We need to talk about sex

Courtesy of Lionsgate Television
Courtesy of Lionsgate Television

With the passing of the law “yes means yes,” California became the first state to clear any misconceptions surrounding consent. The campaign behind it defined consent as “a mutual verbal, physical, and emotional agreement that happens without manipulation, threats, or head games,” and the law reiterates the importance of consent being a mutual, continuous and whole-body experience.

This bill is an enormous step in the right direction; however, consent needs to be addressed earlier on to avoid any supposed gray areas. The CDC reports that 47 percent of high school students are sexually active. Correspondingly, 15- to 24-year-olds consist of 25 percent of the sexually active population, and this demographic also accounts for about half of all new STI (sexually transmitted infections) cases. There are around 850,000 American pregnant teens each year. Evidently, there is something lacking here: proper sexual education.

Sex education in high schools and middle schools provides a forum to educate students about consent and safety. Effective sex education guides students in embracing healthy sexual behavior. With this in mind, sex education should not be limited to schools. The infamous “talk” should be a series of talks, and an open invitation for teens to come to their parents with questions and concerns at a later date.

The fact that college students have problems defining consent shows that “yes means yes” comes in too late in the game. Teens should be informed about what consent is prior to engaging in sexual intercourse. Our schools and our parents have failed us when a college student cannot define consent with absolute certainty.

If parents talk to their teens about sex and sexuality, their children will be more likely to make healthy, informed decisions about their sex lives. In fact, these conversations need to start earlier than that, such as when a child first asks, “Where do babies come from?” Many parents avoid this question, and concoct some outlandish tale as if biology is somehow taboo. In addition to this, it’s important for parents to teach their children about various sexual orientations from a young age. This will prevent years of anxiety, confusion and pain. In essence, sex education should not be entirely heteronormative.

The Society for Adolescent Medicine has referred to abstinence-only programs as a threat to fundamental human rights as these programs purposely omit vital information about sexual health. Abstinence-only programs are irresponsible. If a teen decides to remain abstinent, it is a valid decision, but it should be a conclusion arrived at by the teen themselves in lieu of the fear-based teaching that often happens in health classes.

The National Conference of State Legislatures reports that only 19 states actually call for medically accurate sex education — not to mention the definition of “medically accurate” varies from state to state.

According to a study about virginity pledge-takers conducted by researchers from Yale University and Columbia University, 88 percent of pledge-takers had sex prior to marriage. Not only were rates of STIs among pledge-takers and non-pledge-takers almost identical, pledge-takers were less likely to get tested for STIs and less likely to utilize contraception.

Abstinence is generally seen as more “moral,” but considering how uninformed teens are about sex due to these abstinence-only programs, they become more susceptible to HIV or AIDS, other STIs and teenage pregnancy. This is a human rights concern — one that violates our right to factual and all-inclusive information about sexual health. Our schools and government have a responsibility to provide information to the public about sexual health to prevent the further spreading of STIs and HIV or AIDS.

In season two of “Orange Is The New Black,” the episode “A Whole Other Hole” focuses on how the women are not aware of where their urine comes from. They discuss various theories at length and while the show approaches it humorously, it exhibits a legitimate problem. This theme was more famously explored in “The Vagina Monologues” where women are disgusted or confused by their own genitilia. The fact that women are afraid and uninformed about their own bodies is disheartening, and only goes to show health classes are failing to do what they’re intended to do — inform us about our health, which includes being taught about our basic anatomy. When people are uninformed about their own bodies, it will only result in fear and shame.

In order to fully collocate sex with shame, abstinence-only programs claim that mental health problems can be solved by abstaining from premarital sexual intercourse. One curriculum, in particular, contests that pre-marital sex is solely responsible for substance abuse, poverty, heartbreak, depression, loneliness and suicide. They ascertain that these problems can be avoided if one remains abstinent until marriage.

In light of boys and girls experiencing puberty earlier than ever before, sex-ed starting after fourth or fifth grade is belated, considering many of these kids may be well into puberty already.

Sex has consequences, hence the urgency for accurately informing youths about how to protect themselves. Ultimately, sex and sexuality are nothing to be ashamed of. What is shameful, however, is the failure to properly educate youths about sexual health and what constitutes consent.

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