Comprehensive Sex Ed Helps Teens Make Smart Choices

Anna Bialek
March 10, 2005

Before buying a car or a house, most people will do a lot of research. They?ll talk to people who have owned the same kind of car or lived in a house in the neighborhood. They?ll examine all the specifics. And they?ll compare their options. After all, it?s a big decision. You?ll have to live with your choice for at least a few years.

But when you decide to have sex, you have to live with your choice for the rest of your life. You only lose your virginity once. And even one round of unprotected sex can leave you pregnant or with a lifelong?even fatal?disease.

Choosing to have sex is a complex decision. That?s why teens should carefully consider all the facts, like birth control and how sexually transmitted infections are passed, as well as the more ?fuzzy? stuff, like their values (both religious and moral), emotional maturity, relationship with their partner, and health.

Missing Facts

Unfortunately, it?s hard for teens to find honest, accurate information and learn ways to explore their own feelings. We hope our health classes would at least provide the facts. But the truth is, many schools use ?abstinence-only? sexuality education, which means that a lot of vital information is either deleted?or worse?distorted.

This approach, backed by President Bush and lots of conservative politicians in this country, teaches that not having sex is the only truly safe way to avoid pregnancy, infection, and other health risks that can accompany sex. And that?s pretty much true. While condoms and birth control are very effective, not having sex at all is the only 100-percent, surefire way to avoid pregnancy or disease.

But the problem is, you have to practice it absolutely 100 percent of the time?or else the risks are enormous. You cannot let sex ?just happen,? like it unfortunately does for many teens. The abstinence-only approach also completely ignores the reality that some teens, especially older ones, choose to have sex before they are married, while many gay teens may never have the legal option of getting married.

Classes that are abstinence-only don?t discuss birth control, except to talk about their failure rates. Many of these courses also exaggerate those failure rates, making teens believe that even if they use birth control and condoms, they?ll still be at great risk. So why bother?

All the Facts

In contrast, comprehensive sex education operates under the philosophy that schools should teach students all of the facts to help them make smart choices about sex, decisions that are based on solid information, as well as their own personal feelings and beliefs. Comprehensive sex ed teaches students about the risks of sex, as well as their options for protecting themselves. Some of the programs also teach about healthy sexual relationships and explain the emotional aspects of sexual intimacy.

Comprehensive sex ed programs also emphasize the benefits of not having sex, while none of them ?promote? sex in any way. And they still manage to give teens the facts they need to keep themselves healthy?both emotionally and physically.

Having complete knowledge helps sexually active teens to protect themselves from unplanned pregnancy and STIs. It also empowers virgin teens to make good decisions about their sexual futures. Understanding the risks of sex and protection methods also reduces the chance that sex will ?just happen??and that we?ll be unprepared and unprotected when it does.

Teens aren?t stupid. When we really care about something?like protecting ourselves from STIs or preventing pregnancy?we can make good decisions, but only if we have all the information.

Sex, Etc. wants to know: What is the sex ed program like in your school, and do you think it?s effective? Visit their site to share your perspective.

Want to improve your school?s sex ed program? Then check out Roadmap: A Teen Guide to Changing Your School?s Sex Ed.