Let’s Talk About Sex

Sex-EdWhen did you learn about the birds and the bees? Learn things about anatomy, the reproductive system, the importance of abstinence and protection? Popular answers would be awkward mom/dad conversation, inaccurate facts from friends, and most importantly a junior high sexual education class. If you have been through the public school system, like I have, then you might recall classes that covered anatomical images of bodies, how our bodies will change in years to come, and ultimately pushed for abstinence in the youth of America. Do you remember classes that covered every facet of the wide universe that is sex? Classes that informed teens on sexual activities that include oral sex, anal sex, and the best ways to protect yourself during these activities? Currently in Hawaii, our sexual education is taking a step in the right direction to cover as many facets of sex in order to inform and protect the youth of Hawaii. Pono Choices is a UH funded program that includes curriculum focused on the importance of a trusting and respectful relationship, knowledge of STI’s, importance of protection, and pregnancies all based on a Hawaiian culture curriculum that extends to families and communities. Unfortunately, Pono Choices has undergone major scrutiny and has been at risk of cancellation or modification that would remove a lot of the curriculum. We cannot rob the youth of Hawaii important information that will protect and empower them.

In September 1995 the BOE implemented Policy No. 2110, which is an abstinence based education for public schools sexual education programs. The policy also stipulates that the sexual education programs need to provide education about other ways of protection from STI’s than simply abstaining. Overall, policy states that sex education classes need to teach children the benefits of abstinence while still giving options to students who choose to engage in sexual intercourse. The Pono Choices curriculum has proven to provide this information in new, innovative ways and also includes methods students can take to avoid sexual situations they do not feel comfortable engaging. The Pono Choices website provides course material that they will be giving to students through the program. In one lesson, the curriculum includes role-playing in which students assess scenarios to determine if sexual activity is consensual and desirable by both parties. It also promotes respect and understanding between boys and girls, which can reduce the amount of sexual violence we witness in Hawaii. It is of the utmost importance that this kind of curriculum stays within schools, to not only protect our youth from STI’s but sexual violence.

It is documented that 18% of teens younger than 15 have reported having sex, while 30% of teens aged 15-17 have reported engaging in sexual intercourse. With this increase in teen sex comes an increase in teen pregnancies. In 2012, 305,388 live births were documented by mothers aged 15-19 years old. Though these numbers seem high, teen pregnancy is currently in decline from previous years. Researches attribute the use of contraceptives, like birth control, as a factor in this decline. This indicates that as information about contraceptives are given to teens, they are more likely to utilize and implement these healthy life style choices. If teens are engaging in sex, which as the data proves they are, we need to give them options on how to protect themselves from unwanted pregnancies and STI’s.

Unfortunately, STI statistics are alarmingly high. In Hawaii alone, STI’s are back on the rise. Historically, Hawaii has ranked first in rates for Chlamydia and currently holds third place with regards to the US. In recent surveys it was found that Hawaii has 440 Chlamydia cases per a 100,000 population as compared to the US average of 304 Chlamydia cases per 100,000. HIV is a deadly disease, in 2012 Hawaii there were 4,383 HIV infection cases and of those 1,997 or 45.6% were dead. Of these cases 229 were aged 15-24 years old. Though teens have been reported to utilize contraceptives more than history has proven in Hawaii alone, only 44% of teens reported using a condom, while only 14% reported using an oral contraceptive such as birth control. This pared with birth and STI’s statistics it is evident that sexual education in public schools is still necessary.

State Representative Bob McDermott is currently in works to dismantle the Pono Choices curriculum. His original outrage was targeted at the lack of public involvement. McDermott felt it was in the best interest of parents and families to have access to the course material that was initially denied by the DOE. The curriculum has now been made available to McDermott and the general public. Recently, McDermott has released The McDermott Report, which states that the curriculum is inappropriate for its targeted age groups (11-13), contains graphic material, and promotes sexual activity at a young age.

One of McDermott’s main opposition to the Pono Choices curriculum is the involvement of the anus in sexual activity. He strongly supports that the anus cannot medically be considered genitalia and that discussion of anal sex promotes a homosexual lifestyle, something that needs to be left out of classroom discussion. First and foremost, I think it is crucial to indicate that females also have an anus, which can be used in heterosexual intercourse. In a recent study, 10.9% of girls aged 15-19 have engaged in anal sex within a heterosexual relationship compared to 30% of women aged 15-44. Of all the women who have engaged in anal sex, only 16.1% used a condom. Second, although medically the anus is not technically genitalia it has become a popular method of engaging in sexual intercourse and is one the most dangerous ways to contract HIV and other viruses. In a 2009 study, 15,669 men reported HIV positive due to male-to-male sexual contact and 2,357 were reported from heterosexual contact.

To say my sexual education was “lacking” would be an understatement. Most of the curriculum instilled a sense of shame rather than openness. Abstinence, while safest, tends to not be the path most traveled. We need to inform our children on the most safest way to engage in sexual activity, after all isn’t the health and safety of our children the most important? As all the research has proven, most teens begin their sexual exploration around 15-17 years of age, which would make the years before essential. Starting from ages 11-13 prepares students for their journey to come. When push comes to shove, the choice will be in the teens hands, we need to make sure that they can make an informed, responsible decision which means to not only promote abstinence but protection.

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2 Comments to “Let’s Talk About Sex”

  1. I couldn’t agree with you more! When I was in grade school, the sex education classes typically had only one option: abstinence. Safe sex wasn’t discussed at all. Lo and behold, coupled with a teenager’s natural curiosity and hormonal tendencies, most of my classmates engaged in sexual activities/intercourse as early as 13 years of age — most moved on to become fathers and mothers within the next few years. In short, despite teachers’ efforts to scare us from having sex by showing extremely graphic pictures of STIs (one program even gave us a music CD called “Try Wait”), it didn’t shed light on what happens if you do choose to have sex and the consequences following if precautions are not taken. Sex was always forbidden when I grew up and that made students all the more likely to experiment and rebel against what teachers told us to do. It is also a touchy subject amongst most; the program should work to make it more comfortable for teenagers to freely discuss their thoughts or concerns to an adult. Part of raising children to become responsible adults is to properly inform them of any consequences and precautions — which option they choose is their decision so long as they know what might happen.

    Perhaps the key to an effective sex ed program would also be timing? The schools I attended had experimental curricula and so, we had to take sex ed in the sixth and eleventh grade. Maybe the sixth grade is too soon and eleventh grade too late given the average age for engaging in sexual intercourse or activities.

  2. My niece just turned 13 and it amazing me the knowledge that she has about sex. Specifically, the wrong knowledge that she has about it. School doesn’t teach her about it so unfortunately the internet has become her classroom. Things like pornography teach her what the ‘right’ way to have sex is or what is expected of her. If her sex ed was anything like mine, an awkward teacher who shows the occasional video and says “Don’t have sex” in a halfhearted manner, then I imagine she learned nothing.

    I’ve noticed, as I’ve grown older, that guys have about the same issue. They don’t know how to approach the issue or that is ok to like or not like certain things because they learned from watching a video where the actors have no boundaries. Sure, they know how to put a condom but are told that “it feels so much better without it!” so they aren’t inclined to wear one. This sounds like such a douche bag move but you would be surprised the number of guys who try this and I have to believe if they are better educated about STD’s and pregnancy, this would be less of an issue.
    I think any attempt to teach children something more than “don’t have sex” and how to put a condom on a banana, it would be an improvement.

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