Sex Education in American schools. Is it to educate or to oppress?

Originally posted on Desire.Guru

 

Sex education in America can be linked to the origin of many personal and social problems. People cannot make informed decisions about their sexual health when they are taught biased and incomplete information at the developmental stage of childhood. Current sex education is the foundation on which young Americans develop their understanding of life and human interactions. Without clarity, people will encounter incredible conflict in personal and social wellbeing.

I stress the argument that America needs to reevaluate their sex education programs in schools and adopt a nationally mandated policy on comprehensive sex education.

Currently, the Federal Government funds over $168 million per year to states for an abstinence-only program taught in school. Abstinence-only programs are designed to promote the belief that sexual behavior is only morally appropriate in marriage. It creates fear in children that premarital sexual behavior is socially unacceptable and will lead to harmful consequences.

Abstinence-only programs do not prevent adolescent sexual behavior; instead, they deny students access to accurate information. Further, statistics show no evidence that these programs are in any way beneficial.

Here are some facts on sexual health education requirements: “[…] 37 states require that information on abstinence be provided and only 18 states require that information on contraception be provided. 26 states and the District of Columbia require the provision of information about skills for healthy sexuality (including avoiding coerced sex), healthy decision making and family communication. 20 states and the District of Columbia require that sex education include information about skills for avoiding coerced sex. 11 states require that sex education include instruction on how to talk to family members, especially parents, about sex.” (Guttmacher Institute. Sex and HIV Education. 2015. http://www.guttmacher.org)

The inconsistency of education on a national level is certainly startling, but even statewide the specific content is unregulated. Schools create content to meet federal requirements as well as any state requirements. However, the specific content is created locally. This leads to local organizations implementing any agendas they might have into the school system, resulting in unregulated enforcement of subjective beliefs. Below are two examples of the education taught to children under these codes:

“abstinence from sexual intercourse is the only completely effective protection against unwanted pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), and acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) when transmitted sexually; and the harmful consequences to the child, the child’s parents and society that bearing children out of wedlock is likely to produce, including the health, educational, financial, and other difficulties the child and his or her parents are likely to face, as well as the inappropriateness of the social and economic burden placed on others”  (SIECUS State Profiles Fiscal Year 2011. http://www.siecus.org).

This curriculum relies on messages of fear and shame, and includes biased information. For example, students are asked to brainstorm the “emotional consequences” of premarital sex. Suggested answers include “guilt, feeling scared, ruined relationships, broken emotional bonds.” [Bruce Cook, Choosing the Best. Marietta, GA: Choosing the Best, Inc., 2001-2007].

Abstinence-only programs do not address basic biological realities, nor do they consider the cultural and intellectual diversity of Americans. Sex is a biological function, a basic human right, and an inevitability. However, the American school system does not teach this reality and the intense pressure from conservative groups keep children uneducated about it.

The other option would be to teach children about the realities of biology and society in a comprehensive program with the goal to create critically thinking adults who can make educated decisions themselves. People deserve the right over their own body and an imposed abstinence-only program prevents the dissemination of accurate information. An abstinence-only curriculum is insufficient and leaves young adults unprepared for the realities they encounter on a daily basis. Scaring and shaming children strips away their ability to make educated sexual health decisions now and in adulthood.

Abstinence-only programs prevent healthy sexual identities. Research conducted in 2007 shows that they do not reduce the high rates of teen pregnancy, high rates of STDs, nor the American teen’s tendency toward a the high number of sexual partners. (Christopher Trenholm, et. al., “Impacts of Four Title V, Section 510 Abstinence Education Programs: Final Report,” [Trenton, NJ: Mathematica Policy Research, Inc., April 2007], accessed 6 September 2007, <www.mathematica-mpr.com/publications/pdfs/impactabstinence.pdf>).

In fact, the irony of this program is that in the states that stress abstinence-only they also rank the highest among teen pregnancy (U.S. Teenage Pregnancies, Births, and Abortions: National and State Trends and Trends by Race and Ethnicity, (Washington, DC: Guttmacher Institute, January 2010), accessed 5 March 2010, <http://www.guttmacher.org/pubs/USTPtrends.pdf&gt;, Table 3.1).

The lack of education children receive can also lead to sexual repression throughout life. Children reach puberty and a rush of hormones lead them to be interested in exactly what the school system has taught them to be harmful, shameful, and most of all, wrong. Kids faced with such dilemmas and no one to talk to are set up for failure down the road. Without clear understanding of what is happening to their bodies and with fear of persecution from society, children will most likely make poor choices.

Rarely do children learn how to communicate about sex. There is no open dialogue with parents or teachers. Further, young adults have not received any education on how to discuss sex with potential partners. In fact, respect and sexual health are rarely addressed in educational institutions or at home. This combination of factors has the potential to lead to aggressive attitudes, prejudices and shaming when it comes to sexual behavior.

The current sexual education program instills sex shaming, especially towards the female sex. Sex shaming refers to the belief that thinking of ourselves as sexual beings is wrong and something we should be ashamed of. Young girls are especially affected by sex shaming. Girls who wait till marriage are put on pedestals and those who do not are a disgrace. Drug addiction, alcoholism, poverty and unemployment, addiction to sex, and solitude are the horror stories that abstinence-only programs teach children [Meaning the programs teach children that those are the consequences of having sex?]. Even though none of these supposed consequences have anything to do with sex, the program somehow links them together to instill fear into students.

Without proper education, this mentality continues throughout childhood and into early adulthood. Women feel ashamed of any desires they possess, while men are constantly scorned for their desires. It is no wonder that men and women both suffer from so much depression and anxiety since they are shamed their entire lives for a basic biological function.

In addition, these programs lead to maladaptive behavior that carries over into adult life and not only affects the individual but can potentially cause harm to others. Sigmund Freud understood that sexual repression leads to anxiety: internal anxiety (neurotic), moral anxiety, and realistic anxiety. These anxieties lead to defense mechanisms to protect the self from such anxieties. But, if the source of the anxiety (sex and/or aggression) isn’t cared for, these defense mechanisms can lead to mental illnesses (neuroses).

Children who have grown up with sexual repression become adults who struggle for sexual identity. The simple act of communicating with another person about sex becomes nearly impossible. Unfortunately, this can result in a sexually dysfunctional life, confusion, and for some, aggressive or harmful outbursts towards others. If people are not taught about consent, respect, and autonomy in the face of their own biological urges, they cannot make acceptable and healthy decisions.[Make statements, don’t ask (rhetorical) questions, when constructing an argument.]

Young adults learn about sex through unrealistic depictions in media and marketing. Both show sex in exaggerated terms and set unrealistic expectations for adolescent boys and girls, especially as they now have to build on the misconstrued idea about sex they were given in school. A childhood of sexual repression and shame now becomes life over-sexualized.

We live in a culture of fantasy, where idealism is taught in schools and the polar opposite is pumped into us by big companies leeching onto our sexual anxiety and repression.

The media becomes society’s new teacher but with very different ideals. From this, people begin to form their understanding of the reality in very unrealistic ways.

America can take insight from countries leading in sexual health ratings to create a realistic sexual health program for schools. The problem in America is that curriculum is eventually set by a local system whereas, in other countries, sex education is nationally mandated. Many countries like the Netherlands, Sweden, Australia, France, and Germany provide comprehensive education in their schools and implement public programs to promote sexual health so all can make informed realistic decisions.

For example, the Dutch ‘Long Live Love’ comprehensive sex education program teaches topics like physical and emotional sexual development, safe sex, communication techniques, personal values, asking for help, boundaries, and decision making. It also teaches about masturbation, homosexuality, and sexual pleasure as natural experiences of sexuality. Statistics report the Netherlands as having one of the lowest teenage pregnancy rates in the world (The World’s Women reports. 2005. http://unstats.un.org).

In conclusion, America needs to reevaluate their sex education programs in schools since most states teach variations of a government funded abstinence-only program. Abstinence-only programs do not address basic biological realities, nor do they consider the cultural and intellectual diversity of Americans. Instead, this type of education leads sexual repression, sex shaming and maladaptive behavior. In turn, people learn about sex through the unrealistic depictions of media and marketing. America can take insight from countries leading in sexual health ratings to create a realistic sexual health program for schools.

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