Adolescents have the right to learn about their own anatomy, health and hygiene. As of right now, the U.S. education system is failing them.
Sex education should be an absolutely mandatory and continuous program in every United States public school. Yet, only 24 states and the District of Columbia currently require sex education.
This effectively means that K-12 students in Louisiana receive no form of sex education other than spiels about abstinence. Meanwhile, same-age students in California are required to learn about healthy intercourse across the board, even to the extent of the dangers of AIDS and HIV.
The teen birth rate in Louisiana is 30.6 per 1000, which is 10.3 more than the national average and a staggering 13.6 more than California, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Not only are these teen mothers less probable to complete their education, but they also face risks of poverty.
Making the choice of abstinence from sex until marriage is a viable and personal decision when made by the individual it pertains to. However, American public schools solely giving students access to abstinence-only sex education is very dangerous.
While these programs rarely directly mention religion, obvious undertones always seem to seep through with the teachings, such as denouncing birth control contraceptives and even banning condom demonstrations. Not to mention, these strict no-sex lessons completely exclude information on sexuality preferences beyond the bounds of heterosexuality and life-long monogamy.
Abstinence-only education can also create a very trauma-inducing shame on young kids, especially those who fall victim to sexual assault. Harshly labeling pre-marital sex as wrong and immoral in children’s minds only further insights future slut-shaming and judgment, both inwards and outwards, specifically in young girls.
Without any reliable sex education system in place, we see children take advice from the only other places they’re exposed to intercourse: social media, movies, music and free online pornography. These sources set unrealistic expectations and form not only a warped perception of actual sex, but also consent.
Rape and sexual assault are not unfamiliar to many American college campuses. According to the Association of American Universities (AAU), 23.1% of female and 5.4% of male undergraduate students had experienced sexual assault through physical force. Sex education adds a chance to inform students about rape culture and prevention while defining the matter altogether.
Some parents argue against the graphicness at which sex education courses depict sex and sexually transmitted diseases, but isn’t this exactly what we need? Adolescents need to know that STDs are real, on-the-rise and most importantly, pretty disgusting.
STDs are at the highest they’ve ever been and are a major current public health concern. Peoples aged 15-24 account for nearly 50% of all new STDs, according dosomething.org.
Another common argument is that sex-ed “promotes” sex and that it isn’t the school’s place to teach on this matter. When in reality, teenagers are going to have sex anyway, so why don’t we let schools do what they’re supposed to do: educate and prepare the students for the real world. A child’s morality and decision-making, on the other hand, should be for the parents to create.
The issue of public sex education should not a matter of parental decisions or individual states. Every single child deserves an equal opportunity to learn the truth behind their own reproductive rights no matter which county line they live behind.
Gabrielle Martinez is an 18-year-old mass communication freshman from Gonzales, Louisiana.