Comprehensive sex ed doesn’t destroy society

By Matt Watson

In the 2004 hit comedy “Mean Girls,” Coach Carr awkwardly lectured his sexual education class, “Don’t have sex because you will get pregnant and die.” A funny and memorable line, yes, but also not far from what some legislators, administrators and parents would prefer was taught in schools.

Fortunately, a bill passed by the Illinois State Senate on May 25 requires public schools that have sexual education programs to teach contraception alongside abstinence. It was awaiting approval by the House, as of press time.

This bill isn’t a mandate and doesn’t force students to learn about contraception. School districts still have the choice whether to teach sex ed or not. For those that do, the curriculum will be put online the day before it’s taught in school for parents to review. Parents who, for whatever reason, don’t want their children to participate in the lesson can have them excused from the class.

Now, let me be clear: Abstaining from sexual activity is the only 100 percent sure way not to get pregnant or contract a sexually transmitted infection. That being said, we live in a nation where nine out of 10 people have sex before marriage, according to the Guttmacher Institute. This is why sex ed is taught in schools. Young adults need a comprehensive curriculum to help them understand the rapid changes happening to their bodies during puberty.

However, as they have in other areas of public funding, religious conservatives have infiltrated education. In 1981, Congress passed the Adolescent Family Life Act, which provides grants to schools to promote chastity education. Twelve years later, the Supreme Court ruled that federally funded programs must delete all direct references to religion, such as suggestions that teens take Christ on a date as a chaperone, and grants were slowed.

But the damage was already done. The Texas Board of Education now distributes textbooks that exclusively promote abstinence. Texas also has the highest teenage birth rate in the country at 62 births per 1,000 teens, according to a 2006 Guttmacher Institute study on sex ed in the U.S. Texas is the second largest purchaser of textbooks in the nation, so many of these books are distributed to students in

other states.

Is Texas’s birth rate a coincidence, or is there a direct correlation between students being denied vital education and the number of teens getting pregnant? It certainly can’t be overlooked.

In 2004, U.S. Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) released a report on the state of abstinence-only programs in the nation. His findings, while not completely surprising, were extremely alarming. More than two-thirds of government-funded abstinence-only programs contained misleading or inaccurate information.

One textbook, “Choosing the Best: The Big Talk Book,” states that 14 percent of women who use condoms as their primary contraceptive get pregnant within a year. The actual statistic, according to Guttmacher, is that less than 2 percent become pregnant while using condoms.

This is just one example of the draconian nature of abstinence-only education. The content of Waxman’s report led the Government Accountability Office to begin a thorough investigation on the issue in 2006, finding that most of the abstinence-only programs funded by the Department of Health and Human Services are never reviewed for scientific accuracy.

Of course, proponents of contraception aren’t encouraging teens to go out and have sex. Teens don’t need encouragement; they’re already doing it. It isn’t the result of a new generation of sexually charged TV, movies and video games. It’s human nature.

Telling kids to abstain from sex because awful things could happen usually garners more eye rolls than any sort of serious thought. Teens are more perceptive than teachers give them credit for, and these lectures come off as condescending, further turning the students off from listening to an important lesson.

Instead, teachers should have an honest conversation with their students and treat them as what they are—young adults. Teens are more likely to listen if there is mutual respect in the conversation than if they’re being treated like children.

The Illinois Senate took a step in the right direction to shed religious influence on government. This bill respects the choice of each couple to teach their children their own set of beliefs yet sets a standard for the state that says comprehensive, fact-based information comes first. Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan must put this bill to a vote. It’s the right of each student in Illinois to have the opportunity to learn curriculum that paints the whole picture.