Remember taking the awkward sex education courses in elementary and middle school? In my experience, the two-day class in elementary school was one in which boys and girls were separated into two different rooms by gender, and each class was taught by a few teachers of that same gender.
First, we were shown an extremely dated 80’s VHS that began with a maternal-sounding woman with a fluffy, crimped hairdo saying something like, “Some exciting changes are about to happen in your body, and your interests might change too. You may begin to look at boys differently.”
While elementary school was more about the ‘exciting changes’ in our bodies, middle school sexual education was increasingly dreadful. Middle school taught me that sex was a big, scary monster. It taught me that I should avoid sex at all costs, because sex meant STDs, babies and severe emotional distress if I wasn’t ‘ready.’ Whether that’s exactly what the intention of sex education was at the time, that’s definitely how it affected me and my peers.
I was never told that sex was good for your health, for a relationship or that it could even feel good. While reflecting upon my own sex education experience, I couldn’t help but think that I hoped current elementary and middle school age children weren’t as led astray as me. So, I set out to find out for myself what sex education in primary school is like today.
By contacting a few public schools in the Eugene area, I came to find that Planned Parenthood is invited to the majority of Eugene schools to present courses on sexual health. However, this isn’t exactly common for the rest of the United States.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, only 22 states in the U.S. even require that sex education be taught in public schools. So, Oregon is seen as a leader among the U.S. for having this type of education mandated.
I sat down with Joanne Alba, Planned Parenthood’s education projects coordinator and training specialist, to talk about their approach to sex education. “We really believe that if we give students the support and the accurate information, young people can make responsible decisions about sex,” said Alba.
While their sessions in middle school certainly discuss risks of sexual activity like STIs and pregnancy, Alba wants to make it clear to young students that when and whether or not to have sex, “It is a very personal decision that people make at different times in their lives for different reasons.”
Though I completely support Planned Parenthood’s program of sex education, I would still like to see more of a balance between the positive and negative views of sexual activity. However, all programs in public schools must adhere to the Oregon State Health Education standards and benchmarks.
The state education requirements overall seem a bit one-sided, harping on the dangers of infection and pregnancy and emphasizing abstinence heavily in comparison to other contraceptives.
It’s disappointing that sexual education leaves out so many details about the actual act of sex, and neglects to tell young people why most people have sex in the first place. Hint, hint, it’s not always for the purpose of reproduction. So, why is it that sex education continues to present sex to children as, “when two people are in love and are ready to have a baby”? It’s unrealistic and outdated in today’s society.
The good news is that it is now widely accepted in the U.S. that abstinence-only education is not affective in preventing problems related to sex in teens. Therefore, several states are banning this method of education in public schools, offering more information about alternative forms of protection. More states are also beginning to mandate sex education as a priority in public school curriculum.
Rather than drilling abstinence into students’ minds as the only option, schools need comprehensive sex education information and classes that lay out all of the options available and entrusts students to make their own responsible decisions about sex.