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In our third edition of Student Voice, Cheshire High School student Julia Turret discusses a topic that can be taboo at times: sex. Julia argues that sexual education at the high school level should reflect the realities of teenage life at the moment.
Forget caution. Forget conservatism and liberalism, hidden agendas, and your generalized conception of adolescent thought processes. Forget your preconceived notions and, for a moment, just look at the naked facts about teen sexuality.
In today’s society, by the age of 15, 13 percent of teenagers have had sexual intercourse. By the age of 19, 70 percent of teenagers have had sexual intercourse. This means that between the ages of 15 and 19, 57 percent of teenagers will have vaginal intercourse for the first time. (Source: Guttmacher Institute Facts on American Teens' Sexual and Reproductive Health, January 2011.)
These are the facts. A majority of teenagers will have sexual intercourse during their high school career.
Now, because the majority of high school students are engaging in sexual acts, it follows that the sexual education provided by public schools would align with the blunt reality of teen sexuality. Just as academic curriculum is adjusted to accommodate new developments in educational standards, so should sex ed be congruent with reality and not an idealized version of it based on what parents want to believe or what schools feel comfortable addressing.
Parent/teen discussions about sex are most often portrayed by the media or in popular entertainment as one of two sorts of interactions: either comical or uncomfortable. Whether or not this is true for most families, the expectation that discussions of a sexual nature between an adult and a teen will ultimately yield non-constructive or comical results is undeniably common. Making talks about sexuality and safe sex practices a laughing matter or avoiding them as an uncomfortable topic only leads to bad effects. Teenagers need to be informed about sexuality and intercourse in an unbiased, candid manner. Misconceptions about sex are like misconceptions about anything else; they lead to ignorant decisions and detrimental effects. These effects for the teenagers who are, statistically speaking, very likely to engage in sexual acts, are STDs, pregnancy, or emotional pain and confusion.
Ultimately, the task of educating teenagers about sex should go to parents and caretakers who can inject their own moral interpretations if they wish. The ideas of love, romance, and sex are intimate and private feelings that should be addressed by parents and teens in a candid, sympathetic manner at an appropriate time that varies from individual to individual. However, for more generalized aspects of sex, such as information about sexually transmitted infections, date rape, information about taking pregnancy tests, various forms of contraception and their proper application, school systems are fully capable of and should provide a comprehensive education as part of their health curriculum. Treating sex as a health concept rather than a religious or social taboo seems fit in a secular, public school setting.
Teens will have sex. The only variability that schools control is their level of understanding about safety, and should provide this sort of education.