Sex education curriculum needs updated

Jackson Queen and Shannon Koborie


As the United States saw a surge of teen pregnancies and HIV/AIDS cases throughout the 1970s, the push for sex education programs in public schools became stronger as the years passed. In 1981, Congress passed the Adolescent Family Life Act (AFLA), a program designed to remedy the teen pregnancy crisis through the implementation of abstinence-until-marriage curriculum in American high schools. 

This curriculum, a relic of the conservative resurgence era, teaches that completely refraining from sex until marriage is the only viable method of unwanted pregnancy and STD prevention, causing students to miss out on valuable information regarding sexual health. Despite the outcry for a new curriculum growing louder each year, why are schools continuing to implement abstinence-until-marriage sex education? More importantly, why does the Tallmadge School District still use this curriculum? Topics like this tend to be thrown to the side, ignored, and never argued; so, to quote a once popular 90s song, “Let’s Talk About Sex”.

Everyone is entitled to their own opinions and beliefs, but these ideas that limit and hinder information that greatly help students should not influence the ways that teachers teach. It is already a policy within health classes that a permission slip be signed in order for a student to be able to participate in sex education. So if a student’s parents are comfortable with their child taking the course, why is it that the topic is not taught to its fullest extent? Instead, a watered down lesson about abstinence is put in place of a class that is vital to a student’s understanding of himself or herself.

Tallmadge City Schools teaches sex education in fifth grade, middle school and high school health classes. Within these classes, the curriculum of abstinence-until-marriage is used excessively, if not exclusively, as the basis of sex ed. In part, doing this ignores the fact that there are still students engaging in sexual activity. Providing students with the information on how to be safe during sex not only helps prevent STD’s but also helps lower the teen pregnancy rates. According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), Ohio has a teen pregnancy rate of 18.8. This statistic means that per one thousand females aged fifteen to eighteen, about nineteen of them, will become pregnant in their teen years. In fact, the CDC has been working with several state governments across the nation to make sure that sex education is being taught properly. This comes in an effort to reduce their teen pregnancy rate.

“I think that some want to teach only abstinence for many reasons– politics, fear, religious beliefs, morals– all come into play, which is understandable.  Some people believe it is ‘safe’ to teach just abstinence, but the facts and evidence show that ‘safe’ teaching can actually lead to more unintended pregnancies, sexual transmitted diseases, and ruined relationships,” Health teacher Matthew Hagedorn said.

Education curriculum is decided at the state level, so each individual state chooses what students must learn. For sex education in Ohio, this includes the emphasis on abstinence, medical accuracy, promotion of religion, and even whether sex education is required at all. According to Guttmacher Institute, Ohio does require sex and HIV education in classrooms, but these classes are not required to be medically accurate. Along with this, sex education does not have to be age appropriate for students, may promote religion, and even allows parents to pull their student out altogether. Comparing Ohio’s sex education requirements and teen pregnancy rate to states with more comprehensive approaches, such as Oregon or Maine, it becomes clear that abstinence-until-marriage sex education is not as effective as is believed.

Tallmadge has a policy that abstinence be at the center of the Sexual Health Education curriculum. What that means is that as a health educator we explain that abstinence is taught and explained as the single best choice for health and well-being until you are ready to handle the possible outcome of sex,” Hagedorn said.

When focusing on abstinence-until-marriage, sex ed fails to acknowledge puberty and bodily changes. Sex ed is taught in the starting years of puberty, especially in middle school, and it can be a very confusing and scary time if students are not provided with the correct information. Allowing schools to teach sex ed the proper way allows teachers to provide students with the correct information; instead, students now, unfortunately, learn from the internet or by word of mouth, which often time leads to confusion or the spread of misinformation.

So we must teach a little deeper than that. The topic of sexual health is extremely complicated and misunderstood. It is essential to help students truly understand what they are going through, to prepare them for the feelings, urges and curiosities they may have because if you don’t do that humans tend to react without thinking much on feelings, urges, and curiosities. Instead of acting without thinking, we provide opportunities to gain the skills to have conversations, where to get good reliable & factual information that can help them understand these complicated things,” Hagedorn said.

There is a  problem with students not understanding what is happening to their bodies because it was not taught to them properly. Restricting this flow of information for the students not only causes them to not be educated on the subject but could also harm students who do not know how to properly take care of themselves physically, mentally, and eventually sexually.

“I can’t even count the amount of times I’ve heard my peers say something and you can tell they know absolutely nothing about their bodies. To me it’s not a matter of whether it’s appropriate or not, it’s a matter of student health and safety,” senior Karli Christ said. “We need sex ed to protect our students. The point of school is to educate, so why aren’t we educating students on things that they deal with almost every day?”

Being able to start educating students early and accurately is the only way to help prevent this problem. Currently, sex education begins in fifth grade with an introductory lesson on puberty and reproduction. While this is an amazing start for the school system, it should be pushed further. Students should be learning about the basic topics of their bodies from the start of their education. While they might not be learning about puberty and sex, they could be learning about body parts, gender, and the bodily changes that will be happening every year.

If we could start this in a very basic way and grow on it each year, by the time they would be in fifth or sixth grade it wouldn’t be the embarrassing and uncomfortable topic that it has become–and the students would learn much more. It is proven that the earlier kids learn these things, the better decisions they make when they are older,” Hagedorn said.

Sex education has carried a stigma as long as it has been in taught in schools. While changing the curriculum to teach past the surface is often too uncomfortable and controversial to consider, it does not need to be. The blunt reality is sex is a completely normal part of the human experience; even if teens may not use all the information they learn at their current age, they will certainly need it down the line. It is time to take sex education seriously, and to make sure students are learning information they need to become healthy, responsible adults. To ensure students receive a quality comprehensive sex education, contact the Tallmadge Board of Education or an individual Board member to voice your concerns. If enough of the community advocates for this cause, we can make sure students learn about sexual safety the right way.