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More than Sex

My nineteen-year-old dad and my twenty-year-old mom were surprised to find out that

they had conceived a child eighteen years ago. In a heavily religious, particularly Catholic,

nation known as the Philippines, it seemed as though they had no other choice but to continue

with the pregnancy and get married. So they did. And I was born within a few months. As young

and unprepared as they were, I remember that they always figured out how to balance

everything. My mom would work all day at the mall while my dad got me ready for school and

would always be back home in time from his job once I finished. We did not live a luxurious life,

but it was relatively comfortable and stable all throughout my childhood. Even when we

immigrated to the United States, I admit it was rocky for awhile, but they eventually found a

foothold and were able to provide me with even better security and happiness.

I am incredibly fortunate to have parents who truly cared for me and always did what

they thought would be best for me, even if it cost them basically their whole life. However, I am

aware that it is not like that for everybody. Unintended pregnancies are life-changing, especially

at a young age. For awhile, I wondered how it was possible that my parents did not know how to

protect themselves so that they could prevent a pregnancy. My mom later informed me that they

did not have sex education in the Philippines. They had no idea what birth control or

contraceptives were; it simply was not taught to them. It made me think about sexual health

education here, in the United States.

I remember back in fifth grade how my peers and I were separated by sex to learn about

the menstrual cycle and the emerging biological and emotional changes we were about to

experience due to puberty. Fast forward to seventh grade and we were actually taught what sex

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was, sexually transmitted infections (STDs), human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), acquired

immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS), and pregnancy. Finally, in ninth grade we were informed

about the different types of birth control and contraceptives—with a heavy emphasis on

abstinence, as well as what healthy/abusive relationships consist of. Looking back on the sex-ed I

received, it was pretty decent, but it was definitely lacking. What about different sexual

orientations and gender identities? What about consent? How to really have sex? What is sexual

pleasure and how to deal with that? How to avoid or fight sexual abuse? How to deal with being

sexually abused? These were questions I did not even think of back then but as a senior in high

school today, I believe that these are absolutely necessary for teenagers to know. Cognizant of

my inexperience, this curiosity has led me to investigate: ​What composes a comprehensive

sexual education and how effective is it for teenagers​?

Comprehensive sexual education consists of a wide array of topics that go beyond sex

itself. Along with the biological aspects of sex, it also includes other issues that are not normally

covered in general science classes: birth control, contraception, STIs, HIV, AIDS, pregnancy,

reproductive health resources, gender identity, sexual orientation, sexual attitudes and behavior,

consent, and relationships—though the definition can vary, these are the most commonly agreed

upon. All of these concepts are essential for teenagers to learn because it teaches them how to

handle possible real-life situations they are bound to encounter at some point in their lives.

One of the components of comprehensive sexual education is emphasizing abstinence as

the only method that is 100% effective, but also making sure to include the different types of

birth control and contraception in the case that teenagers do engage in sexual activities. It would

be very dangerous to assume that all teenagers will abstain from sex until marriage because

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realistically, they do not. The CDC, or Center for Disease Control, confirms that 40% of high

schoolers in the United States surveyed in 2017 have had sexual intercourse (“Sexual

Behaviors”). This fact cannot be ignored; it needs to be addressed. However, many fear that

introducing the different types of birth control and contraception will encourage teenagers to

participate in sexual endeavors even earlier since they would know how to do so. Surprisingly,

“[s]trong evidence suggests that approaches to sex education that include information about both

contraception and abstinence help young people to delay sex” (“American Adolescents’

Sources”). A more complete sex education provides teenagers with better knowledge and,

consequently, can foster a sense of responsibility. For this reason, when American curriculums

did implement comprehensive sexual education which included teaching teenagers about the

efficacy of birth control, “the rate [of unintended teenage pregnancies] had fallen below 35 per

1,000 teenagers and continued to decline annually from the point” (“Sex Education”). Moreover,

“birth control proponents point out that the number of teenagers who used condoms during their

first sexual experience tripled between 1975 and 1995, from 18 percent to 54 percent” which was

during the time when comprehensive sexual education was in place (Roleff 8). Given helpful

information, teenagers are able to utilize it effectively. So even if they do engage in sexual

activities, they know how to do so safely. They will know how to protect themselves from STIs

and prevent unintended pregnancies which makes teaching birth control and contraception an

integral part of sex education. Furthermore, educating teenagers about the consequences of

unprotected sex, such as STIs and HIV/AIDS, can encourage them to postpone having sex or

incentivize them to acquire the birth control or contraception that is necessary.

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Contracting an STI, HIV, or AIDS is undeniably one of the biggest physical risks that

comes with having sex. Since sex is a very physical action where bodily fluids are exchanged

from one body to another, it can have serious effects on one’s health: ​“‘Lack of effective sex

education can have very real, very serious health consequences,’ Dr. Stephanie Zaza, director of

the CDC’s division of adolescent and school health, said in a statement” (Firger). STDs are no

joke, some can be chronic, fatal, or cause sterility. Added with the fact that, “3 million teens

acquire a sexually transmitted disease each year (which translates into 1 out of every 10

adolescents,” it makes sense that it would be part of the curriculum (Roleff 84). It also reinforces

why teenagers are educated on the different methods of protection. Without that information,

they are incredibly susceptible to acquiring an illness. While some of which can be treated fairly

easily, others are irreversible, like HIV. It was not too long ago when contracting HIV was

equivalent to receiving a death sentence. Fortunately, living with HIV can be manageable with

proper treatment but still, the virus will forever be in one’s body. Not only that, but it can

transform into AIDS in which the immune system has been severely damaged and the body is

extremely vulnerable. Therefore, informing teenagers of these consequences is paramount for

their health and consequently belong in comprehensive sexual education.

Teenagers are made aware of the significance of the potential infections they can get if

they have sex and are taught to understand the repercussions in addition to how to prevent

contracting them. As of late, “youth ages 15-24 make up just over one quarter of the sexually

active population, but account for half of the 20 million new sexually transmitted infections that

occur in the United States each year” (“Adolescents”). Evidently, a substantial portion of those

affected are the youth and so information about STDs is heavily stressed. That is also why Devin

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Jackson, a sixth grade science middle school teacher at Foothill Middle School with a Masters

Degree in education prefers that in his class they would “go over what is HIV/AIDS and why it’s

important to talk about them in connection to young adults because that’s around when many

children reach puberty.” Forming these connections allows teenagers to understand its relevance

to them and why they should care. Ideally, they would then recognize that if they were to have

sex that they use protection to avoid STIs. However, it also acknowledged that some

demographics are more susceptible than others.

In the United States, “teens who identify with LGBTQ communities can be at higher risk

of contracting STDs, but safeguarding against transmissions becomes difficult when states

prohibit teachers from discussing sexual orientation in class” (“America’s Sex Education”).

Typical sex education does not include LGBTQ+ communities. In fact, there are laws that

prohibit the discussion of them in class which does not allow them to learn about their sexuality

and how to practice safe sex in regards to their specific needs.

However, comprehensive sexual education ensures that LGBTQ+ teenagers are

well-informed about birth control, contraception, STIs, consent, and relationships just as much as

their cisgender-heterosexual counterparts are. It is extremely apparent that the consequences can

be life-changing and yet, “[o]nly 35% of high school health programs provide services

specifically for gay, lesbian, and bisexual students” (“Inclusive Sex Education”). Without

directions or information catered to their demographic in particular, these teenagers do not know

what to do and how to protect themselves in sexual situations. In the United States, “[s]chools

are unsafe and unwelcoming for most LGBTQ students, which can have negative impacts on

health and well-being” (“Inclusive Sexual Health…”). They are not equal with everyone else as

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the law discounts them, and they are ignored in society which creates the idea that they are not as

important or that they are a taboo subject to talk about. LGBTQ+ youth are placed at even more

risk as they may feel that they are unable to ask their questions or voice their concerns. Hence,

comprehensive sexual education addresses them in order to educate and keep as many teenagers

as safe as possible.

In this new day and age, a lot more people, including teenagers, are discovering

themselves and their true identities and so sexuality is encouraged to be discussed. Teachers

should explain that people can feel different, be who they want to be, and like whoever they like

regardless of sex along with the assurance that it is acceptable. In reality, there are different

sexual orientations and gender identities that go beyond the norm of heterosexuality. Those

minorities need to be taught and represented because there are many of them and it opens up

others’ perceptions. Teenagers will learn early on to respect these individuals and accept them

for who they are instead of shaming them because they are uneducated and unaware. It is

preferable that ​“[i]n a school setting, LGBTQ youth are… able to fully express their identity and

realize their full potential” and they are confident and comfortable to be themselves (“Gender

and Sexual Diversity”). LGBTQ youth deserve the same sense of freedom and safety that any

other heterosexual teenager does in the classroom which is why it is crucial to learn about

sexuality. Middle school teacher Jackson states that they “go over the definition of transgender

versus transsexual and makes sure that everyone feels comfortable no matter what” as an integral

part of his sexual education class. Learning about sexuality is a key component in a

comprehensive sexual education since there is a lot of controversy behind it that needs to be

clarified.

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Another relatively controversial issue is consent. The rising #MeToo movement has

sparked many conversations about what consent truly entails for both parties. It used to be that

schools taught “no means no” which indicates that if someone says no then it is not okay to

proceed. But what about if they stay silent? What if they did not say yes but did not say no

either? What if they were intoxicated? Doubtful circumstances can arise where there is not a

clear answer from at least one of the parties which could lead to an instance of sexual abuse. For

this reason, “no means no” is no longer in effect and has been replaced by “yes means yes.”

According to Jackson, this phrase provides a definite answer that states that the sexual activity is

something that they do want to engage in given that when this is said, the individual(s) is not

intoxicated. This method provides affirmation rather than the vague denial that someone may not

want to do something. Identifying consent will help form healthy relationships, avoid abusive

ones, and reduce sexual abuse. This is what makes comprehensive sexual education

comprehensive in the sense that it goes beyond the physical health aspect, but also covers other

situational and mental circumstances surrounding sex.

Evelyn Pareno, a licensed vocational nurse, stresses that “teenagers should be educated

about healthy relationships and consent so that they are not so naive and will not be confused.”

Being able to discern what is right or wrong is the first step to preventing abuse. Furthermore,

they need to know how to say yes or no or else they are left in a very vulnerable position. Such

was the case for one 16-year-old girl who anonymously shared her sexual harassment experience

to a teen coach:

I was sexually abused and no-one told me what was done to me was wrong. We got

stranger danger and how to cross the road and that was it. He was my granddad. I didn't

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like it but didn't know it was wrong but thought I should be embarrassed as I thought it

was my fault. If I had known it was wrong and that I could say something and someone

had listened, it might have stopped earlier or I might have told before I did. (Sellgren)

Teenagers themselves are demanding a well-rounded sex education that teaches them how to

deal with situations like this. If these lessons are not part of the curriculum, many will be left

vulnerable and in danger. Pareno asserts that given lessons about consent and healthy

relationships, “teens [will] develop the communication skills to form healthy relationships

throughout their lives that are based on mutual respect and affection and free from violence and

intimidation.” It can be preventable with proper education on these matters and that is why it is

incorporated in the comprehensive version.

Teenagers themselves are taking matters into their own hands. Sexual education in

schools are not always comprehensive. They are demanding sex-ed that goes beyond the physical

aspect: “Teens say they want information about social, emotional and behavioral topics,

including what predatory behavior looks like. How to handle unwanted advances from people

you know…” (“Young people”). Schools seem to be an inadequate source of information as they

are not doing well in promoting safe sex practices or teaching teenagers how to consent and build

healthy relationships. Especially with the Trump administration forcing their abstinence-only

agenda, comprehensive sex education seems to be even less likely now and it is enraging. The

consequences are detrimental.

Comprehensive sexual education all in all truly works to keep teenagers safe and smart

when it comes to sex, sexuality, and relationships. In the end, it proves that it serves to protect

them from unintended pregnancies, STIs, and sexual violence/abuse. Thus, it is absolutely

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necessary for their physical and mental well-being. Teenagers are curious creatures and are

heavily influenced by what they see around them, most of which happen to be sex. It is

everywhere on television, youtube, Netflix, songs, and so many other forms of media. And

honestly, they are hard to control. As great as abstinence is, a huge portion of them will not abide

to that and if they choose not to, they should not be shamed for it. After all, they are only human

as well and they are living through a time of change and exploration. Sex should not have to be a

taboo subject because truthfully, 99% of the people in the world will or have already had sex. So

instead of stupidly hoping or denying that teenagers should never have sex, why not cater to the

realistic probability that they might? In either case, they are knowledgeable and can make

decisions they need to take for themselves.

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Works Cited

“Adolescents and Young Adults | Prevention | STDs | CDC.” ​Centers for Disease Control and

Prevention​, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,

www.cdc.gov/std/life-stages-populations/adolescents-youngadults.htm. Accessed 5 Mar.

2019.

“American Adolescents' Sources of Sexual Health Information.” ​Guttmacher Institute​, 3 Jan.

2019,

www.guttmacher.org/fact-sheet/facts-american-teens-sources-information-about-sex.

Accessed 5 Mar. 2019.

“America's Sex Education: How We Are Failing Our Students.” ​Blog,​ 18 Sept. 2017,

nursing.usc.edu/blog/americas-sex-education/. Accessed 5 Mar. 2019.

Firger, Jessica. “U.S. Educators Still Won't Talk About Sex.” ​Newsweek,​ 7 May 2016,

www.newsweek.com/us-schools-still-lack-sufficient-sex-education-programs-404328.

Accessed 16 Jan. 2019.

“Gender and Sexual Diversity.” ​Homophobia and Gender-Based Discrimination | Safe @

School,​

www.safeatschool.ca/plm/equity-and-inclusion/vision-equity-and-inclusion/healthy-equal

-relationship-between-men-and-women. Accessed 9 Mar. 2019.

“Inclusive Sex Education.” ​What Works in Youth HIV​,

www.whatworksinyouthhiv.org/youth-hiv/youth-sexual-health/inclusive-sex-education.

Accessed 5 Mar. 2019.

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“Inclusive Sexual Health Education for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, & Queer

Students.” ​GLSEN,​ www.glsen.org/lgbtq-inclusive-sexual-health-education. Accessed 5

Mar. 2019.

Jackson, Devin. 6th Grade Middle School Science Teacher, Personal Interview. 5 March 2019.

Pareno, Evelyn. Licensed Vocational Nurse, Personal Interview. 10 March 2019.

Roleff, Tamara L. ​Sex Education.​ Greenhaven Press, 1999.

Sellgren, Katherine. “Lack of Sex Education a Ticking Time Bomb, Councils Warn.” ​BBC News​,

BBC, 15 Feb. 2017, www.bbc.com/news/education-38967856. Accessed 16 Jan. 2019.

“Sexual Behaviors | Adolescent and School Health | CDC.” ​Centers for Disease Control and

Prevention​, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,

www.cdc.gov/healthyyouth/sexualbehaviors/index.htm. Accessed 9 Mar. 2019.

“Young people can tell you the kind of sex ed they really need.” ​CNN Wire​, 31 Oct. 2018.

Student Resources In Context,​

http://link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/A560648247/SUIC?u=wal55317&sid=SUIC&xid=36

f27130. Accessed 5 Feb. 2019.

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