“Don’t have sex, because you will get pregnant and die.”
This scene from Mean Girls depicts a gym teacher skating awkwardly around the facts in a sex education class, and it will forever go down in history as an accurate (albeit hyperbolic) symbol of how ridiculous schools’ sex education can be.
Texas is an abstinence-only state when it comes to sex education. That means that when you were formally educated about sex in elementary or middle school, the educators were supposed to tell you that even though you can have sex before marriage, you probably shouldn’t. It certainly wasn’t extreme. You probably didn’t go home suddenly devout in your ideals about abstaining until your wedding day.
The abstinence-only nature isn’t supposed to be “preachy” or even obtrusive. It is just meant to imply ever-so-slightly that sex might be a bad thing, and it definitely is not a good thing.
Oh, and it also neglects to teach you anything practical you need to know when the day comes, whether it happens on your honeymoon or after your junior prom.
If you were a sexually active high school student, congratulations; join the other 42 to 43 percent of your peers, which is the approximate percentage of teens having sex, according to a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. However, if you grow up in an abstinence-only state, those who design sex education programs in Texas hope that in the back of your mind, you feel guilty or immoral for doing it.
Regardless of where the abstinence-only policies stem from, whether it’s a sense of moral superiority in Texas or because a fair portion of our state is in the Bible Belt, the fact of the matter is that students are given few options.
Each and every person in this state has individual reasons for making choices. We choose the clothes we like, the music we relate to, the food we enjoy and the hobbies we take part in. No single part of our education ever told us exactly what to do in those circumstances, and frankly, thank goodness for that. Otherwise, we all might feel societal pressure to wear cowboy boots, listen to country music, live on barbecue and compete in rodeos. That lifestyle may sound like absolute heaven to some, but to others, it is a real-life nightmare. I never could trade my indie music for George Strait, and I shouldn’t have to. We value freedom of choice, so why do we allow our government to dictate our sex education?
When it comes down to it, abstinence-only education doesn’t prevent sex. The University of Georgia analyzed data from 48 states and found in 2011 that there is overwhelming evidence against abstinence-only education effectively preventing unwanted pregnancies.
Texas ranks fifth in teen pregnancy rates and fourth in final birth rates in the United States as of 2010, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. That’s 48,456 births to moms less than 20 years of age just in our state. Judging by the number of teen moms Texas sees each year, it might be time to ask if those unwanted pregnancies could be prevented with a new approach. If we advocate factual education over moral education, we begin to truly value the health of Texans.
Looking at the issue logically, it doesn’t make much sense to teach only abstinence. After all, that essentially takes the “sex” out of “sex education.” Some of the most important lessons are completely missed, and kids will learn them only when (a) Mom and dad teach them, which is not always likely, or (b) They make a mistake and learn the lesson through first-hand experience. (This skips the rare option (c), where you learn about it on the bus from the kid who always sits in the back, but we all knew that guy, and we all know he wasn’t a very reliable source.)
For example: birth control can become ineffective if the woman is taking certain antibiotics. Condoms can wear out if they are left in a wallet. There are many types of birth control besides the pill, and not everyone can take the same birth control, because it affects everyone differently. Wearing a condom is effective against most STIs, including AIDs, but condoms do not protect from contact STIs such as genital warts and herpes. In just a few short sentences, chances are, you learned something you didn’t already know if your sex education is limited to what you learned in school.
After addressing so many flaws in Texas’ sex education, there has to be a viable solution available. In the short term, the Internet is your friend. Google has saved us all from asking a lot of really awkward questions, and when it comes to sex, using the Internet may be a quick fix to the broken knowledge many of us acquired in school.
Many credible websites exist to help educate teens and young adults about the risks of sex, but much more important, the websites present those risks accurately and help teens learn how to avoid them so they can make an educated choice about becoming sexually active or not. Seeking out information now, regardless of your sex ed experience in school, will help you make informed decisions from now on.
The long-term solution to Texas’ broken sex education programs will take bigger changes, and those changes will occur only when more citizens are calling for politicians to make them. Primarily, sex education needs to include more information on pregnancy prevention through birth control. It also needs to be completely factual about STIs and how to prevent them AND treat them. Finally, it needs to provide information about how to deal with unplanned pregnancies. The current abstinence-only approach assumes that girls won’t even reach that point, which leaves many teen moms uninformed and scared. An effective education program should leave no stone unturned.
In the end, even if you choose to wait until you’ve married your true love to have sex, the fact is that not everyone makes the same decision. The education system is not completely standardized, and people are allowed to make individual decisions based on what they learn in their lives. A state government that advocates only teaching one side of a subject in order to impose moral standards on its people is a government that is stripping its citizens of their individuality. To value ourselves, we must value sex education that tells the whole truth, not just the part that sounds nicer.
It’s time to get rid of the Mean Girls gym teachers who taught us wrong.