Abstinence-only sex ed is outdated and puts women at a major disadvantage
Especially women in the American South
My Texas high school sex education course included a slideshow of STDs, videos enumerating the negative psychological and logistical effects of having premarital sex, and a packet on how to be married.
The absence of contraceptive information is the norm in Texas, a state which uses an abstinence only approach to avoiding STIs and unwanted pregnancy. Like 25 other states, Texas does not require public schools to teach sex education at all. It is up to each district to determine the degree to which they have sex education in their course requirements, if at all.
While programs such as this deprive all students of comprehensive sex education, the lack of information about contraceptives puts women at a more distinct disadvantage. For males, there are four types of commonly used birth control methods beyond abstinence, which include pulling out, outercourse, vasectomy, and condom use. For women, there are over a dozen forms and methods of birth control, most of which require a prescription, and interact with chemicals or hormonal balances within the body.
For women, off-hand knowledge of their birth control options is unsettlingly limited. In a recent study, when women were asked to list all forms of birth control they were aware of, all options other than the Pill and condoms fell below a 50% awareness from the group, with some falling below 10%.
Women should not need a reference guide for their basic health care options.
For men, none of their options (aside from a vasectomy) require altering of one’s hormonal structure. A consultation with a doctor to procure condoms is not required. When women’s only over the counter contraceptives are also their least effective, there is a clear need to educate on options and accessibility.
My marriage packet may have covered conflict resolution, but active listening is not going to let the 47% of high school students who are sexually active know that you have to be fitted for a diaphragm.
The information age in which we live is both a gift and a curse. While the internet provides students with a source to become independently informed about sexual health, it can also be used as an argument against the necessity of teaching it in public schools. Why teach about the Pill when students can simply Google it? This is a flippant approach.
You can similarly find information on all other subjects: history, English, math, biology, etc. Should we then discard the education system altogether due to the fact that information is accessible online? Additionally, many sexual health websites do not address contraception. Finding the most informative, least bias website may be a gamble.
The need for comprehensive information on birth control options is imperative for women. Forms of male birth control have permeated media and pop culture. Condom commercials present themselves on television, condoms breaking and a resulting fear of potential outcomes are plot lines in movies and television, pulling out has become a punch line to many comedians’ jokes. You might hear, “The condom broke,” on your favorite TV series. You are less likely to hear, “Oh no, my IUD may have shifted out of my cervix.”
While commercials for forms of female birth control do present themselves, the ambiguity of how they function with a women’s body is apparent. Does the extended cycle pill affect hormone levels differently than the combination pill? Do most insurance providers cover Nuvaring? The stakes are not quite as high when a fellow must make the trying decision between Ribbed or Fire & Ice condoms.
It is not enough to say that information is out there. Do we want each generation of newly sexually active women to depend on search engines and pharmaceutical ads to educate themselves? The majority of Americans will have premarital sex in their life, so why are we designing programs that disregard that fact? Even if the majority of women did wait until marriage to have sex, they should still be informed of the contraceptive options they may want to employ in the relationship.
Why didn’t my marriage binder come with a section on family planning?
The decision to become sexually active is a big one, one that can also hold the weight of perceived social, familial, and religious judgments. Do we really want to roll the dice on teen pregnancy rates by betting against a teenage girl being too tentative to ask her parents for information about contraceptives?
Condoms are of course a crucial tool for women staying sexually safe as well. However, we live in a culture where women are still disproportionately sexually abused compared to men. For the 1 in 5 women that get assaulted, it is unlikely that their assailant will comply with their request to practice safe rape.
Therefore, women should have the option to pursue long-acting acting birth controls such as implants, IUDs, and Pills, and they should have the information provided for them detailing this various options in sex education classes.
We are willing to teach our students government courses in school, which provide them with comprehensive information about our political system and how it functions, and then trust that this will not have a detriment on the political values instilled at home, and arguably create a more informed individual as they navigate their political life. We should have the same trust in a sex education system that provides comprehensive information.
The debate over abstinence versus comprehensive sex education is not new, and it will continue, but as we engage in this important discussion, it is crucial to acknowledge that when students are left in the dark, women are often the ones left without a flashlight.