The following article is a transcript of a speech presented by Anneke Fleming on multiple occasions. “Better Sex Ed” was written for OIHS Forensics, the school’s debate club.
“In the world’s rich nations, more than three quarters of a million teenagers will become mothers in the next twelve months,” according to a recent UNICEF study. Think about that. Closer to home, in Washington state there are 49 pregnancies for every 1,000 teen girls, as found by The National Campaign, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that collects data regarding sexual health in America. Our country views these statistics as improvement, yet our numbers are the highest in comparison with other developed countries. These statistics are not just numbers, they are people whose lives have been affected deeply by motherhood, and the psychological stress related to becoming a parent. Children should be wanted, with parents who are prepared and able to care for them, and teenage pregnancy also fundamentally affects the lives of the children of teen parents. Unlike some of the other major issues that American society faces, there is a proven solution to the issue of teen pregnancy, one that our country is failing its citizens by ignoring.
A comprehensive sexual education program should be mandatory in public schools, as such programs have been repeatedly shown to effectively address the issues of unhealthy sexuality (one that results in negative health effects such as STDs, STIs, and pregnancy), and to confront the public health issue of teen pregnancy.
Let me first establish that the lack of Sexual Education in America is both a major Public Health and a Societal Issue.
In 2010, the public spending, as a result of teen childbearing in Washington State, was $124 million according to the National Campaign.
But the cost of inadequate sexual education is in reality much higher. Having children at any age, but especially when these children are unplanned, and the parent/s are unprepared and unsupported, is extremely physically and emotionally tolling.
Single teen mothers tend to quickly become reliant on social welfare programs to live, and are normally unable to complete their educations and fulfill their potential. This is a large segment of the population failing to contribute society! Thus, the negative affect teen pregnancies have on Washington State is much greater than the already very large $124 million.
In addition, being a single mother is the number 1 indicator of poverty, according to a widely acclaimed study by Sara McLanahan. In 2013, 35% of families in the United States were led by single mothers.
Children raised in resultant poverty have been shown to be less successful in school and in their lives, committing more crimes than other groups. Overall, their condition has a major negative impact on the United States, which could be essentially solved with the implementation of Sex Ed programs in public schools.
So, comprehensive sexual education is needed as a way to address a major social welfare, monetary, and public health issue within our country.
But will Sex Ed actually help?
Yes! There is overwhelming evidence supporting this statement.
First, acknowledge that sex is a biological need for evolutionary reasons. Nearly all humans have sex within their lifetime, yet the subject of sex and sexuality is relatively taboo within American society.
Obviously, there is then also a demand for education about sex — an unavoidable part of the human experience. Because, as established, sex is a determining factor in our global success.
A study by Baldo and Aggleton concluded that “sex education either caused a delay in the onset of sexual activity or a reduction in overall sexual activity.” Sexually active youth in 10 studies also adopted safer sex practices after attending sex education, observe Baldo and Aggleton. So, contrary to popular belief, sex education does not promote sex, but instead empowers students to make informed choices concerning their sexuality.
“While the average age of first intercourse is approximately the same for each country, (17.3 years of age for females and 17 years of age for males) the analysis indicates that those countries with pragmatic and sex positive government policies (France, Australia and especially the Netherlands) have better sexual health‐related statistics than the one country with a primarily sexual abstinence‐based policy,” which is ourselves, the United States. “The findings suggest that abstinence‐based policies do not result in improved sexual health outcomes for young people… Furthermore, liberal policies do not necessarily ‘promote’ sexual activity and serve to better equip young people with skills that enable sexual health sustaining behaviors,” from a study by Heather Weaver, Gary Smith, and Susan Kippax.
That is what we want. Because Sex Education results in safer sex practices and lowered teen pregnancy rates, the programs also positively impact economic and public health issues within society.
It is a widely accepted truth that education suggests improvement, and this holds true especially in this instance.
As always, we look towards Finland, and the rest of Scandinavia, as a model of what we should have been doing this whole time.
According to UNICEF’s census, Finland has only 9 births per one thousand women aged between 15-19.
This is shown to be directly related to their proactive Sex Ed curriculum, which begins in kindergarten and continues through high school
The program includes a “discussion of abortion and masturbation in ninth grade,” and an “introductory sexual package,” including an information brochure and a condom at age fifteen, as recorded by Siri Agrell in an article.
In addition, teachers of the program are hired specifically for that purpose, and as a result are better acquainted and more comfortable with teaching the material, according to a UNESCO study.
Sound familiar? Actually, no.
Comprehensive Sex Education, resembling the programs found in Finland, are desperately needed by this country. So what is keeping us from following suit?!
Currently, Sex Education in America is biased towards the traditionally Christian emphasis on abstinence until marriage, although this method of teaching has been proven ineffective. Even if one plans to remain abstinent until marriage, they will still benefit from Sexual Education when they do become sexually active.
We need to recognize the Constitutional separation of church and state in this instance, and base our approach to Sex Education on scientific findings about human sexuality and the positive influence of sex ed.
For all the evidence supporting proactive and sex positive education in public schools, Sex Education is still not mandatory in Washington. It is the decision of the school board (who may not have an understanding of this issue) whether or not Sexual Education will be taught in that district. According to the Healthy Youth Act, it is specified that abstinence must be taught, if such a program is implemented, but there are few other requirements.
Contrary to the findings of Baldo and Aggleton that Sexual Health courses were “most effective when provided before youth became sexually active,” Washington has no requirements, whatsoever, about when sexual education should begin, if at all.
Let the statistics speak for me!
It is part of being human — we need sex and sex education.
You need it, I need it, and we need to fight for it! Fight for Sex Ed in your school district, the school district of your children, in your community in general!
Adolescents living in the United States have the right to accurate and complete information regarding sexual health. Currently, this right is not being recognized to the youth’s detriment, to my detriment, and to your detriment. Please. Demand this right.