STAFF EDITORIAL: How should sex education be handled in public schools?

Students+sit+baffled+in+the+face+of+Georgia%27s+%22Choosing+the+Best%22+sex+education+curriculum.

Riley Findley

Students sit baffled in the face of Georgia's "Choosing the Best" sex education curriculum.

Jessica Borla – I believe that sex education in Georgia should be handled in a mature way that encourages and covers any and all opinions and beliefs. When I was in health class in middle school, we used a program called “Choosing the Best.” With this program, we were told that abstinence was the only right choice, and if someone has premarital sex, they are dirty and used. Of course, pregnancy and STDs are real consequences that could result, but those can result from sex at any point in a relationship, even after marriage; the books never said anything about that. Instead of bashing other people’s morals and beliefs, sex education teachers should teach students how to stay safe for whatever they choose to do, because ultimately teenagers can be defiant and they won’t typically care about the opinion about sex of their middle/high school health teacher. Instead of making young adults sign “abstinence contracts” for a grade (yes, this did happen to me), health teachers should assure them that whatever they do, they are not horrible people.

Elizabeth Findley – When I was in middle school, we were told that having sex was like chewing a piece of gum: once the gum has been chewed, no one will want it anymore. The idea of teaching impressionable kids that if they have sex before they are married, they will be damaged — emotionally and physically, forever risking loss of love and acceptance — is so incredibly harmful. It is true that sex, at any time not just before marriage, can be harmful to a person’s overall health in a variety of different ways, but that is not always the case. The reality is that many teenagers will not remain abstinent and with the current sex-ed curriculum, these people that do choose to partake in pre-marital sex are not equipped with the proper information on how to handle these situations in a safe manner, which should be the goal of schools: to keep their students safe and provide them with a well-rounded education. Sex education in schools should teach both abstinence and safe pre-marital sex as practical life options without leaving out valuable information and making the other side feel discouraged and bad about their own personal decisions.

Riley Findley – Sex education needs to be taught in public school because nearly everyone will engage in sex at some point in their lives. Students are instructed on math and writing because those are skills that will be used in life. Sex education cannot be left up to parents. No one has ever said “Oh, why do I handle my sex life the way I do? I was home schooled.” The actual curriculum should be one that gives medically accurate information, which only thirteen states mandate be presented, and should teach risk prevention and the value of consent above all else. This includes teaching that abstinence is a way to avoid all risks and that anyone has the right to say no, but sex education also should instruct teens about how to talk openly with their partners to ensure that both members are willing and that both members are practicing safe sex. For the majority of high school students, who become sexually active before graduation, information should be presented on how safe-sex works, how to be safe when having sex, and how to ask open, honest questions. Health teachers should be able to answer questions in a safe environment without shaming students for their choices. Education isn’t meant to ridicule.

Quinn Forney – In Georgia, the system calls for an individual county decision on standards of sex education. However, many counties teach abstinence- or the refrain from sexual activity. This additionally means that the majority of teachers do not explain many important concepts, such as how to handle possibly contracting an STD. Personally, I never received any sex education, but, then again, I didn’t take a middle school health course. In my high school class, we did not learn anything except basic information about HIV/AIDS and abstinence. I looked through the standards and sex education was indeed on there. I believe that teachers should not try to involve themselves in students’ sexual lives by telling them that the only way to prevent STIs is not to have sex, but should instead instruct them on symptoms of STD’s and treatments for them, as well as effective prevention measures. Regardless of a health teacher’s personal beliefs whether students should have sex, students should at least know comprehensive safety about it. Additionally, it needs to be kept in mind that this is the information that students are taking into the “real” world as they leave high school. If good information is provided, it will aid them throughout the rest of their lives.

J’Nea Greer – I think that sex education in public schools should be left up to the public. Parents should have a clear say in whether or not they want their child learning about sex education in school. I think the responsibility should be on the parents to inform their child about sex when they feel that the child is ready. If it is going to be taught in public schools, then I think that schools should teach all aspects of sex education not just certain sub-topics with efforts to scare kids, focusing instead on a selective discourse around abstinence. Sex education should be an open discussion between parent, student and educator.

Madeline Laguaite – Although currently Georgia supports an “abstinence only” stance on the sex education teachings provided by the state, I do not think it effectively helps in preventing sexually transmitted diseases and teenage pregnancy, which I assume is the goal. The lessons taken out of the program “Choosing the Best”, a prominent source of sex education teaches students that the only way to be 100% safe in regards to having sex is to simply not have sex. While that statement is true, many students engage in sexual activity anyway and find themselves lost in the matter of how to have safe sex. I believe in addition to being taught the option of abstinence, students should also be provided with information on how to have safe sex, if they choose to do so, as ultimately, it is the student’s choice.

Jordan Meaker – Sex education proves to be one of the most volatile topics regarding public education today due to the myriad of opinions that students, parents, and teachers have on the issue. While many believe that abstinence-only education is the most effective method in preventing the spread of STDs and teen pregnancy, the truth is that abstinence-only education has not proven to be effective. Considering this fact, I think the best way to educate kids about sex is through a comprehensive approach. Students should be presented with the fact that abstinence is the only way to never be at risk of pregnancy or contracting an STD, but if they do choose to have sex, they need to be taught the proper ways to protect themselves and their partners. Georgia is technically not an abstinence-only state, but the use of programs in Georgia such as Choosing the Best (which emphasizes abstinence and shames students that are sexually active) is not an all-inclusive approach to sex education. I think that eradicating the shame-based lessons about sex from the Georgia health curriculum and implementing more practical, useful, and necessary lessons about protection would greatly benefit the students of Georgia’s public schools.

SungMin Park – I think, rather than focus on how to teach sex, there should be a class study on sex. Although a state may try to force abstinence or give a comprehensive education, the decision to have sex is already made or developing within each student. Subsequently, the student will pursue what he or she wants regardless of what the school teaches. So the effort to push any kind of sex education is almost pointless. My proposed alternative then would be to hold class and examine sex as a short academic subject with accompanying literature. Many households, either from personal or religious convictions, teach sex itself as sinful, so students are suppressed under the idea and it produces a myriad of results. Some shy away from anything involving sex and others, in rebellion against parents or otherwise, engage in much sexual activity. As a solution, these studies would uproot this misunderstanding and define sex for what it is. The students and teacher together would observe sex and its context in religion, sociology, psychology, history, and other subjects. By giving sex a fine observation, the students can then decide his or her own opinion with an educated mind.

Olivia Pastore – Over the school years, I’ve been exposed to quite aggressive ‘abstinence only’ sex education. I don’t think that this scare-tactic form of ‘education’ is doing kids much good. This type of education makes sex a huge taboo in the eyes of young impressionable kids. Because of this outlook, it only makes kids more curious and act irrationally. I remember signing a pledge in my health class promising that we will not have sex until marriage, and I can assure you that over a quarter of the students in my class have already broken that ‘vow’ already. The idea of virginity is so over-valued in the education system to the point of devaluing the woman to lower than human as soon as she is no longer one. The education should shift from pure ‘abstinence-only’ to education on overall health and information. If teachers explained the health of their own bodies, various precautions and procedures if one decides to have sex, and be brutally honest about the consequences of the experience. They will most likely understand the complexity of sex and think more thoroughly about their decisions, but also be fully educated in case they do decide to have sex.

Kathryn Raynor – I have vivid memories from freshman year of high school, sitting in my sex education class and being told how sex would degrade me as a person. They had each student hold a flower in their hand and crumple it between their fingers to demonstrate what would become of them if they strayed from the abstinence program our county’s schools were required to teach. The teaching methods I had to endure are something I think need to be approached differently. No student needs the biased opinions of others on this subject. What they need instead are the necessary facts for the students to be able to make their own decision.

Nusaybah Smith – I believe that sex education should explore a wide variety of topics to fully educate and make students aware of the responsibility of sex, as well as the options. A comprehensive education is important to make sure that adolescents who are exposed to sexual culture, situations and conversation daily among their peers are sufficiently aware of what sex truly is. The system that Georgia currently falls under has a heavy emphasis on abstinence-based education, which tends to be flexible to teacher discretion and, frankly, ineffective. Abstinence should absolutely be explored as an option, but not at the expense of an individual’s safety, security or the education to consent, which is another topic that is not impressed upon as much as it should be, if mentioned at all. There’s also the fact that our state makes it legal to manipulate certain information, allowing it to be medically inaccurate. Regardless, there is always the option for a parent to not allow a student to take this part of health classes if they believe it is morally or otherwise harmful for their child. It is my belief that, as a whole, sex education is something that should be enlightening, and not fear inducing.

Cayla Vanderzanden – I trust that the intentions of sex education, in Georgia, are superb. However, I believe that this program is doing far more harm than good. In Forsyth County, the “Choosing the Best” program is used for sex education. This program refers to abstinence as the only option. Abstinence is a full proof plan, so it is an excellent option, but not every student will follow the same path in life. Some parents aren’t comfortable telling their kids everything about sex, so I believe that the program should be more detailed and explain every option regarding how to have safe sex. Students need to understand what their other options are and how to be safe if they don’t choose abstinence. The most prevalent issue with the program is the means in which it pressures students to be abstinent. When I was in middle school, our teacher influenced us with a simile about a flower. We were told that each time we have sex, one of the petals comes off, and that nobody desires a flower with no petals. This simile is telling students that they become worthless if they have sex. No person should ever feel worthless, no matter what.

Jessica Wilder – It seems that the world of sex education has become a gray line with many school systems in terms of actually teaching students about the necessary topics to keep them informed about their own bodies. The curriculum that a lot of school systems have is abstinence or “Choosing the best”, a class that seems to leave many students scratching their heads. For me, personally, our sex education is really weak because we aren’t actually learning what we should be. Sure, abstinence is a great thing to work towards and an amazing choice. Some young adults may choose to not wait until marriage and it seems that the school system doesn’t find that as an acceptable choice so they shove abstinence down student’s throats, even though they are really just working with a double edged sword. The school boards are scared that if they don’t teach abstinence that somehow teens will go crazy, but they are overreacting. We just want to know about ourselves and know how to handle certain situations that we might be in one day. I don’t think that is too much to ask for letting us have a choice in what we are taught.

Kelly Yoon – As we all get older, the closer we approach the “adult stuff.” From what I can remember from earlier times from middle school, I first experienced sex education during 6th grade health class. I personally think that the sex education board of Georgia is doing an excellent job of managing the students to avoid possible problems that could affect their health and lives. I learned the risks involving sex that we all need to be aware of, which prevented me from any of the inappropriate usage of our bodies. During the last three years in middle school, I was very shocked and afraid of the negative effects that could turn me into another victim of uncontrollable action. The sex education, “Choosing the Best”, provided by the state really set the beginning steps to abstinence for me personally and I could not agree more with the health teachers for their beliefs and teachings.