The Birds and The Bees: The Importance of Sex Education

sex-987126_640Sex. It is uncomfortable to talk about, but it is an important subject nonetheless. Despite the awkward feelings that come with sex education, it is crucial in informing young adults about the dangers of unsafe sex and educates them on how to practice safe sex. Sex education curriculums help reduce the occurrence of sexually transmitted infection (STI) transmissions and teenage pregnancy. In the states where sex education is not required, teenagers have been getting their sex education through the Teen Pregnancy Prevention (TPP) Program that Former President Barack Obama started in 2010. If the TPP Program is the best way to educate teenagers whose schools do not provide sex education, then why is the Trump administration completely cutting off funding for it?

The Office of Adolescent Health’s TPP Program funds and works with other organizations that share a common goal: reduce teen pregnancy and birth rates. The TPP Program is important because it focuses on populations with the greatest need, in states where sex education is not required in public schools. Only 24 states and the District of Columbia require sex education in public schools, and only 20 states require that the education must be medically or factually accurate. With less than half of the states requiring sex education, the TPP program helps adolescents gain access to effective and fact-based education.

The Trump administration sent out notices in July to the TPP Program’s 81 organization stating that their grants will end in 2018, instead of in 2020 as planned. It is estimated that about $213.6 million will be cut, affecting the 1.2 million teenagers the program was expected to reach. Many argue that the 1.2 million teenagers will not be affected anyway, since they believe that TPP was not effective. But with the national teen birth rate dropping 41% from 2010 (the year the program was established) to 2016, there is good reason to believe that TPP is benefitting adolescents and that the Trump administration’s funding cut will negatively affect teenagers across the nation.

Baltimore is one of the cities that will affected by the cuts, losing about $3.5 million in funding for teenage pregnancy prevention programs. Baltimore’s City Health Commissioner Dr. Leana Wen argues that the city’s efforts in reducing teen pregnancy will lose momentum. The city has seen a 44% decrease in teen birth rates since 2009, with the rate at 36.2 births per 1,000 girls in 2015 (the most recent statistic). But with the funding cut, the city’s teen birth rate will most likely increase, since about 20,000 students in 100 schools will not receive critical reproductive health education.

Oklahoma City is another city that will be affected. According to Brittany Keck, the overseer of the TPP-funded sex education programs in Oklahoma City, the students benefit a lot from the programs. One sixth grader wrote in a letter, “I learned that if you are getting pressured to have sex, you should try to talk it out or find someone who wants to wait,” and another wrote “I learned where the baby grows. I thought it grew in your belly.” Without that sex ed program, will future students be able to learn the same things?

Many critics of the TPP program argue that federal funding should go towards abstinence-only education, which teaches students that sexual activity should only be kept within a marriage. Abstinence is 100% effective at preventing unwanted pregnancies, since sex is avoided and semen is kept away from the vagina. To be 100% effective, abstinence needs to be practiced 100% of the time, but it rarely is.

In addition to that, abstinence-only education is not effective at delaying sexual activity initiation or reducing teen pregnancy. State-based evaluations have found that there was little evidence that abstinence-only based programs had a long term impact on students’ attitudes towards sex. In another study, done by the Mathematica research group for U.S. Congress, it was concluded that abstinence-only education “did not delay the onset of sexual activity or lower rates of teen pregnancy and STIs” and that the teenagers “initiated their first sexual encounter at the same average time as the control group.” In other words: abstinence-only education does not work.

Without proper sexual education, more teenage girls could get pregnant, and teenage pregnancy has deeper consequences than most people realize. Teenage mothers are more likely to drop out of high school, live in poverty and have poor health. At the same time, their children are more likely to have health and learning disadvantages, drop out of high school and become teenage parents as well. And because teenage parents are more likely to depend on public assistance, teen births cost taxpayers about $9.4 billion every year. If the funding for the TPP program does get cut, the $9.4 billion taxpayer cost will increase.

But the cost in taxpayer dollars should be the least of our worries; the TPP funding cut will directly affect American teenagers. We would be denying students access to an education that would help them make smart and informed decisions about sex. While President Trump and other government officials in the White House are arguing that abstinence-only education is better, about a fourth of U.S. women are giving birth before they turn 20 years old.

We need to face the facts: teenagers are having sex, whether we like it or not, and having all of the teenagers in the United States practice abstinence is a far-fetched dream. Abstinence-only education is not working; teenagers are still having sex, even if it has been hammered into their heads that sex before marriage is wrong. Instead of trying to prevent teenagers from having sex, schools need to focus on teaching students how to practice safe sex and not engage in risky sexual behaviors, which could be achieved with TPP.

Cutting off funding for the TPP program and trying to replace it with abstinence-based programs will only reverse the progress the country has made in reducing its teen pregnancy rates. And with the TPP program funding ending two years earlier than planned, it will be hard to determine what practices and programs are the most effective at reducing teen pregnancy rates. TPP was supposed to last for 10 years, from 2010 to 2020, so that the government and related organizations could determine the long term effects of each program/practice and see which practice was best at reducing teen pregnancy rates. Allowing the Trump administration to cut off funds and effectively end the TPP program will be a step backwards from the progress done to reduce and prevent teen pregnancies.

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