Teachers vs. Snookie: How far can we go in our classrooms?

This is an “editorial” about sex ed I wrote for one of my classes. The first paragraph is a summary. Just thought I’d share, since I had to write it in a blog-ish voice.

Oswego School District is one of the only school districts in Kendall County, IL that still utilizes abstinence-only sexual education. While the county has steadily increasing teen birth rates and incidence of Chlamydia, and other cities have chosen to adopt “abstinence-plus” curricula, Oswego has remained abstinence-only. The community seems to realize the need for change. Approximately 80% of Oswego parents responded in an online poll that they agree there is a need for more comprehensive sex ed. However, the school board still needs to agree to adopt a new curricula. Health teachers from two high schools in Oswego presented a sample abstinence-plus lesson for discussion this week. This editorial is written preemptively against the opposition to the adoption of the new curricula that is certain to spring up as the school board begins the decision making process.

Sturges, Jenette. “Oswego schools to consider sex ed beyond abstinence-only.” The Beacon-News: A Chicago Sun-Times Publication on-line 10 Oct. 2011. 11 Oct.2011. <http://beaconnews.suntimes.com/news/8134532-418/oswego-schools-to-consider-sex-ed-beyond-abstinence-only.html&gt;.

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The age-old battle: just how far can we go in our classrooms? Parents and teachers alike have struggled with the uncomfortable task of talking about sex. But it’s now, more than ever, becoming increasingly important to discuss safe sex with our teens. With an increasing number of culturally embarrassing reality and pseudo-reality programs available for guilty-pleasure viewing, the notion of sex is not as much of an enigma to middle- and high- schoolers as it may have been 10 or 20 years ago. An increasing number of our nation’s youth is learning about sex from television, from their friends, from the internet, and even from pornography. Is this where we want them to be getting their information from? Do we take a stand and start teaching our kids about safe sex, or do we rely on Snookie, the Kardashians, or the latest starlet featured on “Teen Mom” to convey the importance of safe sexual behavior?

I commend Oswego high school health teachers for taking the initiative and bringing this issue to their school board’s attention. Oswego’s current method of teaching abstinence-only is outdated and ignoring a serious problem. According to the Kendall County Health Department, Chlamydia was the most common communicable disease reported in the county at 111 cases, with the second most reported disease being chicken pox, at only 36 cases. Incidence of Hepatitis B and C has also been increasing, and in 2010 there were four new cases of HIV infection reported in the county. The number of teen pregnancies has also been increasing—21 teen births for every 1000 girls aged 15-19 were reported in 2010. The Oswego School District is not doing their youth any favors by avoiding important information about preventing sexually transmitted disease and unwanted pregnancy.

There is no evidence to support the common misconception that abstinence-only programs delay the initiation of sex or reduces the number of sexual partners among teens. According to the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy Emerging Answers Summary, studies show that, in fact, some abstinence programs have no impact on teen sexual behavior at all. Comprehensive programs such as the one being considered in Oswego have resulted in positive behavioral effects among teens. 40% of programs surveyed delayed initiation of sex and increased condom or contraceptive use, 30% of the programs reduced the frequency of sex, and 60% reduced unprotected sex.

To the parents or community members concerned about the content of comprehensive sex ed: it’s important to understand that this program will still emphasize abstinence, but will address contraception and condoms for the benefit of those who ARE sexually active. While the promotion of abstinence among teens is important, it is even more important to provide teens that are engaging in sexual behaviors with the proper knowledge and tools to do so safely. Additionally, parents will have the option of opting their kids out of the class, (though I wouldn’t recommend it…)

Unplanned teen births and the unruly spread of sexually transmitted disease place a burden not only on the teen and his or her family, but also on the healthcare system of the community, at the city, county, and state level. Surrounding school districts have opted for more comprehensive education in the past. With the recent trends in Kendall county, it’s about time that something is being done about the lack of comprehensive sex ed in Oswego as well. While it seems most parents in the district seem to agree that there is a need for an abstinence-plus curriculum, the change still needs to be approved by the school board— and there will be opposition. Community members and parents need to step up and join forces with health teachers to make sure this switch to more comprehensive sex ed actually happens.

After all, wouldn’t you rather have your child learning about sex from a certified teacher rather than a supposed reality star named Snookie?

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