So, what DO other countries teach their kids when it comes to sexual health? Even better – what do we teach?
Let me take a minute to define some of this stuff. (Go to the links below for more detailed information.)
Abstinence-only programs teach that sex is only acceptable when married. If someone chooses to have sex before then, they are risking mental/emotional/physical/social issues that could ruin their lives. Because they are teaching youth that it is wrong to have pre-marital sex, there is no reason to teach birth control. I have personally seen curricula that state condoms are not effective. They also teach that abstinence is the only way to prevent from getting an STI or pregnant. No arguments there…in fact, I don’t know of any curriculum that does not teach that part of it.
Abstinence-based – aka Comprehensive Sex Education – programs teach that abstinence is always best and safest, but there are options if that is not going to happen. The options are discussed using medically-based, scientifically accurate information. It also teaches decision-making and allows students to think about what is important to THEM. It teaches that sex is a natural, normal part of being a human. Or dog. Or cat. Whatever. We were designed to have sex, so how can that be a bad thing?
A little history:
When I went back to school to study health education at the ripe old age of 45, I was appalled when I learned that the federal government would only fund sexuality health programs in the schools IF an abstinence-only curriculum was taught. In other words, if a school wanted any kind of funding for their programs, they MUST adhere to certain abstinence -only requirements. Well, I’ve never met a school who didn’t need federal funding. So began our love-hate relationship with sex ed in the schools. Some people love it. Some hate it. Some have no idea what is going on. I admit. I didn’t know what my kids were taught. I’d ask them, they’d give me some vague answer, and we’d all move on. Heck, they were getting an A. What more did I need to know, right? Plus, I was never afraid to share my opinion on teenage sex with them. (Like they listened…)
It’s funny. In the state which I live, some communities still teach abstinence-only to their students, and in the city, they are teaching a comprehensive program. So it’s all over the place. How about a little continuity in knowledge between our adolescents, please? I think we can agree that we would not want only some of our children to be taught long-division and others to skip it, right? Same with this subject. Why should only some schools teach about birth control methods and others not? Makes absolutely no sense to me.
In the past few years, states finally realized that the increase in STI rates, a high number of unintended pregnancies, and the fact that adolescents were STILL having (gulp) sex despite being told sex is a very, very, very bad thing, was possibly being hurt by this type of curriculum.
A couple problems with teaching this is that young people, after being taught that condoms are pretty much ineffective, figure “why bother?” They also do not know the appropriate resources to get help and protection, they don’t know how to properly use protective measures, and they are shamed into not using protection. Guess what happens when condoms aren’t used at all? Or young women and men feel they aren’t able to go to their healthcare provider for proper care?
Yup. It’s not just my opinion that abstinence-only education is a bad idea. Study after study has concluded the same thing.
The CDC has suggestions on how to help prevent pregnancy and STI’s.
Preventing Teen Pregnancy
Teen pregnancy prevention is of paramount importance to the health and quality of life of young people and communities throughout the United States. It is also one of CDC’s six public health priorities. CDC’s efforts in this critical area include promoting evidence-based programs designed to help teenagers develop “protective factors” to avoid teen pregnancy and childbirth. Examples of protective factors include
- Knowledge of sexual health, HIV infection, other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), and pregnancy (including methods of prevention).
- Perception of HIV risk.
- Personal values about sex and abstinence.
- Attitudes toward condom use.
- Perception of peer norms and behavior about sex.
- Individual ability to refuse sex and to use condoms.
- Intent to abstain from sex or limit the number of partners.
- Communication with parents or other adults about sex, condoms, and contraception.
- Individual ability to avoid risk and risk behaviors associated with HIV and other STDs.
- Avoidance of places and situations that might lead to sex.
- Intent to use a condom.
Let’s teach young people about pregnancy and STIs and how to prevent them. Let’s show them how to use a condom. So they can use it right. So it is more effective. So they don’t get an STI or pregnant. Of course, sexual health is much more involved than this handful of ideas, but for the sake of space and time, I think it’s a pretty good start.
So back to our first question. What DO countries with low pregnancy and STI rates do to keep those numbers down? You guessed it. They start educating at an earlier age, teach comprehensively, make birth control easily accessible, and they don’t judge their youth for using it. You can go to this Planned Parenthood Fact Sheet for more information if you’d like. But among sexual health educators, this is just common knowledge.
Read more about it:
Fact Sheet about Teen Pregnancy:
Different Sexuality Health Programs:
Reports about the ineffectiveness of abstinence-only education: