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Young People Need More Than “Don’t Have Sex”

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November 16, 2015

I know at least three people who didn’t know how babies were made until they were old enough to drink.

To me, that’s a problem.

The state of sex education in the state of Alabama, like many Southern states, is abysmal. The only sex education I ever personally received was in my eighth grade life science class. A nurse from a nearby health center came in and, instead of telling us what was going to happen to our bodies during puberty, what sex was, or anything about STIs, the only useful information we got was that we needed to start buying deodorant. This was reiterated to us nearly a dozen times, but we still never found out exactly what sperm was, or how it mingled with the egg to make a child — we just watched a short video of a sperm and an egg dancing to Frank Sinatra (there was no mention of sex at all). High school, again, gave me no information on sexual organs, their function, or their care. I didn’t learn how female reproductive organs worked, menstruation included, until recently. Even some of my female classmates didn’t know — their class told them more about how to “be hygienic” than it did about what a period was (hygiene is important in the prevention of diseases, but again, that was not explained).

On one occasion, a man came to our class and told us that if we had sex before marriage, either as a man or a woman, we would go to hell. Then he made us sign a card that had a picture of a frog on it — for some reason — saying we would wait until marriage. In the state of Alabama, laws pertaining to teaching sexual education are rarely ever fully enforced. The abstinence part stays, but few instructors I have seen bother to mention contraception at all. When they do, it’s always in the context of preventing HIV (the only STD they are required to teach about, probably because there’s no cure for it). Alabama code does ensure that students are required to know that “homosexuality” (or anything not heteronormative) is an “unacceptable lifestyle” and a criminal offense.

A lot of people around the country never learn about their bodies until past the point where they have to make their first decisions about what to do with it. People who never learn about contraception sometimes end up pregnant, and people without a solid understanding of what STIs and STDs are end up getting them or (in one case I know of) come to the conclusion that sex is as deadly as a handgun. And those who do get a rudimentary sex education may only know about condoms and “the pill,” but not about dental dams and internal female contraception.

Such fear of teaching children about sex creates a poor environment for talking about it: three people were arrested on my campus for rape recently, and the police simply told the public that the victim should not have been drinking. Few women I have ever met are comfortable talking about their cycles, and even fewer men like learning about them.

Despite this, Congressional budget meetings for the 2016 fiscal year have turned to cutting sex education from the budget. Most of these cuts will affect the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program, which funds sex education programs through grants across the country, in addition to serving the needs of half a million young people that need sexual health care and information. Low-income families, particularly women of color, will lose out not just on sexual education opportunities, but health care access in general. Cutting sex education funding could very easily drive up the number of unintended pregnancies among young people by 50 percent, as well as the number of STIs contracted during intercourse. This funding is important, yet there is a great deal of bipartisan support in gutting TPPP’s funding.

We know this is not about the money. Because, at the same time this budget has cut funding to TPPP, it increased funding to abstinence-only funding. Yes, ineffective, harmful, shaming abstinence only programs are getting more money.

Fortunately,there is something that can be done: Click here tell Congress that we need more than abstinence-only.

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