Nevada Students Demanding Comprehensive Sex Ed
The state of sex education in the United States is put simply, a complicated mess. It’s one of the subjects in which our essential decentralization of public education from state to state is most apparent. Some states teach comprehensive sex education, others teach abstinence only. And that’s just the public schools. Private schools can pretty much teach whatever they want. All of this means that we are sending young people into the world with wildly different expectations, understandings, and questions about sexual and reproductive health. Luckily, some students in the Clark County School District in Nevada are now standing up for themselves and demanding real sex education.
This spring, the Huffington Post put together a number of truly terrifying maps to show the disparity of sex education across the country; this is the one I found the most disturbing:
That’s right, all those states in red don’t necessarily have to provide medically accurate information about sex to their students. Some of the greatest misinformed hits from sex ed classes around the country, courtesy of a Congressional report, include:
- HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, can be spread via sweat and tears.
- Condoms fail to prevent HIV transmission as often as 31 percent of the time in heterosexual intercourse.
- Women who have an abortion are more prone to suicide.
- Ten percent of women who have an abortion become sterile.
These “facts” are not only patently false, but go straight to spreading fear and misinformation. There’s really no regulation to insist that that students get appropriate or accurate information when it comes to sex, which has led to terrifying gaps in knowledge among young people.
For example, a 2009 study shows that nearly half of sexually active young people do not use protection regularly. Laura Lindberg, of the Guttmacher Institute, a research institution, explains that this statistic probably stems from abstinence only programs that emphasize the problems with contraception in an attempt to stop young people from having sex altogether. Lindberg says:
Abstinence-only curriculums have gone explicitly out of their way to teach misconceptions about contraception. This generation of 20-somethings have missed many opportunities to get medically accurate and correct information
Because many states aren’t required to provide that accurate information, myths are rampant, and people actually make more unsafe choices.
Contrast that with how students fare in states that teach comprehensive sex education, including the real facts about contraception. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently released a report detailing how the teen pregnancy rate is much lower in those states.
Even with all of that information, the sex education we provide to students continues to be extremely contentious. But now, some students are starting to take matters into their own hands. Or rather, their own voices. Students in Clark County School District in Las Vegas are protesting for a comprehensive sex education curriculum. They are pushing for real, accurate information on topics including sexual assault, masturbation, and other topics that both parents and school districts have deemed inappropriate. But junior Caitlyn Caruso, one of the leaders of the protest, pointed out the clear need for such discussions in the classroom. A victim of sexual assault, she relayed her experience with sex education in school:
I didn’t have words to name what had happened to me in the past and the experiences I had with sexual assault… I wasn’t provided with that terminology in my sexual health education classes here in Nevada. It took me years before I could access that information and could name what happened to me.
When I walked into my first sex education class, I was confronted by the immediate message ‘Don’t have sex until you get married’ and ‘If you have sex before get married, you’re not pure anymore,’ I felt ostracized and alienated and impure. I felt dirty, and like I didn’t belong there, and like I didn’t really belong anywhere.
I understand the argument that we need to protect our young people from information that is too mature for them. But it’s unrealistic in this day and age, when sex is all over the media, to expect that teens are completely in the dark. It’s better to provide accurate information than none at all, or worse, inaccurate information. I applaud the Las Vegas students who are taking a stand.