ‘age-appropriate.’ The faster children learn things on their own, the sooner we need to accommodate them. These kids are far less likely to ask questions due to personal guilt for knowing what they do, even if it’s not their fault. The discussion that once would begin in late middle school may now need to start in elementary school.
So, the answer should be simple, right? Updated sex education courses need to be implemented. Unfortunately, it’s just so very easy to say ‘wait until marriage’ and send kids on their way, and that’s exactly what well over half of the country has done. Statistically speaking, 37 states require information on abstinence be a part of sex ed, and 26 require it to be stressed.
Not having sex means not getting pregnant and not transmitting STIs. Not looking at the sun means not damaging your eyes, and not eating too much means not getting sick. We all know that saying ‘don’t’ isn’t enough.
By continuing to support abstinence-only educational systems, adults that children should trust send them a message discouraging them to ask the questions they should.
Teaching contraception, birth control, and safe practice from as early as 6th or 7th grade will not only encourage safe sex later on down the line, it will also make students unafraid of asking the questions they may be too embarrassed to ask on their own. The Netherlands has recognized this; many schools in the country begin their process of sex education as early as kindergarten. While they aren’t graphically explaining intercourse to a group of 4-year-olds, they begin encouraging children to be open-minded and unembarrassed regarding love and relationships. In an interview for PBS News, Ineke van der Vlugt, an expert on youth sexual development, stated, “There were societal concerns that sexualization in the media could be having a negative impact on kids…we wanted to show that sexuality also has to do with respect, intimacy, and safety.”
Only 13 states require sex and HIV education information be medically accurate. Being upfront with the real information isn’t pretty, but even less pretty is the fact that the United States (despite a significant decline in the last quarter of the century) still holds one of the highest unplanned teen pregnancy rates in the world. It isn’t pretty that 1 in 4 teenagers contract an STI every year. Clearly, abstinence-only education hasn’t been the answer.
In a time where sexuality is capitalized and sex is a rite of passage, ‘a mutually faithful monogamous relationship in the context of marriage’ is not solely what students need to be hearing about at any point in their educational career. Whether or not the student opts to be sexually active in their teenage years, they have the right to know the truth, medically-accurate facts that abstinence-only education simply does not provide.