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Top 10 Reasons to Support Comprehensive Education in Schools

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Updated December 08, 2013

Research has shown time and time again that abstinence-only education doesn't work. Here are my top 10 reasons why you should support comprehensive sex education in schools.

1. Studies Say "Just Say No" Doesn't Change Opinions

The research has shown it time and time again: Abstinence-only education doesn't affect the rates at which teenagers decide to have sex. Given that the primary purpose of abstinence-only education is to do exactly that, it is clear that it doesn't work. Comprehensive sex education doesn't discourage kids from having sex either, but at least it does teach them how to do so more safely.

2. Just Teaching No Doesn't Help Those Who Will Say Yes

One of the biggest problems with abstinence-only education is that it denies teenagers the chance to learn about acceptable options other than abstinence. Given the fact that no form of sex education has been shown to effectively convince teenagers not to have sex, this is a significant problem. Presumably parents and educators want adolescents to be as healthy and happy as possible, even if they're not managing to conform to the standard of behavior that those adults would consider to be the ideal.

3. Just Because You Have A Raincoat Doesn't Mean It's Going To Rain

There's a silver lining to the studies that say that abstinence-only doesn't encourage kids not to have sex. And that is: All the other studies that say providing condoms in schools doesn't make them more promiscuous. Over the past 10 years numerous studies have consistently demonstrated that providing condoms in schools doesn't encourage adolescents to start having sex earlier, or even more often. Having those condoms available, however, does seem to encourage teens to use them if they would be having sex anyway.

4. 1 in 2 High School Students Have Had Sex. Which One Is Yours?

A large number of teens are sexually active. According to the CDC, in 2005, 47 percent of high school students had had sex at least once, and 14 percent had had four or more sexual partners. Sixty-three percent of sexually active students had used condoms the last time they had sex, but only 18 percent had used birth control pills. Furthermore, one quarter of sexually active high school students had used drugs or alcohol before the most recent time they had sex. It is clearly important to teach teens how to make decisions that protect both their bodies and their minds.

5. Start Safe and Stay Safe

A recent study published in the American Journal of Public Health found that teens who start using condoms from the first time they have intercourse score higher on several sexual health measures than teens who don't. The scientists followed more than 4,000 teens for an average of almost 7 years. They found that those adolescents who used condoms at their first intercourse had the same number of sexual partners as those who didn't, but were 30 percent more likely to have used condoms during their most recent sexual experience and only half as likely to have been infected with chlamydia and gonorrhea.

6. Boys Want to Be Men, So Teach Them to Be Good Men

Part of staying healthy is seeking appropriate health care. As boys age, many of them stop going for preventative health care, which limits the opportunities they have to be screened for, among other things, STDs. A recent study in Pediatrics found that parents who talk to their male children about sex are more likely to have boys who go to the doctor. It's all about setting a good example. One of the biggest risk factors for not seeking care is holding traditional views about masculinity. It's important that young men learn early that taking care of their health is one of the most manly things they can do.

7. Comprehensive Sex Ed Doesn't Encourage Kids to Have Sex

Comprehensive sex education doesn't encourage kids to have sex. Just like abstinence-only programs, good comprehensive programs teach students that abstinence is the only surefire way to prevent pregnancy and STDs. The difference is that these programs also give students realistic and factual information about the safety of various sexual practices, and how to improve the odds.

8. It's the Parents' Job to Teach the Faith

Nothing about comprehensive sex education prevents parents from teaching their kids their standards for moral behavior. If anything, having them learn the facts at school frees parents to focus on explaining their own personal religious beliefs and behavioral expectations. That's something that no amount of formal sex education can ever replace, only supplement.

9. The More Kids Know, the More Likely They Are to Say No

Teenagers aren't stupid. When a teacher tells them that only abstinence can protect them from the dangers of STDs and pregnancy, they know they're being lied to, or at the very least misled. Giving adolescents an accurate picture of the risks of different types of sexual behavior can help them make informed decisions about sex. The most effective sex education programs tend to be the ones that try to steer teens away from specific activities that are particularly high risk.

10. Comprehensive Sex Encourages Abstinence, Not Ignorance

What do teenagers do when they haven't been given accurate information about sexual risks? They have oral sex, or even anal sex, instead of vaginal intercourse. In particular, many teenagers don't see oral sex as incompatible with abstinence, even though oral sex can transmit several STDs. Abstinence-only education sometimes encourages students to abstain from sex without ever telling them what sex is. In contrast, comprehensive sex education may encourage teens to make more informed decisions before participating in alternative sexual behaviors that, without enough information, they may falsely assume are safe.

Talk Back! Disagree? Agree? Either way, make yourself heard in the STD forums!

Next: How to talk to teens about sex...

Sources:
Trenholm et al."Impacts of Four Title V..." Mathematica Policy Research, Inc. 2007.
Kirby, D. "The Impact of Schools..." J Sex Res Feb 2002, Vol. 39, Issue 1.
Marcell et al. "Use Masculine Beliefs..." Pediatr, 2007;119:e966-e975
Holmes et al. "Association Between Condom Use at Sexual Debut..." Am J Pub Health. 2007; 97:epub
Robin et al. "Behavioral Interventions to Reduce..." J Adol Health 2004;34:3–26
Remez, L. "Oral Sex Among Adolescents..." Fam Plan Persp 2000 32(6):298-304

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