How do we breed a generation of sexual illiteracy? Take a group of young teens and instead of providing necessary education about how their body works and what sex is, pretend that sex doesn’t exist at all and tell them that doing it is very wrong, dangerous and unhealthy. There you go, you have a generation that knows nothing about sex, but participates in it nevertheless.
Our ways of handling sexuality has left our teenagers crippled when it comes to sexual knowledge. Most of them learn about sex from porn, which is hardly an appropriate source of information. Teen pregnancies, sexual assault, STDs, HIV – these are all products of sexual ignorance. How do we stop this, though? Well, certainly not by trying to prevent sex. Our job, as parents, teachers and members of society, is not to ignore sex and hope teenagers never do it, but to provide substantial knowledge and access to protection and birth control, to educate the youth about consent, about their reproductive system, about abortion, about sexuality and its diverse spectrum.
Sex in Class
The British Channel 4 released a documentary about a school in Lancashire that took on a sexual education program with Belgian sexologist Goedele Liekens as the class teacher. The first thing Goedele did was bring to the teachers’ attention that 83% of kids have seen pornography by the time they are 13. This means that almost all teenagers know what sex means, but that they found out the wrong way — through porn.
Why is pornography the wrong source of information, you may ask? Well, because pornography is set in a fantasy world and the people on the videos are actors. It doesn’t teach teens that in real life, they need the other person’s consent to have sex, or that they need to use protection. It gives young people all of these misconceptions about sex, yet the high school students from Lancashire claimed that it gave them more information than their school teachers anyway.
In one of Goedele’s classes, she asked the girls to draw a vagina. It was quite shocking, how little the girls knew about their bodies. In fact, the biology teacher said that the biology book and class were constructed in a way that it intentionally skips through the part of the male and female reproductive organs and doesn’t elaborate in a way that it would about any other part of the human body.
This raises the question, is sexual education a parent’s or a teacher’s job? The answer is most likely that it’s a job for both. It’s understandable that in most cases, the teen would ask a parent to answer any questions. The further interaction depends on the parent’s reaction. If the parent is open about sex and answers the teen’s question without getting angry or uncomfortable, their child will come back to them next time they need help. However, not all parents can be trusted with this issue, and not all parents can be expected to handle this the same way. This is precisely why sexual education should be the school’s job too, where there will be an appropriate curriculum that includes all important aspects and provides the same type of education for every single student.
Just Don’t Do It
Even though statistics show that 7 in 10 people will have sex by the time they are 19 years old, some people still believe that abstinence is the key to stopping STDs and unwanted pregnancies. People have gone so far as to try to implement abstinence-only sexual education, which instead of providing students with contraception details and proper information about diseases, pregnancy and abortion, would just tell them ‘not to do it’ and that ‘it’s a sin’ to do it unless they are married. In the past 25 years, the US Congress has spent $1.5 billion on abstinence-only programs. Studies show that these programs had absolutely no effect on teen behavior and did not decrease any of the issues we are facing.
One of the main advocates of this method is Pamela Stenzel, who lectures more than 500,000 teens on a yearly basis. She is a passionate spokesperson for abstinence and says that she draws inspiration from her own experience and the experiences of many other teenagers. Namely, Stenzel was conceived when her mother was raped at the age of 15, at a time when abortion was illegal. Her mother gave birth to Stenzel and then gave her up for adoption. Stenzel uses this personal instance to further spread the notion that abortion is murder, saying that she thanks her mother for not sentencing her to the death penalty. Furthermore, Pamela promotes the idea that the only guarantee of safety from unwanted pregnancy and HIV is total abstinence.
What people like Pamela Stenzel fail to understand is that young people will eventually exercise their right to have sex. This is not an assumption, rather than a fact proved over and over again by academic studies and statistics. Educating them about using contraception, protection from STDs, how abortion works, would only make them take care of their health and ensure their safety.
Neglecting Sexual Education
Maybe it is true that today, teenagers find out about sex sooner than an average teenager from the past. It’s hard not to, when every advertisement, movie or music video displays some kind of sexual behavior. Desperately trying to keep their children away from sex, parents avoid discussing this subject. Not talking to youngsters about this will lead to them drawing their own conclusions, which usually are very far from the real picture.
The reason why we have so many unwanted teenage pregnancies is that teenagers don’t know how to use a condom, or where to find one. More shockingly, some of them don’t even know how a woman gets pregnant. The reason why some of these teens are forced into giving birth is that we still treat abortion as murder and close our ears and avert our eyes when proof against is provided. The reason why in the USA, every 107 seconds a person is sexually assaulted is that we don’t teach young people about consent and bodily autonomy. We blame the victims and defend the offenders, because we are ignorant.
Preventing sex will never work. However, what will work is sexual education. The root of all of these problems is not sex. It’s ignorance. So instead of fearing sex, start teaching. Teach teenagers to be responsible, teach them to be respectful. Teach them the basic anatomy of the human body, teach them about human sexuality. This is how you will keep them safe.
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