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Abstinence-only sex ed is hurting the youth in more ways than you think

Reanna Comiso, Features Editor

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Abstinence-only sex education doesn’t work. As much as your middle school health teacher tried to convince you premarital sex was the end-all, be-all, modern standards reveal it is just not true. Research shows  only 5 percent of American couples wait until marriage to have sex. Why do schools continue to preach abstinence-only sex education on young, impressionable students?

Your health teacher was not lying when she said abstinence is the only surefire way to prevent pregnancy and sexually-transmitted diseases. But convincing children that consensual intercourse is inherently wrong does more harm than good and certainly does not prevent teenagers and young adults from having sex.

In the state of Illinois, schools are not required to provide any type of sex education.  Until recently, schools that decided to offer sex education to their students could only teach abstinence as a form of contraception. All other forms of healthy and reliable information were left out of the classroom, putting students in danger.

It was not until 2014 when the laws in Illinois changed. Under the new law, the Critical Health Problems and Comprehensive Health Education Act, schools that teach about sex must include information about contraception to prevent STDs and unwanted pregnancy. Education on abstinence is still required as part of the curriculum. The law still does not require schools to teach sex education.

A survey conducted by the University of Chicago Medical Center stated  93 percent of Illinois schools offered sex education. The survey also revealed 30 percent of the state’s sex education instructors never received specialized training on the topic, where the national average is 18 percent.

“It is the responsibility of adults in the community and educators to make sure that teens and young adults are fully prepared for the very adult decisions they will be making throughout high school and college,” said Caitlin Luetger-Schlewitt, an adjunct humanities professor at the College of DuPage. “The more we treat sex-ed as taboo, the harder it is for young people to feel comfortable in their own bodies and make smart choices about those bodies.”

Schools should focus on providing comprehensive sex ed. That means focusing on both sex and sexuality, with an emphasis on forming healthy relationships. It seeks to inform young people about the importance of gaining self-esteem, protecting their physical and emotional well-being and their rights regarding sexual health. Schools in Illinois are not yet at that level but are slowly incorporating aspects of comprehensive sex ed.

“The comprehensive programs reduced sexual activity, the number of sex partners, the frequency of unprotected sexual activity, and sexually transmitted infections,” stated Aaron E. Carroll, professor of pediatrics at Indiana University, in an article published by the New York Times.

Despite the recent shift in Illinois law, things have the potential to regress under President Donald Trump’s administration. A funding announcement in April 2018 by the Department of Health and Human Services strongly favors sex education policies that favor abstinence over evidence of effectiveness.

Programs that emphasize “sexual risk reduction” can still be considered for funding, but “sexual risk avoidance” is encouraged by the HHS. This change came after abstinence-advocate Valerie Huber became the chief of staff to the assistant secretary of health. Huber was the CEO and co-founder of Ascend, a professional association for abstinence advocacy.

Abstinence is the only sure way to prevent the negative repercussions of sex, but the reality is most people will not refrain from sex until marriage. Pushing abstinence-only education will have overwhelmingly adverse effects.

When asking COD students about their knowledge of sex education, many said it was discussed the most in the classroom, but they also learned the least there. Students felt they got a lot of their knowledge from the internet or from their friends. When asked if they felt they knew enough about sex, male students said they felt they knew enough, while female students felt they lacked necessary knowledge. The divide between male and female students comes as no surprise.

“Despite the emphasis on sex in pop culture, it is still considered a taboo for women to have a healthy relationship with sex, their bodies, and sexual health in America,” said Luetger-Schlewitt.

Studies have shown that abstinence-only sex education has had increasingly harmful effects on women in particular. Researcher Michelle Fine concluded  “sexual risk prevention” education victimizes women and increased both pregnancy and high school dropout rates. 30% of all female high-school dropouts cite teen pregnancy as their reason for not continuing school, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

One concern from female students was a lack of information about consent given during sex ed lessons.  “People always only tell men about consent,” said Sarah Martinez, COD student. “It should be a mutual relationship.”

In light of the #metoo movement, more women are coming out with their stories of sexual assault. Many cases of assault are due to the lack of understanding of consent and the grey area that surrounds it. By not teaching students about consent and sexual assault, they are not being provided with the proper tools to defend and protect themselves these situations.

Sufficient sex ed has the power to protect both men and women from sexual violence. Making the public more informed on the issue is the first step to change. By teaching children the importance of consent and what defines sexual assault, they are given the tools to make informed decisions and protect themselves from potential dangers.

Ending the cycle of abuse starts with proper education. Individuals aged 12 to 34 are at the highest risk of being sexually assaulted, according to RAINN. To protect the children, they need to be informed.

“I think we would see a decrease in sexual violence if we improved the way we talk about sex with young people,” said Luetger-Schlewitt. “If we treated sex-ed the same way we treat other topics, I think a lot of problems in our society would improve for the better.”

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College of DuPage's student newspaper | Est. 1967
Abstinence-only sex ed is hurting the youth in more ways than you think