Sex Ed – We’re Doin It Wrong

I was recently accepted as a volunteer for Planned Parenthood of Minnesota-North Dakota-South Dakota. One of the requirements for becoming a volunteer was attending four classes. The first two were introductions to the organization; the third and fourth were educational sessions focused on the basics of sexual transmitted infections (STIs), reproductive health and contraception. It makes a lot of sense to train volunteers in these topics, as the majority of what Planned Parenthood does is provide family planning and sexual health advice, education and health services.

After having attended these last two courses with a group of my peers, I say this: We need to do better at providing the people of this country standardized, comprehensive sexual and reproductive health education.

Remember: All of the attendees of these courses want to be there. All of us believe in reproductive planning, promoting sexual health, positive sexuality, and supporting a woman’s right to  have an abortion. We are all supposedly “the good guys”. But goddamn there were some ridiculous beliefs that were shared in that classroom! There were misunderstandings about how common forms of birth control work, what happens during puberty, how certain STIs are spread, how communication with partners can limit the spread of STIs, how to bring up the issue of STIs with a new partner. There were prejudices, preconceptions and privileged opinions about issues such as sex before marriage, how many partners people “should” have, relationship status (monogamous vs. polygamous vs. open marriages, etc.), gender identity, how young someone should be before they have sex, if parents should have a say in whether an underage girl is allowed to have an abortion.

In a country that allows parents to pull their children from classrooms during sex ed…

When sex “education” still seems to come primarily from friends or the internet or those first fumbling encounters…

When sex, birth control, reproduction and sexual autonomy remain taboo subjects that aren’t discussed in “polite” company…

When these things happen we find ourselves in a climate where people speak the right words and espouse the right positions, but we still don’t know what the hell we’re talking about. A lot of people in that room probably walked in thinking they knew all there was too know about the basics of reproduction, contraception and STIs.

Planned Parenthood seems to understand the reality of sex education in this country, and they have taken steps to extend their educational outreach to their volunteers as well as their clients. We can do better.

Why We Need Sex Ed NOW

I was sent this infographic by a new group called Public Health Resources. According to their website, the group’s purpose is to provide a source of information and resources for people who are interested in pursuing a degree in public health. The infographic is called Why We Need Sex Ed Now. Here’s what the creators have to say about the project:

Today it’s pretty clear that abstinence-only education doesn’t work — and scientific studies prove it. Not only does it not work though, it actually worsens the problems that it claims to solve. States where abstinence-only education reigns supreme have the highest rates of teen pregnancy in the United States. At the same time, states that favor comprehensive sexual education — the type that teaches students about birth control — have the lowest levels of teen pregnancy.

Teen pregnancy rates are often closely mirrored with a nation’s public health status because high rates of pregnancy suggest a lack of protection during sex. And of course, a lack of protection leads to an increase in sexually transmitted diseases. Every two minutes in the United States 3 teens get pregnant, and more than 80% of these pregnancies are unintended. We need sex ed now: not just as a matter of public health, but as a matter of sustaining the robust society that America has built over time. This graphic lays out all the facts and makes the case for protection.

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