There is no doubt that the U.S. needs better sex education for its youth; the statistics prove it. “Each year, U.S. teens experience as many as 850,000 pregnancies, and youth under age 25 experience about 9.1 million sexually transmitted infections (STIs). By age 18, 70 percent of U.S. females and 62 percent of U.S. males have initiated vaginal sex” (Advocates for Youth, 1). The Brook Advisory Service found in their research that “more than half of young people believed Chlamydia only affected women; a similar proportion didn’t realize emergency contraception could be used up to 72 hours after sex. Almost a third believed you could catch a sexually transmitted infection from a lavatory seat. [This] study also revealed that only a third of sexually active young people use condoms consistently” (www.guardian.co.uk).
The debate over what type of sex education will best reduce these sexually related risks has largely been focused on what the schools should do: to teach abstinence only or to teach comprehensive sex education, when to begin teaching sex education, how much depth to go into, etc… However, a fundamental and primary educator in a child’s life is ignored in the sex education debate: a parent or caregiver. Parents and caregivers have relinquished much of their responsibility over their children’s education to the schools. “When young people are polled about where they want to get information from, the most popular choice is their parents. Parents who leave sex education to schools are leaving a lot to chance” (business.timesonline.co.uk). I propose that sex education is placed back in the hands of parents!
The ultimate goal of education (presumably sex education) could be defined as acquiring knowledge and skills to make rational decisions regarding sex. It seems logical right of the bat, then, that abstinence only education is out the door. Abstinence only education neglects to provide a student with information about contraception or condom use, information on abortion, etc… (Collins, 1). The student, therefore, cannot make an informed and enlightened decision about sex. Comprehensive sex education does provide this information to a student and it begins to help students make decisions based on what they have learned. So while comprehensive sex education is a good start; it is by no means the end.
Take for a minute this example: a student learns the basics of sex in their sex education class: biology of the sex organs, that there exist these things called the pill and a condom, the current STI rate, that sex causes pregnancy (or maybe it’s that pesky fertilized ovum!), etc… They come home after school, grab a snack and sit down to watch MTV with their January 2010 edition of Cosmo while simultaneously searching the internet for the unanswered questions about sex they have. These students have no continuation of their sex education at home. They have some of the basic knowledge about sex, but no support in talking about and making decisions regarding sex. I’m pretty sure they continue their math and history education at home with their parents… why not their sex education? We accept that our children will learn algebra, but we have not yet accepted that they will be having sex.
Society has made sex taboo; and we need to overcome this taboo. It won’t be easy; but we need to start someplace. Parents need to sit down with their children and have an uncomfortable and awkward conversation about sex! A survey done by BBC News: Health revealed “just 9% of parents believed schools should be the main source of advice about sex and relationships [and] that while 90% of parents believed sex education was best done by them, many are embarrassed and uncomfortable to tell their children the facts of life” (BBC news).
The main consideration with at home sex education is that parents are going to educate their children about sex according to their bias (religious and moral beliefs). This bias may not be a problem; as long as students still get a basic sex education in their school and know what is available to them. For example; a child’s parents may believe strongly in abstaining from sex until the child is married and may try to educate their child according to these beliefs. The child will then have both the knowledge of abstaining as well as contraception available to make their own decision. What is crucial between a parent and child is the open dialogue that will result from this education. Not only is the parent helping their child to acquire knowledge at home, they are becoming a resource for their child if they ever needed help (getting birth control, an abortion, etc…).
Another consideration is the education and training of parents in sex education. Many parents may not have had a solid sex education or open dialogue with their parents and are unsure of their ability to answer the questions their child has accurately. However, there are so many resources available to parents to help with this: helpful tips on talking to your child about sex, reliable medical and sexual health websites with accurate information on sex, groups, forums, etc… Really, all parents need now is Google and maybe a library!
“There is evidence that positive parent-child communication about sexual matters can lead to greater condom use among young men and a lower rate of teenage conception among young women” (www.avert.org). This may be because “the sex education offered in many school today deals mostly with reproductive biology and sexual health,” perhaps in an attempt to avoid having to discuss abstinence or not. “Parents need to supplement this by talking to their teens about morality and sexual ethics,” about relationship, intimacy, the nitty gritty details, etc… (www.parenthood.com).
I think that Colin Wilson, a father of two middle-schoolers puts it well, “both parents and teachers can play a part. It’s good for kids to learn sex education from others as well as from their parents. And some children may take advice from their school more easily than from mom and dad. Some parents may feel more comfortable having someone else raise these issues with their children” (www.parenthood.com).
It is essential that these youth get the knowledge and support that they need. Parents can and should provide this education for their children. They are a primary source for information and support in a child’s life. Sex education should start early (before adolescence) and continue through the teenage years. Parents are a constant source of education in these children’s lives. It seems right (and simple enough) that they should be their children’s primary sex educator!
Chris Collins, Priya Alagiri, Todd Summers, “Abstinence Only vs. Comprehensive Sex Education”
Advocates for Youth, “Effective Sex Education”