Opinion by by Gerrard Simpkins and Maddi Fink
Let’s talk about sex, baby… better yet, let’s talk about sex education — or lack thereof.
Because of societal corruption, among adolescents especially, it is not seen as a problem that 49.3% of twelfth graders have reported being sexually active. (Resource Center for Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention.)
Sex is a natural, human occurrence, but the extent of acceptance for “casual” sex has caused a national epidemic throughout the high school age group. As high school students, we are exposed to sex every day through television, music, social media, and other pop culture influences. This exposure leads to many overlooking the consequences of any form of intimate interaction with others. With the ability to get information directly from your smartphone, much of the information gathered through basic media is inaccurate or minimized. Acquiring inaccurate information can lead to false beliefs and misinformation.
Finding information is getting easier, but many adolescents don’t seem to be any more knowledgeable.
In the Virginia public school system, Family Life Education is offered to teach awareness of a variety of threats of being a teenager. It is typically taught from fourth grade until twelfth grade and centers on abstinence, pregnancy, and the mechanics of the reproductive system. Determining the curriculum for this program is done at the local level with the input of parents, which tends to lead to many standards of learning not being covered. Parents should have this right, but with the direct exposure to inaccurate information through the internet, the Department of Education should have specific standards of learning that must be taught in school.
“Each school division decides if they’re going to have a Family Life Education program and then they decide what the curriculum is going to be; and a part of that process includes parents in the locality who help to determine what it is, and then also the opportunity for parents to come in and review the curriculum before it’s actually taught,” said Tia Campbell, School Health Specialist at the Virginia Department of Education in a phone interview.
Before graduating, high school students need to know about the dangers in the real world. Although parents may be uncomfortable with certain topics being taught in school, they should not take away the proper knowledge and information regarding violence, rape, and awareness of their surroundings that threaten the well-being of their children.
Even though Family Life is offered, it is not mandatory, and is most often not taught after sophomore year in high school. Bishop Sullivan senior Bobby Price took Family Life in public school.
“I remember taking Family Life from fourth grade to tenth grade,” Bobby Price said. “They taught us about protection, diseases, and hygiene. Family Life basically taught you about pregnancy and if you’re going to have sex, protect yourself.”
In the Catholic education system, Morality is taught during the second semester of freshman year. Bishop Sullivan’s theology teacher Cate Harmeyer brings attention to the difference between public and private school sex education.
“We would cover it differently than public school from a religious dimension,” said Mrs. Harmeyer. “We prepare our kids with a more full picture of the human person and sexuality. We talk about physical consequences and emotional consequences in a relationship, and also with God. We present a whole picture.”
A typical Morality course covers the body, the effects and consequences of sex, and the relationships between and individual and God. The course covers contraception, which is the artificial prevention of conception, while explaining why the Catholic faith disagrees with it. It also offers information on natural family planning.
“So what we do on the topic of contraception is we’ll talk about the church’s teachings, about where sex is appropriate and what the functions of sex are. Obviously the Church’s teachings are that sex is only for marriage, for the committed protection of a marriage relationship,” said Mrs. Harmeyer. “I’ll go through and have them tell me some of the common forms of contraception that they have heard of before. Then I will give a basic explanation of what they are for the purpose of going back and asking, ‘why does the Church have a problem with this form of contraception?’”
This is a benefit in knowledge compared to the public school system, but it is centers around the beliefs of Catholics, which is abstinence before marriage. Abstinence is not always practiced throughout high school. It should additionally cover protection for those who decide not to remain abstinent, although teaching it is very important.
The occurrence of sex is not the only threat in society. Drugs, alcohol, rape, and violence threaten our well-being everyday. As we get older, these threats become more apparent and increase in danger. Before going to college, every student deserves to know the proper information to keep them safe and healthy which cannot be found solely through a search on Google, though it may seem that way.
With incomplete knowledge and pressures of society, many adolescents find information through the internet and other media sources. The ability to get incorrect information and view inappropriate material is beyond easy, and it tends to lead to myths being created and believed.
In addition to inaccuracy, there is additional information that is just never learned. The majority of students in middle and high school know the principles of sex and its effects, but many more are not offered complete information in an educational setting that can prevent much more than pregnancy. For example, condoms and other forms of contraception do not always protect people from sexually transmitted infections (STI) because of skin interaction. Abstinence, though a focal point in sex education, is not a typical way of life for many high school students. Teaching abstinence is a positive standard of learning but may not keep some students from having sex.
With sex being portrayed through music, television, and social media, it has become a “normal” aspect for high school students. The mass media has begun to support programs which give informed answers based on an anonymous question through text messaging. Though a step in the right direction, we still have a long way to go; and with this problem only growing, it is our job to inform future generations of the dangers that stretch farther than STIs and pregnancy.