We Have to Talk About THE TALK™

*Cue Dramatic Music*

America has a lot of open secrets, things that everyone knows but are rarely ever addressed, and one of the most consequential open secrets we have is our complete failure to educate our youth about sex. The US federal government does not provide mandated guidelines on how to teach teens about sex, leaving states to decide how to educate their youth. In our state of Ohio sex educations is mandated… in the form of abstinence-only sex education. 

Abstinence-only education is one of the most popular methods of sex education in the US. This is due to the vast population of religious citizens, particularly Christians. These programs use everything from so-called science, scare tactics, and myths to try and achieve their goal of getting teens to remain abstinent until marriage; however, they do not teach about sex itself, contraception, healthy sexual relationships, or homosexuality. As you might expect, this lack of information leaves teens vulnerable, as a study done by the KFF found that, “abstinence-only education programs had no effect on the sexual behavior of youth,” and went on to show that teens began to engage in sex at the same age regardless of education, but teens in abstinence only programs often did so unprotected (“Abstinence”). (Yes, I have sources cited, I came with receipts thank you very much). US teenagers are having sex whether we properly educate them or not. We are putting them in danger by not teaching them how to have sex safely. 

Luckily there are alternative options for sex education that do a much better job. These alternate programs are called comprehensive sex education.These are required to cover sex, contraception, healthy relationships, and the LGBT+ community. As you can imagine, this makes these programs very different from their abstinence-only counterparts.

The first example of this is in how these organizations differ in handling education is in how they report on the emotional effects that sex has on teenagers. Abstinence-only teachings often emphasize that sex has negative emotional consequences such as feelings of guilt, but they will often refrain from reporting the positives. A study from the Guttmatcher Institute, looked into how sexually active teens felt after engaging in sex and found that while only 31-62% of adolescents reported a negative consequence of having sex, 61-96% reported a positive consequence (“Teenagers”) meaning that teens experience more emotional benefits than drawbacks for being sexually active. This is the first of many false scientific ‘facts’ these programs like to highlight. 

More disturbingly, in order to get teens to see how bad premarital sexual relationships are, abstinence-only presenters will often tell stories of abuse and mental illness suffered by people who engage in sex outside of marriage. These horror stories are then concluded by the revelation that when the abused person decides to be chaste all their problems are fixed, and they go on to have a perfect marriage. That is a whole lot to unpack but the barest of bones of what’s wrong with that teaching method are that it 1. excludes the terrible fact that marriages can be abusive and 2. fails to address that mental health issues exist in many different types of people regardless of their sexual history. Conflating these two serious issues with sex is dangerous because it belittles those who deal with these struggles and actually puts the blame on the person experiencing abuse by blaming them for not remaining chaste. 

Comprehensive sex education by contrast teaches about all types of consequences, good and bad, while still emphasizing how to choose to remain abstinent by teaching methods that help teens process their emotions without repressing their sexuality. This curriculum makes a point to provide teens with advice on how to have healthy relationships including how to communicate their feelings with their partner, how respect is imperative in a relationship, and how to recognize signs of an abusive relationship. This leads to teens having a much better understanding of sex and being better able to make the decisions that are best for them (“Healthy”).

The misconstruction of the emotional effects of sex is similar to how abstience-only programs also misrepresent the facts surrounding birth control and contraception. These groups cite many religious reasons for their belief that all forms of contraception are morally wrong, and there would be nothing wrong with them just stating this belief. But many of these programs try to justify this with fake facts. For just a taste of this in action, take Jason Evert. He is an abstinence-only ‘educator’ who told the Mercy McAuley all-girls high school that birth control pills cause a risk of blood clots, heart attack, and stroke. Drugs.com, a FDA approved website, does say this is a risk; however the full quote is, “The birth control pills with estrogen can lead to a higher risk for blood clots, heart attack, and stroke in women who smoke, especially if older than 35 years of age“(“Birth”). The things that abstinence-only education did wrong this time, in rapid fire, are: scared teenage girls about side effects that only apply to women twice as old as them and  smoke, excluded that these effects only apply to pills with estrogen (there are many other forms of birth control out there), and made it deliberately hard to uncover the truth by lifting words from good sources. In the end, the research shows that birth control works like all other prescription medicines: you need to know your medical history in order to find what method works best for your body (“Birth”). 

Comprehensive sex education teaches the medically accurate information about birth control and how to use both male and female condoms (also there are female condoms, this was news to me too) (Department) and the results of these techniques are surprising. According to a study done by Katherine F. Stanger-Hall and David W. Hall teens who took abstinence only courses had a birth rate of 73.24, but teens who took comprehensive courses had a birth rate of only 56.36 (Stanger-Hall). Huh, it’s almost like teens use safe sex to… do sex safely? Who’d of thought!

While abstinence-only education teaches misinformation about safe sex methods in order to fit their religion, the teachings on homosexuality are far more sinister. Often it will never be talked about in these presentations, likely because of the backlash that would come with teaching the traditional religious stance on LGBT+ issues. In the rare cases that it does come up the general response is to imply that homosexuality is a conscious choice to sexualize relationships between people of the same gender. This is incredibly harmfun as an article from the Center for American Press even found LGBT+ youth to be more likely to experience the negative effects of inadequate sex education and many current sex education programs actively promote prejudice against LGBT youth. Additionally, a study found that there are higher rates of abuse (both physical and sexual), STDs, and teen pregnancies among LGBT teens (Wood). LGBT teens are also at a higher risk of bullying, suicide and self-harm than their heterosexual peers. 

Luckily, there is information included in comprehensive sex education that addresses the specifics of LGBT sexual health and the sex itself. Lowering those previous risks in the same way they are lowered in heterosexual youth when accurate information is made available. Teaching this information also decreases the prejudice suffered by LGBT teens because their heterosexual peers are exposed to the fact that LGBT teens are no different than them (Slater).The topic of sexuality is covered in a way that is open and accepting while also giving LGBT teens the information they need to be healthy.

Abstinence-only sex education is ineffective. It doesn’t prepare teens for sex and relationships and actually puts them in danger by withholding information. There are several other options that do better than this. Comprehensive covers everything from abstinence, contraception, LGBT+ issues, and how to have healthy relationships. However this option, as it stands now, is not perfect either. There are very few courses that provide sex education for people with disabilities and even proper education can’t fix some other problems surrounding sex in schools (for example, menstrual hygiene products are not provided for free in bathrooms). Despite this, comprehensive sex education is still worlds better than the abstinence-only programs we have in place now. While Ohio, for religious reasons, is not inclined to allow comprehensive education to be the law, we must push to change that. We can create educational guidelines that include people of all sexualities, genders, and disabilities in the curriculum, and we must fight hard for these changes to occur. Because regardless of religious beliefs, our teenagers are in danger, and we must take steps to protect them.

Here’s More information to look into (some of which I reference in the article)! Please check it out!!!

“Abstinence Education Programs: Definition, Funding, and Impact on Teen Sexual Behavior.” The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, Kaiser Family Foundation, 1 June 2018, www.kff.org/womens-health-policy/fact-sheet/abstinence-education-programs-definition-funding-and-impact-on-teen-sexual-behavior/. November 2019

“Birth Control Pill FAQ’s – Benefits vs Risks & Side Effects.” Drugs.com, Drugs.com, 19 Mar. 2018, www.drugs.com/article/birthcontrolpill-risks-benefits.html. November 2019

Brady, Sonya S, and Bonnie L Halpern-Felsher. “Social and Emotional Consequences of Refraining from Sexual Activity among Sexually Experienced and Inexperienced Youths in California.” American Journal of Public Health, American Public Health Association, Jan. 2008, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2156074/, November, 2019

Department of Health & Human Services. “Safe Sex.” Better Health Channel, Department of Health & 

Human Services, 31 May 2014, www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/healthyliving/safe-sex. November 2019

May, Mike. “Chastity Project Founder Jason Evert to Speak at Schools, Parishes.” The Catholic Voice | 

The Archdiocese of Omaha, The Catholic Voice, Archdiocese of Omaha, 6 Dec. 2018, catholicvoiceomaha.com/news/chastity-project-founder-jason-evert-speak-schools-parishes. November 2019

Nursing @USC Staff. “America’s Sex Education: How We Are Failing Our Students.” Blog, The University of Southern California, 18 Sept. 2017, nursing.usc.edu/blog/americas-sex-education/, November, 2019

Presentation to Mercy McAuley High School, Jason Evert, 6000 Oakwood Ave, Cincinnati, OH 45224, Fall Semester 2019

“Sex and Healthy Relationships.” Loveisrespect.org, National Domestic Violence Hotline, 2017, www.loveisrespect.org/healthy-relationships/sex-and-healthy-relationships/. November 2019

Slater, Hannah. “LGBT-Inclusive Sex Education Means Healthier Youth and Safer Schools.” Center for American Progress, Center for American Press, 28 June 2013, www.americanprogress.org/issues/lgbt/news/2013/06/21/67411/lgbt-inclusive-sex-education-means-healthier-youth-and-safer-schools/. November 2019

Stanger-Hall, Kathrin F, and David W Hall. “Abstinence-Only Education and Teen Pregnancy Rates: Why We Need Comprehensive Sex Education in the U.S.” PloS One, Public Library of Science, 2011, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3194801/, November, 2

“Teenagers Report Both Positive and Negative Consequences from Sex.” Guttmacher Institute

Guttmacher Center For Population Research Innovation and Dissemination, 6 Dec. 2016, www.guttmacher.org/journals/psrh/2007/teenagers-report-both-positive-and-negative-consequences-sex. November 2019

Wood, Sarah M, et al. “Human Immunodeficiency Virus, Other Sexually Transmitted Infections, and Sexual and Reproductive Health in Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Youth.” Pediatric Clinics of North America, U.S. National Library of Medicine, Dec. 2016, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5543709/. November 2019