I don’t think I’ve ever seen my mom more shocked than when I told her, the summer before my sophomore year at Northwest, I did not know what STDs or STIs were.
Don’t get me wrong—I knew the anagrams stood for sexually transmitted diseases and infections, respectfully, but I didn’t know how to recognize them, or what scary names like “gonorrhea” and “chlamydia” actually meant. I didn’t even know how to use a condom.
Unfortunately, I was one of many students whose sex education was threadbare at best. The U.S. doesn’t have a uniform curriculum for teaching sexual health—only about half of the states, in fact, require public schools to teach it.
This is particularly disturbing when, according to the CDC, 40 percent of U.S. high school students have engaged in sexual intercourse.
Teenagers these days are seriously undereducated when it comes to sex and healthy relationships. When they do receive proper sex education, much of the information can do more harm than good, such as in the case of abstinence-only education.
Many believe practicing abstinence is the only foolproof way of avoiding unwanted pregnancies and the transmission of STDs/STIs. However, sex education promoting abstinence as the only option is increasingly ineffective.
Many students who receive this form of “education” still end up sexually active, and the program itself can reinforce negative gender stereotypes, withhold medically accurate information and undermine public health programs, according to Columbia University. All these programs do is shame students for exploring their sexuality and leave them without the knowledge to protect themselves and their partners.
Even when abstinence is not at the heart of the education students receive, there are still gaps in the information that can be equally as harmful.
Out of the 24 states that require sex education in public school curriculums, including the District of Columbia, eight included discussions about healthy relationships, while nine included information on sexual assault and the importance of consent. California, Hawaii, New Jersey, Oregon, Vermont and West Virginia are the only ones to include both.
In an article for the AMA Journal of Ethics, Robynn Barth mentions that many of the students she teaches are unaware of the fact that one does not need to have sex to contract an STI.
LGBTQ students face their own hurdles. Less than 5 percent of LGBTQ students received sex education including positive information for LGBTQ related topics. Only 12 percent of Millenials surveyed in 2015 said their sex education covered same-sex relationships.
At some point, many people will choose to have sex. They need to be properly educated on how to keep themselves and their partners safe and healthy.
While there is nothing wrong with practicing abstinence, students need to know that they have other options, and still need to understand the importance of consent and signs of both healthy and unhealthy relationships.
Believe me when I say that comprehensive sex education is a far better alternative than having to Google “Is Plan B an abortion pill?”