Students deserve adequate and comprehensive sex education

Drue Cappawana, Opinion Editor

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The topic of sex education has been a contentious issue in the United States for the better part of the past five decades. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), the rise of teen pregnancy in the 1960s and the AIDS epidemic starting in 1981 has been the main catalysts for the sex education debate. In response to these two catalysts, from 1988-1995 individual states began to implement safe-sex education, providing quality education to teenagers regarding birth control methods and sexually transmitted diseases/infections. However, as part of the welfare reform in the late 1990s, the United States’ federal government turned to abstinence-only-until-marriage sexual education, also known as AOUM. The government allocated funding to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) for AOUM education. Forty-nine out of the fifty states accepted funding from the federal government to give to programs geared towards AOUM. Furthermore, this year, in the fiscal year (FY) 2019, President Donald Trump’s proposed budget includes $150 million given to the Department of Health and Human Services (see page 104) to fund “Personal Responsibility Education Programs” and “Abstinence Education,” after President Obama’s HHS Department received no funding for those programs in FYs 2017 and 2018. However, while the federal government now favours AOUM education, the issue over which type of sex education students will receive is still a decision left to the individual states, and in some states, including Pennsylvania, the individual school districts.

In Pennsylvania, there is no law mandating that students are taught any form of sex education, as is the case with 25 other states (a bill which would have required the teaching of AOUM sex education failed in 2016 without a floor vote). Additionally, Pennsylvania is one of thirty states which do not require HIV/AIDS prevention education to be medically accurate (the aforementioned Senate Bill 1338 would have required HIV/AIDS prevention education to be medically accurate).

It is ridiculous that in 2019, American students are robbed of the ability to adequately learn about sex. They are forced by our government to turn to Internet resources and parents to receive their sex education – if they choose to pursue it at all. The lack of sex education in the United States puts our students in danger of having unsafe sex and spreading STIs, without the knowledge of how to prevent or treat those STIs. This lack of sex education leads to higher teen pregnancy rates, and therefore higher rates of abortion among teenagers, in the states which do not require sex education. On top of that, there is no evidence to suggest that sex education promotes promiscuity in students. The average age students have sex in the United States is 17. That is lower than many other industrialised nations. We should all want to lower STI rates in teenagers, reduce teen pregnancy, and allow students who are interested in exploring their sexuality to do so with an educated mind and with the ability to do so safely. That’s what this debate is purely about: safety. We need to revert back to the sex education of the 1980s where students learned comprehensive sex education. The Department of Health and Human Services should not give out funding to AOUM programs in schools, and instead, they should put that funding towards comprehensive and inclusive safe sex education programs.

This is only the tip of the iceberg with this issue. Read more here.