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All the good a little sex ed can do: why don't the students have a say in their own education? It seems to me that adults should spend less time debating with each other and more time listening to their children.

Politicians, health educators, and parents are con-stantly debating the best way to teach sex education in public schools. Naturally, the issue is extremely controversial, with a wide range of opinions covering every aspect of the topic. However, the adults debating the issue of sex education are not the people who are going to be taught. It is the students who are either going to benefit or suffer from the decisions of the adults in their communities and in the rest of the country Why don't the students have a say in their own education? It seems to me that adults should spend less time debating with each other and more time listening to their children. As a product of a comprehensive sex ed class, I wish to enlighten any adults about why, from a teenager's perspective, comprehensive sex education is necessary in public schools.

In ninth grade, I took the required ninth grade health class. One quarter was spent learning about drugs and one quarter learning about sexuality. Although the quarter on drugs was extremely informative, I gained the most knowledge and insight from the quarter spent learning about sex.

My health teacher was a dynamic woman who could make even the most boring or mundane topics exciting; her condom demonstration with a test tube is renowned throughout my school. Through her teaching, I became extremely interested in topics concerning sex education such as teen pregnancy, abortion, and rape. Teen pregnancy interested me the most, so for my project, I wrote a fictional diary of girl who became pregnant at 16. After reading my project, my health teacher saw my interest in teen pregnancy and sex education and recommended that I join SEX, ETC., a sex education newsletter written by teens for teens, based out of Rutgers University. I took advantage of the opportunity to participate and became an editor for SEX, ETC.

Writing for SEX, ETC. has given me many opportunities, but one of the best opportunities that I have had was to realize how big of an impact informative and effective sex education has on the lives of teenagers. Recently, I interviewed Kate, a 17-year-old girl who had just had a baby, for an article I was writing. When I asked her how she got pregnant, she told me that she had not been using protection because she did not like using it, and she did not think it would make a difference if she did not use it. This made me realize how ill informed so many teenagers are because they are not receiving adequate information from the adults around them.

My friend Molly attends a Catholic school. In Catholic schools, the information the students learn about sex is extremely limited and is focused around abstinence. Molly has a boyfriend, and every so often she calls me with a question. Recently the question was, "Can you get pregnant from giving oral sex to a guy?" To me, the answer to this question seems obvious. I know, and have known, that you cannot get pregnant from giving oral sex to a guy. I learned this years ago in my ninth-grade health class, but Molly did not because she did not have the benefit of a comprehensive sex education class. This concerns me because I worry about all of the other information she and others like her may not know about contraception and STIs that could get them into trouble.

Many parents believe that if their children learn about sex they will have sex. However, what many parents do not realize is that the students who want to have sex will have sex even if they don't learn about it. There are many teenagers who are having sex, and many teenagers will continue to have sex despite the messages they receive from their parents or their teachers. What is important to realize is that many of these teenagers who are having sex are not receiving comprehensive sex education. How do these teenagers know how to protect themselves against STIs and pregnancy? The simple fact is that many of them probably do not know how, and many of these teenagers are probably not using contraception. In my opinion, it is this information that parents should be worrying about, not the influence of a comprehensive sex education class. This problem can be solved in an extremely simple way: get rid of abstinence-only sex education classes!

Of course, my opinion is probably not enough to convince the thousands of people who support abstinence-only education. There are many people who are strong supporters of abstinence and many teenagers across the country who are taking "virginity pledges." The adults who support abstinence-until-marriage and abstinence-only sex education are thrilled, of course, with these "virginity pledges" because they are proving that there are teenagers who are effectively saying "no" to sex, or so they think.

However, there have been studies conducted on these pledges which indicate that they may not be as effective as many adults would like to believe. While the virginity pledges do delay the onset of sexual intercourse among teenagers for an average of 18 months, many of these teenagers eventually do have sex, and when they do, they are less likely to use contraception effectively or use contraception at all. (1) Again, this fact should be something that adults are focusing on, but instead, many adults focus only on the positive side of the virginity pledges, not wanting to be held responsible for the negative aspects. The answer to this problem seems obvious as well: get rid of abstinence-only education!

Sometimes I think about the pregnancy and STI rates among teenagers in our country, and I wonder what could possibly be the cause. It is then that I realize that so many teenagers are not receiving the education to which they are entitled, and because of this, they are not being as careful as they should be.

The adults in our country need to realize that the teenagers in our country are perfectly capable of making their own decisions about what information will be beneficial when it comes to their own sexuality. If adults step back and let comprehensive sex education seep into the minds of teenagers, then maybe when the teen pregnancy and STI rates start declining, they will realize all the good a little sex ed can do.


(1.) P. Bearmen and H. Brueckner, Executive Summary: Promising the Future, December 1999.

Emily Chaloner is on the 2002-3 Editorial Board of SEX, ETC., the national newsletter and web site ( that is written by teens, for teens, about sex, pregnancy, condoms, birth control, STIs, and relationships. SEX, ETC. is part of the National Teen-to-Teen Sexuality Education Project, developed by the Network for Family Life Education at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey.
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Author:Chaloner, Emily
Publication:SIECUS Report
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Apr 1, 2003
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