I just read yet another article about how teenagers feel they need more comprehensive sex education to help them filter through the vast amount of sexual content in their lives. From music, TV and movies, to scuttlebutt around school, and even the news, sex is everywhere. Teens are bombarded with myriad messages about sex and sexuality, and they need to be adequately informed about ways to handle sexual pressure and, should they decide to become sexually active, about ways to protect themselves against pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections. And they say they need more information provided to them through in-school sex education to help them do this (see another article on this).
Likewise, the majority of parents support comprehensive sex education. In several studies conducted in various locations (nationally and on the state and local level) parents have repeatedly shown strong support for comprehensive sex education in schools. So why, when both teens and parents of teens want this education to occur, is this such a controversial issue?
According to recent surveys, anywhere from 40% to 60% of teens (depending on the geographic location and the study cited) have had sex by the time they’re seniors in high school. The argument that sex education corrupts teens is not only naive (do people really think that by eliminating medically accurate information they’re going to keep kids from hearing about sex?), it’s downright harmful to deny information that can protect teens who are having sex, and other teens who may decide to have sex at some point in their future. Some people argue that those teens who have not yet had sex would be encouraged to do so if they were taught comprehensive sex education—that being informed would insinuate that teachers and other adults think it’s okay for young people to have sex. Yet research has shown us that the exact opposite is true–teens who receive comprehensive sex education in an open, respectful environment are less likely to initiate sex, and if they’re already having sex they’re more likely to use protection such as condoms and/or contraception.
Clearly this issue has become bogged down in political ideology, and a small but vocal minority has hijacked the conversation. It doesn’t make sense that there should be such volatile debate over an issue when the major stakeholders—teens and parents—are in agreement over sex education and the research backs up their positions on the matter. We need a large dose of common sense to be administered to the politicians and pundits who are so vociferously fighting against keeping kids healthy and informed. Let’s start holding these people accountable to their constituents, rather than letting them play politics with the lives of our children.