A call for more comprehensive sex ed

An externality is a cost or benefit which results from an activity or transaction and which affects an otherwise uninvolved party who did not choose to incur that cost or benefit.

As I have been researching domestic violence, sexual assault, rape and other forms of violence against women, I have been searching for a “root” or for a common factor that could be used to alleviate this issue.

For me, the Steubenville case has highlighted the external factor that contributes to high rates of violence toward women in our society.

The Steubenville case focused on children. Children who were glorified because they were boys and good athletes living in a small town. Children who were taught the bare minimum about sex from the public school teachers. Children who’s parents probably never sat down with them and explained what rape is. Of course, their fathers and others surely told them never to hit a girl, but did they advise them not to rape one? Doubtful. (I acknowledge that I’m making assumptions here.)

From my experience in public schools, sex education is minimal, awkward, and ineffective. Aside from showing pictures of herpes as a form of – hopefully – scaring students away from sex, many schools not only allow students to opt out of sex ed, they teach abstinence-only sex and fail to provide contraceptive protection or tell students how to access it themselves.

If many schools (and I don’t have stats for this) are only teaching abstinence, I wonder what information students are missing out on?

  • They miss out on learning about protection and how to use it effectively (i.e. condoms, birth control, Plan B, etc.)
  • They miss out on learning how to identify the signs of an STI and how to avoid it
  • They miss out on learning what happens to their bodies when they get pregnant
  • They miss out on learning what happens to their lives socially and economically when they have a child
  • They miss out on learning what consent looks like
  • They miss out on learning how alcohol and other drugs affect a person’s ability to make decisions
  • They miss out on learning what the consequences are of raping or sexually violating another person
  • They miss out on learning that what a person wears is not an indication that they are looking for sex

Imagine if American students started learning about these things in school? I’m a strong believer in the saying, “Those who know better, do better.” Studies show that children who learn about sex and how to protect themselves are less likely to engage in sexual intercourse, and if they do they are more likely to use protection. However, when a child is taught abstinence-only sex education, they are more at risk of becoming pregnant and contracting a STI.

What if schools started having conversations about rape too?

We’re lying if we say that teenagers aren’t experimenting with drugs, alcohol, and sex.

If we’re honest with ourselves and each other, then we should be able to acknowledge that students need to learn about rape and sexual assault at an early age in order to be able to stand up for themselves and others and know that it is wrong to rape.

I believe that if we started with the schools by revitalizing sex education and incorporating information about rape and sexual assault, within a generation the number of rapists and rape victims would decrease. We would not only be reducing the number of potential rapists in our society, but we would be arming young people with knowledge of what rape is. This could empower future generations to stand up and speak out.

As one blogger – who is also a teacher – describes: children are ready and eager to learn and they are paying attention to what the media says. It’s our responsibility to engage them and show them in the classroom what consent is.

Nonprofits committed to advocating for more comprehensive sex ed are beginning to crop up in our country. One nonprofit – TellThem, SC! – has done research throughout South Carolina and found that sex ed is lacking due to abstinence-only education and lack of accountability among health educators. Because of this SC has an average of 21 teen pregnancies per day and higher than the national average of STIs (2011). SCCADVASA reports that South Carolina ranks #2 in the country for the highest number of women killed by men; their teen dating and sexual violence statistics are equally horrifying. I have no doubt that better sex education could contribute to lowering this staggering numbers.

South Carolina is just one example. It would be interesting to see if there is a correlation between high rates of teen pregnancies, STI, sexual violence, etc. and the quality of sex ed programs in other states.

Regardless, knowledge is power, and people need to learn at younger ages how to protect themselves and how not to rape.


2 responses to “A call for more comprehensive sex ed

  1. Absolutely! I could not agree more. And there are even more impacts. In anti-trafficking circles, it is critical to educate middle and high school students about pimps and how they target children. Otherwise, they won’t be armed with the information to identify the dangers.

    In families that are sexually abusing children, one way to avoid getting caught is to ensure their children don’t know what is happening to them. It makes it harder for them to explain to others. If children know that their parents are having sex with them, they are more likely to understand it is a bad thing. They are more likely to speak up.

    • Wow. That’s a whole other aspect I didn’t think of!! Thanks for sharing, Elisabeth. More and more it is clear to me that children need to be taught more holistic sex ed based on evidence-based, up to date information. It’s scary to think that most sex ed right now sums up to simply “don’t have sex until you’re married. The end.”

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