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Thursday, May 30, 2024
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The triple whammy of sex ed: Idaho, Georgia and Catholicism

Sexual education in the U.S. sucks — abstinence isn’t the answer

I sat on the bleachers in a school gymnasium listening to a man tell me and my classmates about waiting to have sex until marriage — specifically why it was so important that we all avoid the urge to commit this grave sin and how our future spouses would prefer someone who had saved themselves especially for them, particularly if we were planning to have a husband.

We were seventh graders on a field trip in Idaho, and we were learning how to prepare for a marriage most of us wouldn’t even consider for at least another 10 years — but we weren’t learning how to safely or consensually have sex, something some of us could be doing in less than three years.

This Catholic school “sex ed” field trip, plus a short video on puberty in fifth grade, made up the majority of my formal sexual education.

When I first moved across the country to Georgia, I was shocked at my new classmates’ familiarity with inappropriate jokes and innuendos that I didn’t know existed. I assumed they had a higher quality education or were exposed to more in the public school system than I was in a religious private school. 

But Georgia, like Idaho, New York and 34 more states, requires an emphasis on abstinence — not having sex at all as a method of birth control and STD prevention — in sex education classes. In fact, Georgia’s health education standards take it a step farther to emphasize fidelity in marriage. Many states don’t even require sex ed to be medically accurate.

So how did my classmates learn it all? Maybe their parents were more comprehensive than mine during “The Talk,” or maybe they had more freedom (or more imagination) when it came to surfing the internet.

But whatever the answer, it probably wasn’t due to any formal sex ed at school.

And for me, this lack of sex ed was detrimental. I didn’t wind up getting an STD or an unwanted pregnancy, but I was often afraid that I was sick because I didn’t know if my body was normal, and I was ashamed of my urges and feelings because I thought they were bad. I earned a reputation in high school for being innocent, and my friends undertook an embarrassing joint effort to “protect” my innocence by refusing to explain any innuendos or jokes to me.

Sex is such a natural human experience, so why are we treating it like it’s something to be embarrassed by or something to be ashamed of? Why do we insist that the less teenagers know, the better off they’ll be? Why are we teaching our youth that they should abstain from sex because it’s a sin and their future spouses want them untouched? Why aren’t we teaching anatomy or sharing other medically accurate information in so many states?

We need to realize that abstinence simply isn’t the reality for thousands of teenagers, and that real, comprehensive sex ed helps everyone — even those who do abstain. Instead of emphasizing not having sex or shaming those who do, we should provide students with the information they need to stay safe, set boundaries and be aware of their own bodies. We shouldn’t ask them to rely on the internet or their friends, both possible sources of misinformation. And we shouldn’t ask them to carry the burdens of shame and fear over something so ordinary.

We should do better.

Because every teenager deserves better.

Xiola Bagwell is a copy editor and can be reached at xiola.bagwell@ubspectrum.com


XIOLA BAGWELL


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Xiola Bagwell is a copy editor at The Spectrum. She enjoys reading and writing fantasy/romance novels, watching lighthearted movies and spending time with her friends and family. Xiola is a linguistics major, minoring in Spanish. 

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