Turning the Table on Taboos

Time that we open up the sex ed conversation 

Bridget Neville, Staff Writer

From giggle-infested lessons in health class to the district filter policy blocking the word, sex is a taboo topic in our day to day lives. 

Americans pride themselves on their education system yet avoid an unavoidable part of life: sex education. Important, yet ignored. Dire, but disregarded.

Some people will argue that Abstinence Only Until Marriage (AOUM) programs encourage children to remain virgins, whereas sex-ed encourages teens to have sex. This argument can be easily countered with the reality of teen nature. 

When teenagers are constantly being told not to do something, many will interpret this as more of a reason to do it.  However, the inverse is also true.

A 2006 Advocates for Youth article stated that the sexual activity of high school youths declined significantly when comprehensive sex education was being taught but that there was no impact on the age of sexual initiation when AOUM was being taught.

Accurate and comprehensive sex education has also been proven successful in lowering teen pregnancy rates. In the same Advocates for Youth article, a study taken from 1991-2004 shows that teen pregnancy rates went from 62 to 41 per 1,000 teenage females.

 The data supporting comprehensive education expresses the message quite clearly; when being taught how to be safe, not only did teenagers start having sex later on in life, but the number of teen births was also lowered substantially. 

If  89% of Americans across party lines believe that better contraceptive and STD education is needed and all the benefits of sex-ed have been proven, why is America’s sex education system still lacking? 

The answer lies in state policies. The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation states that only 24 states and the District of Columbia require sex-ed and HIV education, and only 13 states require sex education to be medically accurate; Nebraska is not one of them. 

If Nebraska doesn’t require sex-ed and in fact stresses AOUM, this easily correlates to why the state ranks 22nd on the nationwide teen pregnancy ranking

On the contrary, the state of Massachusetts teaches comprehensive sex-ed., and they have the lowest amount of teen pregnancies in the United States, with only 8.50 births per 1,000 teens, as opposed to Nebraska’s 19.1. 

In addition to teenagers wanting to sway from what they have been taught, AOUM programs are also ineffective due to their teaching outdated gender and racial roles. 

A 2008 Harvard University article entitled “Sex, Lies, & Stereotypes: How Abstinence-Only Programs Harm Women and Girls” by lawyers Julie F. Kay and Ashley Jackson states that the lack of sex education and the persistence of  gender roles has proven to normalize male sexual aggression and lower the recognition signs of sexual abuse in a relationship. 

The harmful racial roles in AOUM programs are also apparent. African-American women are represented as sexually aggressive, more likely to seductively approach a man, and drug users. Inversely, this program shows white students as hard working to maintain their traditional values.

Despite society’s views on pushing abstinence only programs, encouraging sex education to be taught in schools clearly is much more effective. Instead of being passive and waiting for unexpected pregnancies to end, it is crucial to end abstinence-only schooling and turn the tables on what we have seen as taboo.