The Collegian
Tuesday, March 28, 2023

American sex-ed policy should learn a lesson

Westhampton College '10

Recently, I was lucky enough to read author and educator Evelyn Lerman's book, "Safer Sex: The New Morality." The inside cover introduction goes like this:

"Picture yourself in a group of 1,000 teenage women in the United States. About 30 of these women will have an abortion and 51 will give birth before age 20. One-hundred-twenty-five will contract a sexually transmitted infection (STI) during her teen years."

If you're anything like me, you were disappointed, yet unsurprised, by those statistics. The teen pregnancy issue has been everywhere lately -- from nightly news shows to the presidential campaigns. It seems everyone has sat up and taken notice of this "epidemic" among America's youth.

I have always viewed the government's current sex education policy, the one that gives extra money to public schools practicing abstinence-only sex education, as a great disservice to American teens. Rather than providing teens with effective tools and protection, abstinence-only education denies an ever-increasing reality in our country: teens are having sex anyway!

Now I'm not one to immediately dismiss opposing opinions, and I've heard the argument that teaching comprehensive sex education (contraception and birth control) encourages teens to experiment and have sex earlier. According to Lerman, and most statistics, however, they don't need any encouragement. In the Netherlands and Germany, where comprehensive sex education is taught universally, the average ages a teen begins having sex are 17.7 and 17.4, respectively. Compare that to the United States, where abstinence-only education is encouraged and the average age for beginning sexual activity is 16.3. Needless to say, our abstinence-only policy isn't making teens wait.

Not only are they not waiting to have sex, teens in the United States aren't being cautious. Nine out of every 1,000 young women in France will give birth by age 20; 14 in Germany will do the same, as will four in the Netherlands. Compare those numbers to the 51 women under age 20 that will become parents in the United States. The abortion rate is also higher in the United States, at 30 per 1000. That number seems ridiculously high when compared to three in Germany and nine in France.

I'm sure some defenders of the abstinence-only persuasion will chalk this up as proof that teens shouldn't be having sex at all. Whether they should or shouldn't be, they are! So, I say this lack of safety is directly connected to the lack of information they are being given. Rather than providing teens with useful information on birth control and contraception, abstinence-only programs just tell teens that it's wrong to have sex before marriage and hope for the best.

Despite overwhelming statistics, lawmakers in the United States continue to support abstinence-only sex education programs. They should be following in the footsteps of countries such as France, Germany and the Netherlands, where comprehensive sex education is practiced, and clearly works. It is important to remember that reducing teen pregnancy, lowering abortion rates and delaying sexual activity are noble goals, but ones that cannot be achieved by dismissing the facts.

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