The State of Sex: What I Want to Change About High School Sex Ed

by: Kara Crawford

Sex education in my public high school was terrible, to the best of my memory. Rumors flew around the school that we had the highest teen pregnancy rate in the state of Illinois, and while I never saw statistical evidence to prove it was true, I would not be surprised at all if it were true. And yet, no one seemed too worried about it…or at least not worried enough to do anything to change how sex ed was taught.

The only things I remember from sex ed were sitting in a dark classroom while one of our gym teachers lectured at us, seemingly without end. The only days I remember were the day she showed us the staple horrifying slide show of pictures of STIs and the day when she gave us her coded lecture promoting her opinions on abortion, informing us that a fetus’s– though I assume she used the term “baby’s”–  heartbeat appears three days after conception.

I’m pretty sure our sex ed class was designed to scare us into abstinence, but it obviously wasn’t working, because even if we weren’t actually the high school with the highest teen pregnancy rate in the state of Illinois, we certainly had plenty of them. And since that rumor continued circulating through the school unquestioned and unchallenged, it was certain that something needed to change.

Now, in case you didn’t catch it, I went to a public high school. As in, not funded by some church or other religious organization. I would expect more. Yet what I found was that even in spite of the present reality in which we live, it seems sex ed even in public schools is being taught in a way seemingly dictated by religious fundies [1]; resulting in what I wish was only a tragic parody of reality à la Mean Girls.

The  reality in which we live is a difficult one for the fundies to face. The hard fact of the matter is that, no matter what sex ed teaches them, no matter how hard the system tries to encourage abstinence, no matter how much legislation the fundies pass thinking they’re taking measures to “prevent underage sex,” it’s not going to work in many cases. Some teens are going to have sex.

Frankly, I think that the more pro-life, pro-family, pro-children way to go about dealing with this issue would be to recognize that reality and not only simply spend half a class period quickly brushing over what possible birth control and contraceptive methods are and move on to the “ever more important” so-realistic-you-wouldn’t-believe-it-wasn’t-a-real-baby “egg baby project” [2] or, as you may recall, those unpleasant pictures of what will happen to you if you contract any of a number of STIs.

By teaching about different forms of birth control and contraceptive methods, the school is not encouraging teens to have sex. Far from it. Pop culture, peer pressure, and basically everything around them encourage them to have sex. Even those statistics that the fundies like to wave around as scare tactic, like that 7 in 10 US teens have sex by their 19th birthday, make some of those who haven’t  feel all the more inadequate and all the more ready to rush into sexual activity, sometimes haphazardly. Not all teens will have sex, but if more than a majority does during teenage years, why are we living in a fantasy world that hopes that they won’t?

By giving proper education on birth control and contraceptive methods, by making sure teens are fully prepared and informed for if and when they should decide to have sex, by even possibly making condoms available to those who choose to be sexually active and by ceasing to live in a fantasy world, I really think that we could better promote those family and pro-life values that the conservative people always claim to espouse so nearly and dearly.

I really don’t get it when people seem to show such concern for the teen pregnancies we see in the US and yet show an absolute blatant disregard for the realities of the preventative measures we could be taking to stop them. Fear mongering, while a tried-and-true tactic with the US public during election season and when attempting to enter into an unpopular war, it simply won’t convince teens that they shouldn’t have sex. So the least we could do as a society is encourage them to make healthy choices in their sexual relationships.

Support teens, support healthy choices, support safe sex practices, and support family values.  Sounds like a win-win, doesn’t it? As a young woman who graduated from a high school which supposedly had the highest teen pregnancy rate in Illinois, I’m sure that a stronger emphasis in safe sex practices in sex ed classes certainly wouldn’t hurt. It might have even helped my high school not have its rumored reputation.

Kara Johansen Crawford is a graduate of DePaul University, with a BA in International Studies and Peace, Justice and Conflict Studies. Kara has been actively involved in activism and community service for much of her life and is particularly passionate about labor justice, queer issues and engaging faith communities on social issues. Kara is currently serving as a Mission Intern with the United Methodist Church at the Centro Popular para América Latina de Comunicación, based in Bogotá, Colombia. Follow Kara on Twitter @revolUMCionaria and on her blog.


[1] This is short for fundamentalists. Many progressive Christians use the term to refer to fundamentalist Christians. I personally prefer the term to “fundamentalists” because I think it’s a softer-sounding term and therefore takes away from the power the fundies earn by the ominous bone-chilling term “fundamentalists.” Plus it’s just more fun to say.

[2] Though apparently in some school districts they use bags of flour to simulate the weight of a baby. Or even real baby dolls that simulate the  noises and needs of actual babies! My school district was so broke we couldn’t even afford eggs, so we just talked theoretically about responsibilities of childcare a lot, or I assume we did. Really I remember basically nothing from that class. Truly a testament to our system.

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One response to “The State of Sex: What I Want to Change About High School Sex Ed

  1. OMG you are speaking my langauge. As a sometime sex educator, I know that when students are armed with factual, supportive, non-heteronormative information, they are LESS likely to catch an STI or experience an unplanned pregnancies.

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