Comprehensive Sex Ed: Teaching the Teachers

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Comprehensive Sex Ed: Teaching the Teachers

Max Kamin-Cross

An interview with my sex ed teacher indicates that some educators themselves remain afraid of sex ed. We need to educate these teachers; if we don't, fear of sex-ed will persist and students will continue to get incomplete information.

On September 15th, the CDC released a new report on the share of teens in the United States that were taught about birth control.  This report shows that one-third of teens were never taught about birth control in their health classes.  This is crazy; some schools are still not teaching about birth control, though the public overwhelmingly agrees that it needs to be taught.  One poll even showed that 85 percent of parents believe that teens need to be taught about birth control.  The other two-third of teens, which are taught about birth control, may not know enough about how to use it.  Birth control methods seem to be the most taboo topic in the sex-ed world.

To try and figure out why this is, and learn more about teachers opinions on sex-ed, I sat down with my old health teacher, just hours after this study was released.  After our conversation I began thinking, and I realized it’s not that educators are against birth control, it’s that they’re afraid of it. 

I attended Mr. Hanson’s (not his real name) class every day first period for twenty weeks last year.  Mr. Hanson describes the curriculum he teaches as “fairly comprehensive,” though from my own personal experience I know the main focus is on abstinence.  When I asked him about this, Hanson explains that he tries to “inform students that sex can be great, at the right time, with the right person” and that he can’t decide when the right time is for his students to have sex.  He also tries to instill in his student’s minds that “if sex is to occur, a condom must be worn.”  As a result, he does talk about birth control, though usually in the context that the Pill does not prevent sexually transmitted infections or disease.   Even so, his students are already part of that two-third that learned about birth control.  Just because students know what birth control is–that it exists–doesn’t mean that they know how to properly use it or how to get it.  Many girls won’t talk to a parent about getting birth control because they think that their parents will be displeased that they are having sex.  Students are sometimes afraid to buy condoms because of fear someone may see them, among other concerns.  Though these are not reasons why someone should ever have unprotected sex, these taboos are a reality in today’s society.  Hanson believes that may not be a bad thing.  He says that students that do have sex need to be responsible, and if they are unable or unwilling to secure birth control for themselves or their partner, they may not be ready to have sex.  If only that was the situation, life would be simpler.  Sadly many teens don’t see it that way.  Teens are still having unprotected sex, even with knowledge of birth control options.  And what does that mean for that one-third of teens that aren’t educated about birth control…?

So why are there still programs that don’t teach about birth control?  Why are there also programs that teach what birth control is, but not how to use it?  The United States has the highest rate of teenage mothers in the entire developed world, and parents overwhelmingly support their kids learning about birth control, yet it’s still not taught.  As I said before, educators seem to be afraid of teaching about birth control.  This fear is why teachers and school administrators won’t stand up and take the first step to move to a comprehensive sex-ed program in their school district; they don’t want to get blamed for increasing the pregnancy or STI rate.  People are afraid that telling teen about safe sex and birth control, will lead teens to have sex earlier.  In reality it’s the exact opposite.  In fact sex-ed programs, which include information on birth control, are proven to delay teen sex, decrease the number of sexual partners teens have, decrease pregnancy rates, and increase birth control usage. 

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For many years politicians have thrown around the word “education” as the answer to lowering teen pregnancy and infection rates.  We need to educate high school students on the issue they say, but instead maybe we need to educate these teachers that still aren’t teaching information about birth control in their classrooms.  If we continue just educating the students, and not the teachers, the fear of teaching sex-ed will continue to exist.  Until we can overcome that fear the United States’ pregnancy and STD/STI rate will continue to be one of the highest in the developed world, and one in three teens will still not be taught about birth control.