The Issue Behind Sex Education in American Classrooms and its History
Sex education and its implementation in public schools has been a controversial topic for education supervisors to properly address. This is due to the polarization in varying viewpoints about what exactly these programs should be teaching teens in high school. In this paper, I will provide my UTA classmates with a history about the origins of sex education in public schools, as well as provide three of the most prominent positions that have been taken since sex education programs began to be carried out throughout American classrooms. It is essential for UTA students to understand the problem with teen pregnancy, given how Tarrant County has one of the highest teen birth rates and most of UTA students are commuters. Also, since UTA is a very large campus with one of the most diverse student populations, chances are students know of someone who become a parent at a young age, if they themselves did not, and saw how their goal of attending an institution of higher education was put on hold. This is why deciding the best type of sex education is essential for making sure students who want to become future Mavericks get the opportunity to do so without the hindrance of raising a child at the same time.
In the early 20th century, high frequencies of syphilis and gonorrhea infections among young adults prompted the incorporation of educational programs about sex to be taught in public schools. Originally these programs involved a local physicians giving lectures outlining the fundamentals of the reproductive system (FAQS, 2014). However, the 1920s created a new generation of more sexually liberal youths that prompted religious organizations to advocate that these programs begin teaching teens that sexual experimentation before marriage endangered [their] chances for a fulfilling wedded life (FAQS, 2014). The importance of abstinence began to develop within the sex education programs, until the 1960s where the rates of premarital sexual activity, pregnancy, and sexually transmitted diseases climbed steeply (FAQS, 2014). This lead to the creation of comprehensive sex education programs, which often mentioned contraceptives such as the birth control pill, by health organizations that brought along controversy from conservative and religious groups. However, the catalyst for sex education in public schools came during the AIDS crisis in the 80s that prompted many Americans to acknowledge the need for sex education and safe sex lectures geared towards teens as well as young adults. However, conservative groups also officially established abstinence-only programs during this period after realizing that some form of sex education was going to be inevitable (FAQS, 2014). Finally in 1996 the Welfare Reform Act was passed, which helped allocate millions of dollars towards funding abstinence-only programs that continue to receive money from the federal government.
Religious and conservative groups are the ones who are in strong favor of incorporating abstinence-only programs in schools. These programs stress the importance of abstaining from sex at a young age, and offer moralistic guidance, money management aides, and lectures about traditional family dynamics to teens in states who put a strong emphasis on moralistic upbringings. Also, there is rarely any mention of contraceptives, since many advocates believe they will lead to sexual activity among teens. Information about STDs and HIV are discussed in a manner that shows teens that early sexual activity can lead to risky behavior, in the hopes of making them realize that it is much better to wait until marriage to have sex. The teachings of abstinence-only programs are strongly supported by policy analyst Christine Kim who believes in the positive influences that these programs bring to teens, such as a better psychological well-being and higher educational attainment than those who are sexually active (Kim, 2010). Many who argue in favor of abstinence-only programs do so because they believe that sexual activity at an early age can lead to a higher likelihood of dangerous behaviors that can cause detrimental effects in the minds of teens. Others, such as senior research specialist Robert Rector, believe that abstinence-only programs will emphasize preparing young people for future-orientated goals by stress[ing] the social, psychological, and health benefits of abstinence (Rector, 2010).
Similarly, those who support abstinence-only plus programs, believe that abstinence is the best option for teens to avoid pregnancies and STD infections. The curriculum for these programs favor moral and conservative teachings about sex that abstinence-only plus programs believe in. However, these programs also discuss contraceptives, since they acknowledge that some teens are sexually activity and its better for them to know about safe sex practices. Since most Americans are moderate, those in favor of abstinence-only plus programs believe that incorporating elements from the other two programs will be the most effective method at teaching teens about sex. Behavioral HIV specialist Kristen Underhill, believes that abstinence-only programs do not cause harm (Underhill, 2007) to teens by teaching them about proper condom use, which abstinence-only programs believe will lead to sexual activity. Furthermore, Uphills view towards abstinence-only programs is that by not leaving teens out in the dark about contraceptives and sexuality while also maintaining a heavy emphasis towards abstinence, these programs will reduce short-term and long-term HIV risk behavior among youth[s] (Underhill, 2007). Also, these programs recognize the need to be a direct address towards teens, such as same-sex couples, who dont necessarily uphold the belief that sex until marriage is the best option for their lifestyle. This why Uphill, despite believing in the effectiveness of abstinence, also encourage[s] condom use and other safer-sex practices (Underhill, 2007).
Although abstinence-only and abstinence-only plus programs may sound the same, the reasons behind their implementations clearly distinguish them. Supporters of both programs believe that abstinence is a crucial component in paving the way for a moralistic and traditional lifestyle. However, supporters of abstinence-only programs disagree with the teaching of contraceptives and other information that might cause teens to become curious and want to try sex. On the other hand, supporters of abstinence-only plus programs disagree with that and believe that for some teens abstinence wont be a priority and teaching them about contraceptives is the best way to prevent STD transmissions and unwanted pregnancies.
Comprehensive sex education programs are greatly advocated by health organizations, such as Planned Parenthood. These programs teach teens about the importance of contraceptives in an active sex life, while going more in depth than abstinence-only plus programs about human sexuality and anatomy. Unlike abstinence-only and abstinence-only plus programs, comprehensive programs do not believe that teens will respond well to the idea of waiting until marriage to consummate. Those in support about comprehensive programs believe that extensive information about sexuality and the different types of birth control methods will lead to a lower teen birth rate. Supporters of comprehensive programs, like University of Atlanta professor Kathrin Stranger-Hall, believe that teen pregnancies and births remain positively correlated with the degree of abstinence education within the states (Hall, 2011). This is why people like Hall believe that the descriptive information taught in comprehensive programs will help decrease the teen pregnancy rate, especially in rural areas where strong sex education programs might not be available. Other supporters like education reform expert, Kirby Douglass believe that a strong reproductive health component and a clear message about avoiding teen pregnancy (Douglass, 2007) is the most effective form of sex education. The peer reviewed scientific information taught in comprehensive sex educations programs is why many health care workers believe that its effect on teens will be the best way for them to understand their biological body processes, so that they can make more informed decisions about their well-being in case they decide to engage in sexual activity.
The main reasons behind the application of all three sex education programs is to help deter the STD infection and pregnancy rates in America, since theyre one of the highest among developed countries. Supporters of both comprehensive and abstinence-only plus programs agree that incorporating information about contraceptives into their programs will help teens who may already be sexually active. However, supporters of comprehensive sex education dont agree that abstinence is an effective method of preventing sexual activity among teens like abstinence-only and abstinence-only plus programs do. Instead, supporters of comprehensive sex education believe using extensive peer reviewed information about sex as well as detailed explanations about birth control, which surpasses that of abstinence-only plus, is the more effective way of combating the risks associated with teen sex.
Sex education will continue to be an issue until it can be decided which programs will offer teens the best resources in order to make safe decisions regarding their health. Since the United States is full of diverse lands and people who inhabit it, making sure that the sex education programs incorporated into public schools will be relevant nearby residents is crucial. What may work in one part of the country might not be as effective in another, which again makes the decisions of school supervisors that much difficult.
FAQS. (2008).Sex Education. Retrieved from http://www.faqs.org/childhood/Re-So/Sex-Education.html
Kim, C., Rector, R. (2010, February).Evidence on the effectiveness of abstinence education: an update. Retrieved from http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2010/02/evidence-on-the-effectiveness-of-abstinence-education-an-update
Kirby, D. (2007). Abstinence, sex, and STD/HIV education programs for teens: their impact on sexual behavior, pregnancy, and sexually transmitted disease.Annual Review of Sex Research,18(1), 143-177.
Stanger-Hall, K. F., & Hall, D. W. (2011). Abstinence-only education and teen pregnancy rates: why we need comprehensive sex education in the U.S.Plos ONE,6(10), 1-11. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0024658
Underhill, K, Operario D, Montgomery P. (2007). Systematic review of abstinence-plus hiv prevention programs in high-income countries.Plos ONE,4(9): e275. Doi10.1371/journal.pmed.0040275
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