I took sex ed in rural western Kansas, and it was exactly like you’d think: it was abstinence-centric, and we’d read stories in our workbooks about couples who had sex and later broke up after the sex ruined their relationship. We all spat in a cup, which our teacher implied was a metaphor for having multiple sexual partners and thus made us less desirable as people. We saw lots of unappealing photos of genitalia infected with sexually transmitted diseases and read misleading statistics about condoms. Birth control methods were mentioned, but never described.
Of the 40-some girls in our high school, two got pregnant before graduation – one in her freshman year.
At the behest of our sex ed class, I signed an abstinence pledge. I cut it out along the dotted line (you know it’s serious business when it has a dotted line) and promptly forgot where I put it. My girlfriend did the same. She and I currently live together, so that’s how effective our abstinence pledges were.
I don’t believe for a second that the rural-farm kids coming to K-State are sticking to the abstinence pledges they signed under duress as freshmen in high school. We come to college and explore. But are we willing to let unplanned pregnancies force students to stop their education? Pragmatism demands that we prepare our youth for the possibility of sex without the intent to procreate, even if we don’t approve. Our fearful stance on birth control is damaging the chances we have at better lives and a better economy.
According to CDC statistics, U.S. teen pregnancies were at an all-time low in 2012 and that hasn’t appeared to change. However, comparatively, we’re not doing so hot. The World Bank adolescent fertility rates show that in 2012, the U.S. averaged 31 pregnancies per 1,000 women ages 15-19 (same as Turkey), while the U.K. sits at 26.
I don’t mean to disparage teen mothers, and I loved “Juno” as much as anyone, but I think we can all agree that teenage pregnancy isn’t something that we should strive for as a society.
Adolescent pregnancy problems follow us into college, too. The National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy also identified the problem at community colleges. Citing data shared between the U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education, the campaign claimed that 61 percent of community college students who have children after enrolling don’t finish their education.
I can’t imagine the statistics would be much different for K-State. If our low-quality sex ed follows us through a night out in Aggieville, we’ll suffer for it.
Before my girlfriend and I moved in together, we had to do our own research. Thank goodness I saw a S.H.A.P.E. presentation three years ago at Smith House. I had a lot to learn about proper use of birth control methods (I now understand what the reservoir tip is for), because my school left me woefully unprepared. If my girlfriend or I had missed even one bit of useful information, a single mistake could have left us in a very difficult situation.
And sure, I’ve done fine thus far, but I have a younger brother who went through much of the same sex ed that I did. What if he meets someone special in college and makes a preventable mistake because he missed out on one good tidbit? I won’t feel content to tell him that he made a mistake, that it’s all his fault and he should live with the consequences. It’s not totally his fault that he didn’t know better.
I always hear that we shouldn’t teach comprehensive sex ed because it teaches kids that it’s “okay” to have sex, or at least that refusing to teach them about birth control methods makes them shy away from sex because they won’t know how to do it safely. Not only has it obviously failed, but ramping up the consequences is a poor substitute for trying to actually help people. It’s like banning seat belts because they teach drivers that it’s “okay” to crash your car.
We as a nation need to get over our prudishness and teach kids about sexual health. I would think liberals and conservatives could find some common ground here; even if conservatives aren’t comfortable with birth control, no one wants teen pregnancies.
Yes, sex has consequences, but we’re focusing on the wrong one. Plus, if we stubbornly insist on only teaching our kids that sex has consequences, we’re guaranteed to live with them.
Brian Hampel is a graduate student in architecture.