Sex ed isn’t satisfying America’s kids

By Katie Dunne

“The last time I freaked out, I just kept lookin’ down, I st-st-stuttered when you asked me what I’m thinkin’ ’bout.”

This used to be my favorite line from Miley Cyrus’ hit song, “See You Again.” It took on a whole new meaning when I considered how LifeStyles Condoms might use it in a commercial.

According to Carol Carrozza, VP of marketing at LifeStyles, the company offered 15-year-old Cyrus a gig as spokeswoman. Really? I’m pretty sure 90 percent of her fans are under the age of 12.

Although Cyrus declined the offer, saying she was waiting to have sex until marriage (‘atta girl, Miley), it speaks volumes to the promiscuity of America’s youth.

According to the National Center for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2005, 47 percent of high schoolers had engaged in sexual intercourse, 34 percent of whom did not use a condom. Of the 19 million new sexually transmitted infections each year, almost half are diagnosed in individuals ages 15-24. In 2000, 13 percent of all pregnant women, or in many cases girls, were adolescents aged 15-19.

By age 15, I would assume that most kids have participated in some sort of sex education class, where they learn about sexuality, relationships, and the importance of contraceptives. Imagine my surprise when I learned that the United States federal government contributed more than $1 billion to abstinence-only education over the last decade. Under the Bush administration, annual funding for these programs doubled between 2001 and 2005.

Abstinence-only education, as defined by Title V of the Social Security Act, “teaches that a mutually faithful monogamous relationship in the context of marriage is the expected standard of sexual activity.” Such programs also teach that having a child out of wedlock will likely have “harmful consequences for the child, the child’s parents and society.” Title V programs cannot mention contraceptive methods unless they are discussing failure rates.

Abstinence-only sex education denies the fundamental fact that we are sexual beings. It assumes that all people can and should wait until marriage to engage in sexual intercourse. This demonizes unwed mothers and alienates populations that cannot legally marry. Not only is it a message laden with moral and religious implications, it is also unreasonable and, quite frankly, ineffective.

A Congressional study released in 2004 reports that grade school students who participated in abstinence-only education courses were as likely to be sexually active teenagers as students who did not participate in such programs. The same study reports that 80 percent of abstinence-only curricula contains “false, misleading or distorted information about reproductive health.”

Furthermore, the American Psychological Association, American Medical Association, and various other professional health organizations officially criticize the abstinence-only education method.

If there is one thing that I have in common with the promoters of abstinence-only education, it’s that I don’t think 15-year-olds should be having sex. If you’re in college, have all the safe sex you want. If you’re in the ninth grade, read a book, play a sport, do some homework. Then, go home to your twin-sized bed and get nine hours of sleep.

But regardless of what I think, and regardless of how much money the federal government pumps into abstinence-only education, adolescents will have sex. This is no new phenomenon. The overall rate of sexual activity among high school students has increased very little in the last 50 years. If we know it’s happening, why are we continuing to provide an inadequate education?

High school students need a comprehensive sex-ed program that discusses the risks involved with sexual activity, but acknowledges that some kids will become sexually active before graduation. Sex-ed programs should objectively explain contraceptive options and failure rates without inserting moral commentary or passing judgment. If we give students filtered information, they will fill in the blanks themselves. So, let’s give them the whole story.

As for Miley, I’ll keep rocking out to “See You Again,” in hopes that she won’t follow in the footsteps of her pop star predecessors. LifeStyles, why don’t you give Britney a call?

Katie is a senior in political science and Spanish, and she encourages you to pick up your free condoms from McKinley Health Center.