Surviving Sex Ed
Why don’t our schools do a better job? Partly because some adults just aren’t comfortable talking with teens about these issues. Many adults fear that explaining things to teens will send them off on a wild quest for nonstop sex and drugs. But, actually, the research shows the opposite is true. Teens who learn accurate, factual information about sex and other high-risk behaviors are much more likely not to engage in early sexual activity. So read, listen, ask, and talk. The more info you have, the better.
Another reason U.S. schools fall down on the job of teaching sex ed is that most teachers aren’t trained in the subject. Studies show that nationally 18 percent of all sex ed teachers have received no formal training in that subject. The numbers are even higher in some states. In Illinois, for example, one in three sex ed teachers has not been formally trained in how to teach that subject. Nationally, four in ten sex ed teachers either don’t teach their students about contraception at all or teach that contraception doesn’t work! Yikes!
Some schools and states just don’t have the budget to fund training, so many teachers step into the sex ed classroom with no more preparation than a preapproved curriculum and a meeting with a principal or administrator. That’d be like me teaching a bunch of culinary students to make soufflé—when I can barely boil water.
To make matters worse, this isn’t any old subject—it’s one that some adults are positively allergic to. These poor teachers aren’t doctors or nurses. Even if they were, they still might be very uncomfortable (even my own mom and dad—a doctor and a nurse—could barely bring themselves to talk to me openly about sex!). Your teacher might feel perfectly fine talking about abstinence but not so comfortable explaining how to use a condom. So your class might not get the best instruction on condom use.
Finally, learning about sex ed is very different from learning geometry. There’s no one answer, no right way to communicate the facts. There are many different schools of thought about what should be taught and how. Many things, from state standards to teachers’ personal values to parental input and teaching resources, can affect what you learn. So take responsibility and make sure you’re getting the facts you need by reviewing the survey in the box below. Remember—knowledge is power!