The School’s Role in Sex Education and Preventing Teenage Pregnancy
By Matthew Lynch
For how progressive Americans claim to be, conflicting messages about sex abound. Young people hear messages about abstinence until marriage alongside the messages about the importance of using protection during sexual intercourse. Ashamed to ask legitimate questions, youth often turn to their peers for information about sex instead of to their parents and other trusted adults. At the same time, they are bombarded with sexual images from the media. With all these conflicting aspects of sex, is it any wonder the youth of today are confused?
As of today, the federal government will only fund programs that teach abstinence until marriage and one third of all American schools teach this type of sex education program. Many schools do teach comprehensive sex education, which promotes abstinence until marriage, but also address issues of protection against pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Recently, President Obama proposed ending funding for abstinence-only programs and instead funding comprehensive sex education programs, but he has not made much progress in that regard, as social conservatives seem to continue to reign when it comes to the topic.
It’s not difficult to see why the programs need to be changed, though. The rates of teen pregnancy and STDs are higher in the United States than in any other developed country and it is only getting worse. Sexual activity among teens occurs at high rates, which suggests abstinence-only programs are not working. In fact, these programs are woefully out of date, inaccurate and severely biased. Sexual activity, pregnancy rates, and rates of STDs either stay the same or increase after teens have taken these abstinence-only programs.
The number of babies born to teens has decreased in recent years, but the actual rate of teenage sexual activity has increased. Teens are demanding information beyond that offered through abstinence-only programs. Many states are willing to forego federal funding, in order to offer comprehensive sex education programs that include up-to-date and non-judgmental information.
One of the newest approaches, and one that is expected to be more successful, is the Baby Think it Over program. In this program, students are given the responsibility of caring for a “baby” for an extended period of time. This is a newborn infant and the computer program that goes with it makes it “cry” at regular intervals. The computer will alert the instructor if the baby has been mistreated or neglected. This is a good program to teach students what it is like to have the responsibilities of a parent.
Other approaches include building a support system for pregnant teens and bringing the family onboard. In this way, the negative reactions to teen pregnancy are replaced with the kind of attention that ensures the teen mother and the baby are well cared for, and that pre-natal and post-natal education and care are available. During both the pregnancy and the birth of the child, teen mothers are able to live stress-free environments with the love and support of their family. This level of support increases the possibility that the teen mother will finish high school and find the means to support herself and her baby.
By taking a “see no evil” approach to sex education, we are providing a severe disservice to our youth. More informed teens will make more informed decisions, and they deserve the chance for that.
How do you think sexual education in the U.S. can be modified to better fit today’s society?