The education conversation
While many teenagers are taught the basics of sex education by their parents or other sources such as friends, relatives, TV and the internet, others rely on school as their main reference for education on sex safety and hazards. According to the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United State’s website, “Sexuality education is a lifelong process of acquiring information and forming attitudes, beliefs and values. It encompasses sexual development, sexual and reproductive health, interpersonal relationships, affection, intimacy, body image and gender roles.”
Options in teaching:
There are many different types of sex ed, the two most common being abstinence and comprehensive-based education.
Abstinence is a curriculum that teaches teens about the dangers of having sex at a young age. It gives statistical evidence about STDs and unintended pregnancy experiences. Comprehensive sex ed teaches that sex is a way of life and that it is natural to want to do at a high school age. It promotes the idea of using condoms and teaches students how to safely have sex.
Organizations like Advocates for Youth promote comprehensive education, rather than abstinence. They claim that comprehensive programs, “Do not encourage teens to start having sexual intercourse. Evaluations of publicly funded abstinence-only programs have repeatedly shown no positive changes in sexual behaviors over time.” However, abstinence is taught at most schools and is widely known as the “morally correct” option.
Pro-abstinence based programs argue that sex at such a young age causes problems like unplanned pregnancy, sexually-transmitted diseases and the large costs of having a child. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), pregnant teens are more likely to not finish high school and to live in poverty. The child that they bear is more likely to run into the same challenges as the mother: poor health, developmental problems, high-school dropout and may become a teen parent themself. The NCSL also mentions, “Adolescents are disproportionately affected by sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Young people ages 15 to 24 represent 25 percent of the sexually-active population, but acquire half of all new STIs, which amounts to 9.8 million new cases a year.”
While aspects of abstinence and comprehensive-based education oppose each other, they both agree that reducing teen pregnancies is one of their priorities. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “In 2015, a total of 229,715 babies were born to women aged 15–19 years.” While this statistic may still seem outrageous, it is a step in the right direction. Back in 2007, over 400,000 babies were born in that same age range. Why this changed is still unclear, but arguments range from teens restraining from having sex to the use of effective birth control methods.
While some people may feel that teaching abstinence is the right way to go in education, it is possible that abstinence is less successful than comprehensive sex ed. According to the Sexuality Information and Education Council of The United States, comprehensive sex ed is more effective in preventing pregnancies and STDs in adolescents as opposed to abstinence.
“Honestly, sex is a part of life. So it's almost inevitable to happen,” a 2017 graduate and future teen mom said. The graduate prefered to remain anonymous to protect her privacy.
No matter what the teaching ideal is, the goal of sex ed remains the same: to prevent pregnancies and STDs in teens and young adults aged 13-24, according to Youth Wellness Manager of the Columbus Health Department Chelsea Varnum. This is done with formal education in the classroom. The idea is that by engaging the students and educating them properly it will hopefully help prevent problems later down the road.
“We have had great success in connecting with students. We have many who repeat programming because they like the sense of community it builds. We also have students who have repeated testing as needed with our counselors because they liked the open approach,” Varnum said.
While some feel that the current sex ed program is successful based on the community that surrounds it, others feel sex ed could be improved in Ohio to make students more informed, according to Varnum.
“Sexual education honestly could be better in school. They might spend a day or two on sexual education and all that's shown are pictures. I feel like they could go into depth a bit more on the different sexually-transmitted diseases, pregnancy and all the money it costs. Also, other alternatives instead of birth control and condoms,” the future mom said.
Finally, although there is no statistical way to prove sex ed is successful as a preventing factor in teen pregnancies, one thing was conclusive no matter the success rate: it’s important to educate students on these matters.
“Young people have a right to knowledge about their bodies and how to keep their bodies safe and healthy regardless of behavior,” Varnum said.
Sex ed at Orange:
Every year, the freshman class gathers for one of the most anticipated lessons of the year. While some may giggle and find it awkward, sex education is a very serious lesson.
Some argue that early high schoolers aren’t mature enough to handle such a topic, while others argue that they should be taught this topic earlier in their school life.
The school has an abstinence-based curriculum. Health teacher Ginger Frye said her lessons are strictly science. “We do not teach sex education. We teach human reproduction. We talk about the anatomy, hormones and the different stages of labor,” Frye said.
Catherine Wood, founder of “Relationships Under Construction,” an abstinence-based program used here, said her core mission is “teaching youth the blueprint for building strong families.”
This presentation is “very informative, and students typically have positive feedback,” Lattig said.
Unlike Lattig, junior Kaitlyn Brown said she was underwhelmed with her sex education experience. “It really only covered STDs and didn’t go into much of anything else,” Brown said.
Major topics like birth control and abortion are left out of the curriculum here.
“If a student asks about birth control or abortions, I will answer their questions. However, neither are the focus of any lesson,” Frye said.
Among the many topics left out is all inclusive sex education. When referring to sex education for LGBTQ students, Lattig said, “We don’t teach sexuality; we teach human reproduction. We teach from where fertilization occurs.”
Junior Taylor Staab also felt disappointed with her experience with sex ed. She argued that there should be more time spent on the real-life logistics of sex, rather than the textbook definition.
“I never actually learned anything about sex, and I had to ask my mom multiple questions about it,” Staab said.
Like many other students, Brown and Staab both agreed that they were unprepared going into sex education. Many parents avoid giving “the talk” to their children, and wait for them to learn about sex in health class.
“I think it would be beneficial if more people knew about sex, so that when they decide to do it, they know all of the true facts before they risk anything,” Staab said.
While most students disapprove of the teaching method, Wood believes that abstinence is the “most effective” form of education, according to her published curriculum.
Wood believes that all students should stay abstinent until marriage in order to stay wholesome, and prevent physical and psychological damage later on.
According to Wood, marriage is “a safe place to raise children and the best practice for our children. Marriage with no sexual activity outside of marriage is taught by the five major religions of the world. There must be reasons these diverse religions agree on this topic.”