As college students, we can now look back at ourselves during high school and reflect on the decisions we’ve made about sex and what factors played a role in those decisions. For many of us it has been a combination of things we’ve learned from our parents and friends, and some things we learned in our sex education programs at school.
Since the early 1900s, talks about sex education in schools have remained controversial. In 1940, the need for sex education in schools was supported by the U.S. Public Health Service, starting what is now commonly referred to as “sex ed.”
During the ’80s and ’90s, schools responded to an overwhelming need to educate students about sex and its consequences. Particularly after the AIDS virus was discovered, schools began taking the task of educating youth about sexual health and safe sex into their own hands. Teachers showed videos about condom usage and various STDs in classrooms across the country, hoping to educate America’s youth, prevent the spread of STDs and lessen the number of unwanted pregnancies.
Since its inception, sex education curriculums in schools have faced criticism. There are those who support sex education, arguing that teens who are informed about sex will make better decisions about it, and those who believe sex education simply promotes promiscuity.
[sexed] During his administration, President Bush has changed the format of sex education in schools from a comprehensive curriculum including information about safe sex methods to an “abstinence-only” education, which teaches students one option when it comes to sex – don’t have it. Students in these programs are taught to refrain from sexual activity and are usually asked to sign a vow of abstinence. Bush’s abstinence-only program stems from his idealistic opinion, supported by many religious organizations, that if we don’t teach kids how to have safe sex, they won’t have it at all.
Bush has implemented this new curriculum by increasing federal funding to schools that utilize abstinence-only programs and cutting funding to schools who teach other forms of sex education. Since 1997, over $500 million has been spent on abstinence-only education. In 2004, Bush asked congress for an increase in funding for abstinence education and was granted an increase of $30 million to the budget, despite the lack of evidence of its effectiveness. Bush’s plan of giving federal funding to schools who implement abstinence-only programs and cutting funding to schools who don’t, the abstinence-only program is rapidly becoming the only type of sex ed program taught in public schools.
The national evaluation of the success of the program has not yet been released and isn’t expected until 2006. Maybe Bush is right, maybe he isn’t. The bottom line will be clearer after the release of the statistical results of his program. However, various other studies have been conducted and results released, leaving many questioning the effectiveness of abstinence-only education and its budget.
Dr. Barnaby Barratt, a psychotherapist familiar with the sex education debate, has seen studies that show, while abstinence-only programs have delayed intercourse by six months to a year in teens who have not already had it, the numbers of STD cases and unwanted pregnancies are still increasing.
While delaying intercourse for teens who have not already engaged in it is a positive effect, it certainly does not pertain to all teenagers. A government statistic states that over 40 percent of 15-year-olds in the United States have already engaged in full sexual intercourse.
“Abstinence-only programs do not stop teens from having sex,” Barratt said. “It simply ensures that they will go into their experiences ill-prepared, ignorant and uneducated about sex.” Barratt went on to say forcing these programs on our youth (the essential effect of Bush’s plan) is an abuse of young people, as it ensures them to be uneducated about sexual intercourse.
This view is shared by many MSU students who feel their sex education program in high school helped them make informed decisions about sex. Most college students today were not taught under an abstinence-only program in high school, as its strong implementation has been a relatively recent event in schools.
Kristin Dierwa, advertising junior, admitted her personal decisions about sex were not affected by her high school sex education program, but she feels comprehensive sex ed programs would be beneficial to students who didn’t have knowledge about safe sex. “In high school we were shown pictures of STDs and learned about the importance of using condoms and other forms of contraceptives,” Dierwa said. “I think it’s important that schools teach kids about it because some people’s parents don’t tell them about that.”
Brad Ellens, building construction junior, has a different opinion. “I think I would be more in favor of the abstinence-only programs than against them, because they counter-balance what the rest of the world is saying,” said Ellens. “Kids learn about sex and safe sex everywhere: the media, all those ads on MTV and from their friends.” Although at Ellens’ high school he was taught sex ed comprehensively, he feels his decision to stay abstinent came more from the values he was brought up with from family and church.
The answer to the issues surrounding sex education in schools is not clear-cut. Differing opinions stemming from distinct personal experiences and backgrounds make for never-ending arguments. However, one thing can be said: the decision to have sex is, for many, something that comes from the values or ideas they have acquired from their surroundings, family and religion. If this is the case, then sex education programs would not have a large impact on sexual decision-making. What the programs do have an effect on, though, is how educated a person is about the consequences of engaging in sexual activity and why and how they should be protecting themselves if they do decide to have sex.

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