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Why Sexual Education Should Be Taught in Public School

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Why Sexual Education Should Be Taught In Public Schools

In today’s society where children are exposed to sex through various media outlets, the need for sexual education in public schools is necessary. Instead of abstinence-only education, which teaches refraining from sexual activity until marriage, today’s youth needs to be informed about the various aspects of sexuality including pregnancy, contraception, STDs, and abstinence.
According to a survey conducted by National Public Radio, The Kaiser Family Foundation, and Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, ninety percent of American parents believe that comprehensive sexual education should be taught in public schools to students in grades 7 through 12. This type of education encourages abstinence, but also teaches proper condom use and other contraceptive methods to protect youth from unwanted pregnancies and STD (“Sex Education in America”). In order to reduce the risk of teenage pregnancy and the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, Douglas Bernard Kirby, Ph.D. from the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy states in his 2007 publication of Emerging Answers:
To be effective, such programs must be straightforward and specific; for example, they might discuss realistic situations that could lead to unprotected sex and methods for avoiding those situations, for remaining abstinent, and for using condoms and other contraceptives. (Kirby 16)

Even though studies have shown mixed results towards comprehensive sexual education, there have been positive effects on teen sexual behavior. Teens have showed a delay in the initiation of sexual intercourse, and the use of condoms and other contraceptive methods have increased, which has lowered the number of teen pregnancies in the United States (16).
With growing support for comprehensive sexual education in the United States, studies have shown that comprehensive sexual education taught in public schools is more effective in preventing teenage pregnancy than abstinence-only education. After reviewing data from a survey conducted by the National Survey of Family Growth, Pamela Kohler, et al. found that heterosexual youth between the ages of 15 and 19 who participated in Cycle 6, a study conducted in 2002 by the National Center for Health Statistics, 60% of participants were less likely to become pregnant after receiving comprehensive sexual education versus teens who received no sexual education at all. Furthermore, the same participants were 50% less likely to become pregnant versus teens who received abstinence-only education due to information about birth control and abstinence (Kohler 344).
Comprehensive sexual education taught in public schools is known as a controversial issue to organizations that support abstinence-only-until-marriage programs, yet only 7% of public voters say that sexual education should not be taught in public schools (“Sex Education in America”). If the majority of the voting public believes that comprehensive sexual education should be taught in public schools, then why was abstinence-only sexual education being taught in schools across the country? When the Welfare Reform Act of 1996 was signed into law, Title V, Section 510(b) granted $50 million in federal funds to states that promoted abstinence-only education (Brody). In order for states to receive federal money, each state had to follow strict guidelines when it came to teaching abstinence-until-marriage education, which included teaching students that “abstinence from sexual activity outside marriage is the expected standard or behavior” and “sexual activity outside of the context of marriage is likely to have harmful psychological and physical effects” (Finer 74). Due to these strict guidelines, the promotion or encouragement of the use of any type of contraceptive was prohibited (74).
Is abstinence-only sexual education working in the United States? Dr. John B. Jemmott III, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania demonstrated there was success in keeping teens from having sexual intercourse through the use of a theory-based abstinence-only sexual education program (Jemmott et al. 152). Published in the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine, Dr. Jemmott’s findings were based on a study with 662, 12-year old African American middle school students from 6th and 7th grade. Students were broken into groups where each group received different types of sexual education including abstinence-only education and comprehensive sex education, which taught both abstinence and contraception methods, and a healthy behavior class, also known as the controlled group (Tanner). Over the span of 24 months, each student was contacted with follow-up questions that related to the course they had taken. Findings from the study showed that 33.5% who participated in the abstinent-only class were sexually active, compared to 48.5% who participated in the control group (Jemmott, et. al. 157). The purpose of the abstinence-only education program was to help teens delay sexual intercourse for a later time in life where they are more mature and can handle the consequences that are associated with sexual activity (Jemmott, et. al. 153). Even though students in the abstinence-only education program were not taught to refrain from sex until marriage, advocates for abstinence-only-until-marriage programs have praised the study as proof that abstinence-only education in America is working and more money should be spent on these programs in the United States (Lewin).
With protecting youth from sexually transmitted diseases as a major challenge in the United States, numerous organizations supported by the federal government through abstinence-only sexual education encourage youth to make virginity pledges. When a teen makes a pledge, they promise to abstain from all sexual activity until they are married. In 1995, it was estimated that 2.2 million adolescents in the United States had taken a virginity pledge (Bearman and Brückner 859). Even though these pledges showed a significant delay in sexual initiation, these findings were related to the number of other students in the community who made the same pledge. These pledges worked if students who made the pledge were in the same social circle as other students who made the same pledge (859). On one hand, the pledge may reduce the amount of premarital sex in teens, which means they are less likely to contract a sexually transmitted disease because the number of sexual partners is reduced. On the other hand, these same teens that make the pledge to remain virgins until marriage could be more prone to infections because they are less likely to use protection if they break their pledge. Since those who make the pledge promise to remain virgins until marriage, if they decide to break their pledge and have sex, they are less likely to seek medical attention because they do not want anyone to know that their promise to remain a virgin until marriage has been broken. (859).
In a new study conducted by the Guttmacher Institute, the rate of teen pregnancies in the United States has dropped significantly since their peak in the early 1990s. According to the U.S. Teenage Pregnancies, Births and Abortions, 2010; National and State Trends by Age, Race and Ethnicity, approximately 614,000 pregnancies occurred among teens between the ages of 15 to 19 in 2010. These findings show a 51% decline since its peak in 1990, and a 15% decline in 2 years from 2008 to 2010 (Kost and Henshaw). With the decline of teenage pregnancies in the United States, Lead author Kathryn Kost said in a statement in the Los Angelus Times, “It appears that efforts to ensure teens can access the information and contraceptive services they need to prevent unwanted pregnancies are paying off” (Khan). Shortly after, a report from the CDC showed results from a survey taken by females between the ages of 15 and 17 who were sexually active, but did not receive proper sexual education until after their first sexual encounter. These findings show a missed opportunity to provide teen’s with medically-accurate information that pertain to contraceptives and abstinence (Cox et. al).
It is clear that teens are in need of a comprehensive sexual education curriculum that teaches proper contraception use and abstinence in the United States. Evidence shows that with proper education, teens learn how to protect themselves from pregnancy, STDs, and how abstaining from sex is the best contraceptive method. In a perfect world, teaching abstinence-only sexual education would keep teens from having sex until they were married, but as evidence shows, this is not the case. With the millions of dollars the United States Government has spent on abstinence-only sexual education, it would make sense to use that money to teach youth that abstinence is the best method to prevent pregnancy and STDs, but also provide teens with medically accurate, age-appropriate information to protect themselves if they do decide to have sex.

Works Cited
Bearman P, Brückner H. Promising the future: abstinence pledges and the transition to first intercourse. Am J Sociol 2001;106:859 –912.
Brody, Jane E. "Abstinence-Only: Does it Work?" New York Times. New York Times, 1 June 2004. Web. 19 July 2009.
Cox, Shanna, MSPH, Karen Pazol, PhD, Lee Warner, PhD, Lisa Romero, DrPH, Alison Spitz, MPH, Lorrie Gavin, PhD, and Wonda Barfield, MD. "QuickStats: Birth Rates for Teens Aged 15–19 Years, by Age Group — United States, 1985–2007." Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report 58.12 (2009): 313. Vital Signs: Births to Teens Aged 15–17 Years — United States, 1991–2012. 8 Apr. 2014. Web. 27 Sept. 2014.
Finer, Lawrence B. “Trends in premarital sex in the United States, 1954-2003,” Public Health Reports, 2007; 74
Jemmott III, John B. Loretta S. Jemmott, & Geoffrey T. Fong, “Efficacy of a Theory- Based Abstinence-Only Intervention over 24 Months,” Archives of Pediatric Adolescent Medicine 164.2 (2010): 152.
Khan, Amina. "Teenage Pregnancy, Birth, Abortion Rates All Falling, Report Says." Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles Times, 5 May 2014. Web. 26 Sept. 2014.
Kirby, Ph.d. And The National Campaign To Prevent Teen And Unplanned Pregnancy, Douglas. (n.d.): n. pag. National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy. Web. (2007); 16.
Kohler, Pamela. et al., “Abstinence-Only and Comprehensive Sex Education and the Initiation of Sexual Activity and Teen Pregnancy,” Journal of Adolescent Health 42.4 (March 2008); 344–351.
Kost, Kathryn and Stanley Henshaw. "U.S. Teenage Pregnancies, Births and Abortions, 2008: National Trends by Age, Race and Ethnicity." Guttmacher Institute, 8 February 2012.
Lewin, Tamar “Abstinence Education is Found to Delay Sex,” The New York Times, 3 February 2009, A18.
“Sex Education in America: General Public/Parents Survey” (Washington, DC: National Public Radio, Kaiser Family Foundation, Kennedy School of Government, 2004).
Tanner, Lindsey “Success Seen with Experimental Abstinence Progam,” Yahoo! News, 1 Feb 2010, accessed 20 September 2014…...

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