sex ed illustration

(Maisie Plew/Emerald)

The majority of sex education programs in America are not doing the one thing they’re meant to do — educate kids about sex. Parents, school districts and state law enforcers all share part of the blame for this.

London recently expanded their sex education to include important topics such as same-sex relationships, transgender people, pornography and sexting. While this raised a lot of concern among parents, these kids will be well-informed when it comes time for their own sexual experiences and understanding modern society as a whole.

Unfortunately, American sex ed programs are nowhere near this progressive. Twenty-eight U.S. states do not even require sex ed to be taught, and only 13 states require the information to be medically accurate.

Like any other part of the public school curriculum, sex education needs constant revision as trends change and sexual norms drift from how they once were.

Before texting was invented, the term sexting did not exist. That was the past. Nowadays, 54 percent of teens have admitted to receiving or sending an explicit photo over messaging. Chances are their school sex ed program did not cover the issue of sexting or the dangers that can ensue if things go wrong.

If a school refuses to incorporate a unit about homosexuality into its sex ed curriculum, its status as an academic institution should be seriously reconsidered. A recent study found that around nine million Americans, a number slightly higher than the entire population of New Jersey, identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender.

Sex ed is usually taken in middle or high school, which is the age most teenagers discover their sexuality. How are queer teens supposed to safely navigate their first sexual experience if their schools refuse to inform them about it? Not acknowledging certain sexualities in a class about sex socially invalidates the groups that are not being represented.

Clearly not enough information is being provided to gay teenagers about their sexuality. But many American public schools are not providing helpful information to students of any sexual orientation, as “abstinence education” seems like the easiest, and least controversial, way to teach a class.

Thirty percent of public middle and high schools where sex ed is taught report that they teach abstinence-only curriculums. Believe it or not, wagging a finger in teenagers’ faces and telling them not to have sex will not, in fact, prevent it from happening. The only thing it prevents is the act from happening safely.

States that use abstinence-only programs in schools have the highest rates of teen pregnancies. The use of this curriculum is also in direct correlation with higher rates of sexually transmitted diseases and infections. Clearly this old-school way of informing kids about the birds and the bees is not being taken seriously.

Luckily there are students here in Eugene who are trying to tackle this issue. The Young Democrats of Lane County launched an online petition a couple of weeks ago to get rid of abstinence only education in middle and high schools around Lane County. In a matter of hours, hundreds of students and community leaders had signed the petition, or at least had seen it in their news feeds and email inboxes.

The petition is advocating for abstinence plus education, meaning that abstinence should be stressed in sex education, but not to the exclusion of other contraceptive measures. On Wednesday, March 20, the students will be presenting their petition to the 4J school board.

The U.S. could learn a thing or two from London on this one. Every young adult should have the opportunity to learn about themselves and their peers in a structured and healthy environment. The Internet is not an ideal classroom for sex ed, and yet it is where the majority of kids get their information from.

Instead of letting teenagers make mistakes that are costly to their health and emotional stability, public schools need to take it upon themselves to ensure that every student feels comfortable in their sexuality and familiarity with contraception methods.

Stop treating natural processes as taboo subjects.

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