Did your heart just start beating faster? Even the term "sex" or "family life education" brings panic, fear, and increases the heartbeat and sweat glands in most adults. However, once the panic subsides, the debate over whether to have sex education in American schools or not - is done. A new poll finds that over 90% of Americans say sex education should be taught in schools.
According to the poll, the surveyed parents supported teaching 7th and 8th graders basic information on how babies are made, and 56 percent supported teaching all aspects of sex education, including birth control and safer sex in 7th and 8th grade, with a much higher percentage agreeing it should be taught in High School.
On the other hand, exactly who IS getting taught about sex? Unfortunately, the nationwide trend is that fewer young people are learning how to reduce the risk of getting a disease and preventing pregnancy. "The majority of school systems now focus on delaying sexual education as long as possible," said Barbara Huberman, the director of education for Advocates for Youth, a pro-education group in Washington, D.C. "While you may get an overview of contraception in the seventh or eighth grade, there are many, many school systems that are afraid to talk about it at all."
I am a School Nurse at a Middle School in a suburb of a large city. They teach about "abstinence" in a brief session. Then, on a daily basis, I get to deal with the student's choices and mistakes. I hear stories that make me want to cry. I hear parents frequently say, "my daughter/son would never do that", or "I don't think (insert child's name here) would ever have sex". The all seem horrified at the thought. But, what I see and hear on consistently (and remember, this is middle school) tells a different story. Just so you don't think my school is unusual, I read articles and stories from nurses all over the country that say the same thing.
I have girls coming to me fearing pregnancy (and some really are pregnant). Some of these same girls have had multiple partners (yes, they are only 12-14 years old and yes, some are a mandatory CPS/Law Enforcement call). Amazingly, these same girls will say statements like, "I know that you can get pregnant through oral sex, but I try to be careful". They ARE too young to be having sex, but it is happening - and not infrequently. We may have grown up in a different time, and want to believe it can't happen in our own home, but let me give you some hard statistics:
The average girl today begins to develop some characteristics of puberty between ages 10 and 11, with many showing some changes at ages eight or nine.
One in 12 students experience their first sexual intercourse before age 13, and a quarter of all children (24 percent of girls and 27 percent of boys) have had sex by age 15, and many believe these estimates to be low. Remember, these numbers do not include the "everything but intercourse" in them. Each year, one in four sexually active teens contracts a sexually transmitted disease. Genital herpes (which cannot be cured) has increased by almost 30% in young people in the last 9 years. There are over 900,000 teen pregnancies per year. When it comes to HIV, the largest increase in cases is seen in teenagers. These statistics are frightening.
Ideally, parents should give strong teaching to their kids about honesty, integrity, self-value, and abstinence for the first 10 to 12 years of life. If they did a really good job of this, and taught their children to make good decisions, we wouldn't be having this epidemic and being forced to have as many conversations with 14, 15 and 16 years old about what to do about an unplanned pregnancy or a STD.
Which leads to why this should be taught in the school - parents would be the ideal choice to teach this to children. That would be assuming you have parents who are willing to do so. But, a majority of parents don't know how to talk to their kids about sex and sexually transmitted diseases. The other part of that equation is that many families today are very dysfunctional - some parents abuse alcohol, drugs, work too many hours, have high stress or anxiety, or have various other reasons for not having the ability to talk with their children. That leaves the "job" of teaching kids about sex and STD's to the educational system.
Although this is an uncomfortable subject, it IS an important one. I am a strong believer in abstinence. If it were up to me, everyone would abstain until marriage. However, I am a realist as well. We cannot bury our heads in the sand and hope teen sex goes away. Teens are "doing it", getting pregnant, and catching diseases. They need education and support and we need to guide them. It is our job as educators and adults to keep them safe. Please start early talking to your kids and have a good relationship with them about everything. They are the most important "assets" you have. Also, talk to your school Administrators about how you can support the family life education and be involved. Let's try to put a dent in this sad epidemic.