Many of you may remember (or perhaps tried to forget) the highly embarrassing and horribly awkward experience of sex education classes in high school. I, myself, hated staring at pictures of naked people in a room full of my peers as much as the next person, but now more than ever I am thankful for the sex education I did get.

According to ABC News, “More than 23 percent of public schools in America teach abstinence-only sex education,” with only 17 states mandated to discuss contraception in their lessons. Just from people I have met in college who went to high schools less than 20 miles from my own, I can see the great disparities in the type of sexual education we received.

Take Texas for example: a southern state where the majority of its schools preach staying abstinent until marriage. This is also a state in which the  teen pregnancy rate is 50 percent above the national average. It is a myth that abstinence-only education decreases teen pregnancy rates and STDs. If anything, it is working to increase it.

As we all know, under the Trump administration many mandates are being put into place that we haven’t seen in our government in a very long time, one of which being comprehensive sex education getting brushed under the rug.

The Department of Health and Human Services as of this year has begun to cut many comprehensive health care programs, one of the most well-known being the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program which made its first appearance under the Obama administration. In an article found on NPR’s website, it discussed how Planned Parenthood along with eight other organizations are suing the Trump administration on the basis of acting “unlawfully when it canceled their five-year grants midstream and with no explanation. The organizations—which include city and county health departments, universities, hospitals and nonprofit organizations—operate across the U.S. providing sex education and health information to more than a million teens.”

Without the sexual education I received in high school, I honestly don’t know where I or many of my peers would be. High school is a turbulent time for everyone, to say the least, during which many people first experience sexual relationships.

Hiding our youth from the reality of adult life is going to do nothing to stop them from engaging in sexual activity; it is going to set them up for failure. As awkward as my sophomore year health class was, I would choose that over not being informed 10 times out of 10.

Another side of abstinence-only sexual education also tends to preach heterosexual monogamy as the only way to go when pursuing a healthy sex life as an adult. According to The Human Rights Campaign’s website, “Fewer than five percent of LGBT students had health classes that included positive representations of LGBT-related topics.” It is necessary for children of all identities and orientations to have a safe and well-represented place to get their sexual education. This lack of representation projects a negative attitude and outlook toward the LGBTQ community as a whole or kids that are questioning their sexual identities in high school.

I also find this a relevant topic for our age group, especially since many people at WCU are majoring in education. This is a topic that many will have to discuss with their students, whether it’s the puberty talk at the elementary level or the sex talk at the middle or high school level. The last thing I want is for my child someday to find themselves in a situation where they don’t know what to do or don’t know how to go about it safely.

I know I will do my best to educate my children, but it is important that there is a safety net for this kind of education in public schools. Not every child has parents, let alone parents that are comfortable discussing such topics with them. I can understand that this is a topic not every parent wants their child to learn in school, but there should be a way for students to be able to opt out of sex education while still having the comprehensive one offered.

Currently the type of sexual education a school provides is on a district-by-district basis when it should be based on a nationally mandated curriculum. What type of sexual education is taught in schools is no longer a partisan issue, but an issue of whether or not we as a country are preparing our youth to live successful, informed and safe adult lives.

Madi Ogborn is a first-year student majoring in communications studies. ✉

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