Abstinence Over Education: Public Schools Need to Update their Sex Education Curriculum

By Lydia Snapp

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When I was eleven years old I asked my fifth grade teacher what an abortion was, and shockingly, she told me she couldn’t speak on the subject.

Sex educators in Michigan preach abstinence over anything else, but teenagers should be taught how to practice safe sex, so they can make smart decisions for their health.

According to ReCAPP, (Resource Center for Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention), in a survey from 2015, 41 percent of high school students say they have had sex and 30 percent of students say they are sexually active.

It’s no secret that teenagers have sex, and for a lot of people, high school is the time of their first experiences. We see in the same ReCAPP study, 16 percent of freshman and 46 percent of seniors say they are sexually active. Because teenagers are clearly having sex, they should be taught how to be safe with their body and their mind, no matter if you agree with what they’re doing.

Instructors aren’t teaching people how to safely experience a natural part of being human. Almost every line you’ve heard since beginning reproductive health was “but abstinence is the safest choice.”

If teens or adults aren’t taught how to be safe, they won’t be. This puts them at risk for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) or unexpected pregnancy. In the Revised Michigan School Code 380.1507 from 1976 that is still used today, it states “…nor shall abortion be taught as a method of reproductive health.” Even though abortion is currently legal in most states, students are not allowed to be informed about the procedure by their teachers in Michigan.

“Schools should focus on pregnancy prevention, consent, and STI’s. We should talk about wearing condoms, and using birth control that bests suits your needs and wants,” junior Marvin Potter said. “They [teachers] should inform students on abortion, but shouldn’t go into detail.”

Later in the school code it explains, “Instructors… shall stress that abstinence from sex is a responsible and effective method of preventing unplanned or out-of-wedlock pregnancy… and is a positive lifestyle for unmarried young people.”

This espouses a religion-based idea that sex outside of marriage is bad and you should be ashamed of it, which leads to girls hiding their sexual activity while being unsafe which can result in pregnancy. However, Michigan needs to get past allowing religion to creep into our public schools, which we see so often.

“Problems arise when uninformed people go out to experiment freely, it creates problems like girls getting pregnant unexpectedly and the spread of STIs,” junior Nakia Brown said, “I’d rather have an awkward talk with a teacher about where to get condoms or how not to get pregnant than find out for myself or get an STI.”

“I think that teachers should teach about abortions. They should teach about where to go, the laws around it, how it works, but not opinions on it, just like religion.” Brown further explained.

When you go to school, you’re expecting to learn math, science, history, and literature. Reproductive health isn’t different. In psychology, teens are taught about different drugs and their effect, that doesn’t mean that as a result we go out and do them, the same standard should be applied to sex education. Teens aren’t getting taught to have sex, but they should be taught how to be safe, mentally and physically.

Defenders of abstinence-only education feel that if their child isn’t physically or psychologically ready, they shouldn’t learn about the subject. Another argument is that parents should teach what they think their child needs to know, and that you can’t know what teachers are saying to your children in the classroom. Teachers could be pushing political agendas or personal beliefs down your own child’s throat. However, in comprehensive sex education, instructors would have a specific curriculum based on district guidelines. This would include that teachers can’t push opinions, just state facts about the subject, like government or political classes.

We should revise the Michigan school code to include consent, contraceptives, and abortion. Teenagers aren’t going to have sex because you teach them about it. They’ll have sex because they’re human beings. Informing teens on how to be safe in all forms will give them the opportunity to be safe. Simply not talking about it will not hold them back. They’ll just do it secretly and unsafely, resulting in what we didn’t want in the first place.