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By McKenzi Thi Murphy
Let’s talk about sex.
In western culture, many consider sex to be an inescapable topic. We are both fascinated with and terrified of talking about sex. For many of us, we “learned” about sex in a school-sanctioned environment. Halting conversations riddled with immature giggles at the first sign of a penis diagram, and ominous warnings that sex would lead to diseases, pregnancy and death.
Personally, my health teacher insisted on abstinence and refused to speak of sex at all. She explained New York State required schools to teach an abstinence-based curriculum. Sound familiar? In that case, I must apologize.
The most common argument against comprehensive sexual education is that it encourages students to have sex. That is completely false. Proper sex ed also teaches abstinence as a perfectly viable option. According to the NYCLU, in New York State 39% of girls, and 45% of boys are reported to be sexually active.
Teenagers are having sex already. Preventing is it not the issue.
The issue is that schools are teaching abstinence to students, many of whom are already sexually active and not teaching safe sex in the case that students do decide to have it. States with abstinence-only education are the ones with the highest rates of teen pregnancies. Comprehensive sexual education encourages healthy and safe sex. In fact, research shows that those receiving proper sex ed are not likely to be any more sexually active than those who are not.
To take this a step further, research done by the National Campaign to End Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy found that 40% of people actually delayed sexual initiation after learning comprehensive sex ed and 60% reduced unprotected sex entirely.
Today, STI rates in the US are high. Nineteen million new STIs are contracted each year. Abstinence-only educations have never been proven to be effective in convincing teenagers not to have sex. Ever. Basic logic says that it is one of the least helpful things in preventing diseases. How can we prevent what we do not know about?
Society goes through great leaps to sexualize young people, but adamantly denies that they should be sexual beings. Ignorance had never helped anyone, ever. Comprehensive sexual education is vital to the health and safety of today’s youth. We have created a socially-based stigma surrounding sex, promoting shame and taboo. It is not only irresponsible of us, but it is completely ridiculous.
And I am not simply talking about the need for sexual education in regards to reproduction. I am calling for education on non-cisgender, non-heterosexual sex as well. Even if schools offer proper sex ed, so many overlook queer students. All the typical education on pregnancy prevention in the world would be no help to me in preventing STIs. Because yes, women can transfer STIs to other women too. And this is the type of information that we need to know. Just look at the Netherlands. They begin the conversation in preschool, and they are doing just fine.
Teach young people comprehensive sexual education, giving them all the knowledge they need to make their own decisions. There is no excuse for not doing so. We need inclusive sexual education to teach young people about safe sex, healthy relationships, queer sex and, most importantly, to destroy the stigma surrounding it and prevent sexual assaults. So, let us finally talk about sex.