Tuesday, April 19, 2011

In Defense of Comprehensive Sex Education

A very hot-button issue that has brought feminists to the forefront is comprehensive sex education. It is something that Jessica Valenti defends vehemently in the notable Full Frontal Feminism, and that many teens have written passionately of on Julie Zeilinger’s The F-Bomb. As someone who believes that ignorance should be avoided at all times and that the current state of education is condescending to high school students, I was always on the defensive side on this issue as well.

In the past month, I have experienced sex ed at my public high school, and my defense of comprehensive sex education has become infinitely more fervid. The majority of my friends, including the three that I spend my health class with, are virginal. Out of the four of us, none of us are in relationships and have not been in relationships in which we felt a desire to lose our virginity. Two of us are fully supportive of premarital sex; the other two are more divided, as their parents oppose the action. None of us were planning to have sex in high school, although we were not opposed to the idea and would not judge any of our peers by the action. It seemed like a perfectly okay thing to do, if you were confident that you wanted to have sex with your person and you used protection and whatnot. Right?

Any casual, sexual desires we had developed previous to health were almost quashed by the lessons we learned. Our teacher educated us on prevalent STIs (Sexually Transmitted Infections) in their transmission and (grotesque) symptoms. The three girls I was with and myself all have A or A+ averages in school, are fairly eloquent, and informed on basic current events. None of us, though, knew a thing about syphilis or oral herpes before this lesson.

The best part about this, though, was that our health teacher spoke to us in a way that she made it sound like it was not a sin to not be a virgin at this time. She was not condescending. It was awesome. I’d always imagined it to be like that scene in Mean Girls where the gym teacher expresses: “Do not have sex, or you will get pregnant and die!”

I can now say with confidence that comprehensive sex education is far more effective than abstinence-only. I have read dozens of accounts and excerpts of abstinence-only sex ed lessons, and they are, in my limited experience, far less realistic. Telling kids they shouldn’t have sex “just because” doesn’t get anything done; most teens inherently want to rebel against what they’re supposed to. Besides, expressing the unpleasantness of genital warts and painful urination are far more effective than just saying that something is “bad.”

The bottom line, applicable to this just as much as any other (as in, every) issue that effects teens: if they are treated like mature adults, with rights and opinions, they are far more likely to listen to what you have to say.

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