Sex Education is Ineffective
Perhaps one of the most controversial issues arising today is that of sex education in America’s public school system. In today’s world, where information travels at the speed of light and mass media is part of our everyday lives, teenagers are more exposed to this world than ever before. In this country, teens have access to television, newspapers, and of course, internet. Sometimes, teenagers can misinterpret what they see in the media regarding sex and make unwise decisions, such as having unprotected sex. Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and teenage pregnancies is a growing problem in the U.S. Every year, one million girls aged 15 to 19 become pregnant each year in this country alone (Schools Skimping… 13). Sex education was introduced to help solve the problem of STDs and teen pregnancies by giving teenagers real facts and correct information about sex. Teenagers can therefore make wise and safe choices about sex. However, there are major flaws in sex education. While it is extremely important to educate teenagers about sex and sexuality, putting sex education in the American educational system in not the correct solution. Sex education is flawed in that it is ineffective when it comes to lowering teenage pregnancies and STDs because sex education programs leave out important information, teachers who teach it are unqualified, and because teenagers are more greatly affected by their parents, peers, and popular media than by their teachers.
There is a myth that sex education provides teenagers with good and important information. Sex education supposedly gives students the means to make responsible and wise decisions. Pamela DeCarlo, from the Center for AIDS Prevention Studies, is a firm believer in sex education, and believes it must be taught in order to reduce the spread of STDs and teenage pregnancies (DeCarlo).
According an article in USA Today, however, Congress passed in 1996 a legislation allocating two hundred and fifty million dollars to fund sex education programs. These programs excluded medically accurate information about birth control and STDs (Schools Skimping… 13). These programs cannot possibly hope to have any significant benefits. Teenagers are deprived from getting the type of information they need about sex. The whole purpose of sex education is to educate teenagers about sex and help lower teenage pregnancies and the spread of diseases. If these so-called “sex-education programs” are lacking in information about birth control and STDs, then it defeats the whole purpose of having sex education in the first place.
Another argument that is often made is sex education provides teenagers with the type of information that they cannot receive from a parent. The argument is that sex education provides students with qualified instructors to help answer questions that might have been too embarrassing to ask a parent. According to a “Teen Talk” survey taken by Durex Consumer Products, a manufacturer of condoms, teenagers are more likely to talk to their parents only about dating and relationship issues. Only about thirty percent of them talk to their parents about buying or using contraceptives (Schools Skimping… 13).
However, most teachers who teach sex education are unqualified. Barbara Dafoe Whitehead, vice-president of the Institute for American Values, says, “Principals have to do little more than buy a sex-education curriculum and enroll the coach or home-economics teacher in a training workshop, and their school has a sex-education program” (Whitehead). It is unsettling to think of how just anyone can teach a program. Workshops cannot possibly provide teachers with enough skill and expertise to adequately educate teenagers about sex. Workshops, at most, would only cover the basics, which would put teenagers at a loss if they ever wanted to know something that was not taught in the workshop. It seems that sex education is not taken very seriously, considering that math and English teachers need degrees in their respective subjects in order to teach it, whereas sex education teachers need no such requirement.
Until sex education teachers are more adequately trained, the responsibility of educating teenagers about sex should lie with the parents. Since many teens may be too embarrassed to initiate a conversation about sex, the parent should be the one to bring up the subject. Although parents, too, may not have the expertise to know everything about educating their children on sex, teenagers are more likely to take this subject seriously when approached by their parents. An untrained parent is better at educating teenagers on sex than an improperly trained teacher. A one-on-one discussion would be more personal and meaningful than a discussion in a classroom setting. Debra Haffner, president of the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the U.S., believes that sex and sexuality should be an ongoing topic between parent and teen. She says that if parents communicate openly and set clear limits, their children would be more likely to abstain from having sex or use contraceptives if they do (Haffner 81).
Professor Linda A. Berne, of the Department of Health Promotion and Kinesiology in the University of North Carolina, brings a point about the effectiveness of sex education in Europe. In the Education Digest, she claims that in certain parts of Europe where sex education is taught, the rates of pregnancies amongst teenage girls are two to seven times lower than the teenage pregnancy rate in the U.S. (Berne 27). The point she is trying to make is that if sex education is such a success in Europe, it should be effective in the United States as well.
However, the United States and Europe are two complete different areas. The United Sates has a completely different culture. Europeans are not exposed to the type of movies and television programs that American teenagers are exposed to. Charles Krauthammer, former chief resident in psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, points out, “Kids do not learn their morals at school. They learn it at home. Or they used to. Now they learn it from culture, most notably from the mass media” (Krauthammer 584). Jeannie I. Rosoff, president of the Alan Guttmcher Institute, also believes that media is one of the reasons why teenagers are more sexually active. She says, “The role of media, particularly television, is pervasive, and the depiction of sex and violence is ubiquitous at virtually all hours of the day” (Rosoff 33). It is impossible to compare teenage pregnancy rates of two different regions of the world when the teenagers in question are living in completely different societies.
With the media comes peer pressure. If something is believed by popular culture to be “hip” and “cool,” then teens are more likely to do it. In a study done by Ruth J. Berenda, ten teenagers were brought into a classroom. They were told that they were going to be tested on their perception. Cards were held up before the class. On each card, there were three lines, each of different lengths. As the conductor pointed to each line, the class was told to raise their hands when the conductor pointed to the longest line. What one student did not know what that the other nine teenagers were brought in earlier and were told to point to the medium length line. When the nine students all raised their hands at the medium line, the one student would look around with confusion, but would raise his hand as well. When the next card was raised, the one student would follow all the others again. This happened in seventy-five percent of all the cases (Dobson).Because of the power of peer pressure, a student would say that a shorter line is longer than a long one. Peer pressure is greatly affects what teenagers do and look like. In many cases, unfortunately, teenagers are also pressured into having sex. Sex education in the school system would be ineffective because the pressure would be too overwhelming for a teenager to just ignore the crowd and not listen to his friends.
In a society such as ours, it is important that teenagers get the information they need about sex. Only then can they make responsible choices and keep themselves protected. However, sex education as it is known today, is ineffective when it comes to lowering teenage pregnancies and sexual transmitted diseases. The government is spending hundreds of millions of dollars to fund sex education programs that simply do not work. Sex education teachers are inadequately trained and cannot connect with a teenager the same way that a parent could. Until a there is a revision in the curriculum of sex education programs in the U.S., it would be best if the government spent the money on something of use.
Berne, Linda. “Sexuality Education Works: Here’s Proof.” The Education Digest.
Feb. 1996: 25-29
DeCarlo, Pamela. “Does Sex Education Work?” http://www.avert.org/sexedu.htm
Dobson, James. “The Influence of Peer Pressure.”
Haffner, Debra. “How to Talk to Kids About Sex.” Newsweek. 14 June 1999: 80-81
Krauthammer, Charles. “School Birth-Control Clinics: A Necessary Evil.” Elements of
Argument. Ed. Annette T. Rottenberg. Boston: Bedford Books, 1996
Rosoff, Jeannie. “Helping Teenagers Avoid Negative Consequences of Sexual Activity.”
USA Today. May 1996: 33-35
“Schools Skimping on Sex Education.” USA Today. Aug. 1998: 13
Whitehead, Barbara Dafoe. “The Failure of Sex Education.” The Atlantic Monthly.