How to approach sex education in college… Harvard University tells all.

In terms of college-aged students, there is an ongoing conversation about sex going on at most college campuses. With the easy availability of diaphragms, condoms, lubricant, and implanons, passer-bys will often wonder what the table is set up for, but during Harvard Sex Week there are many sex education venues around campus in Cambridge. I found this idea fascinating, as I would love to have such an open campus community that fostered the comfort of sexual health discussions at any time of the day.

Apparently this idea started at Yale University in 2002 and “has since spread to colleges across the country from Harvard to the University of Kentucky and Washington University” (O’Connor). During Sex Week at Harvard University, you can find “a student-run program of lectures, panel discussions and blush-inducing conversations about all things sexual” (Quenqua). The “newer versions of these student run weeks give advice on everything from hooking up on campus to feeling more comfortable and fulfilled sexually” (Quenqua). Frankly, I haven’t seen this publicized nearly enough, especially in the DC area. More campuses across the US need to have a more open policy about sex education and have more resources available for students, since college is generally a very sexually active age.

Thinking about how things are here at American University, I wish there were more free testing centers in the area for STDs and HIV/AIDS along with more resources to seek out information about sexual health, other than the expensive health center. In addition to resources in the AU area, I’ve realized there are not nearly enough resources for those looking to get tested in the DC/MD/VA area, or at least they are not well marked and available to the community.

I would be interested to see how testing works at other universities… is it free? Or do students have to seek out testing centers in the community as well?

 

 

Works Cited:

O’Connor, Anahad. “Do College Students Need Sex Ed?” Well. 16 Apr. 2012. Web. 19 Apr. 2012.

Quenqua, Douglas. “College Students Opening Up Conversations About Sex.” Love Well. 16 Apr. 2012. Web. 19 Apr. 2012.

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A lack of sex education in grades 6-12… the most vulnerable age.

Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood, put it perfectly in this Howell Patch article: “These days sex is everywhere from music to movies to television, yet when it comes to sex education and reproductive health, there is a lack of credible information” (Cuyler).  She is exactly right. With this much exposure to sex in the media, why haven’t we figured out how to combat these negative representations with accurate sex education?

Another trusted source, WebMD Health News, reflects on the concept of sex education becoming less prevalent in middle and high school. Their statistics originate from Center for Disease Control (CDC) data, which show a “leveling off of the number of middle and high schools teaching their students about how to prevent HIV, other sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy” (Mann). According to my high school education, I received a rare, controversial, comprehensive-sex education including a unit on contraception, a unit on HIV/AIDS, and a unit on unplanned pregnancies. Sex ed classes like the one I was fortunate enough to take a hard to come by nowadays.

According to a study of 45 states in 2008 and again in 2010, “the percentage of middle schools teaching 11 topics on HIV, STD, and pregnancy prevention in 2010 was lower in 11 states and higher in none compared with 2008 results” (Mann). In other words, little progress has been made in the last few years and this is troubling because “nearly half of all high school students have had intercourse, placing them at risk” (Mann).

Another article in the International Business Times recaps the CDC statistics as well. They conclude with a great point that will resonate with educators forever: “Families, the media, and community organizations, including faith-based organizations, can play a role in providing HIV, other STD, and pregnancy prevention education,” they said. “However, schools are in a unique position … because almost all school-aged youths in the United States attend school” (Khan).

That last point made by CDC researchers is very important to keep in mind, as a parent, as an educator, and as a peer. As a mandatory source of sex education, is it really just the school’s job to provide a student with all of the sex ed they know? What are other influences on their sexual behavior?

 

 

Works Cited:

Cuyler, Greta. “Planned Parenthood Head: Keep Politics out of Women’s Health – Howell, NJ Patch.” Howell Patch. Web. 19 Apr. 2012.

Khan, Amir. “Sex-Ed Lagging In Schools, CDC Says.” International Business Times. 6 Apr. 2012. Web. 19 Apr. 2012.

Mann, Denise. “Teen Health.” Sex Ed Becoming Less Prevalent in Grades 6-12. 5 Apr. 2012. Web. 6 Apr. 2012.

How would you decrease the highest birth rate in the US?

A news story from West Virginia caught my attention earlier this week.

According to the policies of the West Virginia Department of Education, the state cannot teach an abstinence-only curriculum; however, teachers can choose an abstinence-based model (Burdette).

This change took place because of Kristan Hawkins, the Executive Director of Students for Life of America. Hawkins reminded the Department of Education that the “rate of sexually transmitted diseases among teens is the same no matter the type of sex education those teens are learning” (Burdette). Since this is the greatest concern of abstinence-only sex ed proponents, the WV Department of Education couldn’t help but change their policies (Burdette).

Hawkins makes a very good point in this article. As the devils advocate, however, Hawkins is from a pro-life organization which doesn’t account for all of the abortions that take place as a result of an abstinence-based versus abstinence only education. I wonder what the difference in statistics really is… While the national pregnancy rate is dropping due to less sex and more contraception usage, the Department of Education cannot forget that the teen pregnancy rate in West Virginia is higher than the national average. In my opinion, the Department of Education is better off comparing the sex education implemented in other states before altering their plan based on a simple statistic from a pro-life organization.

Over in Mississippi, things are run a bit differently. A Southeast Mississippi Rural Health Initiative is teaching a curriculum called ‘Making a Difference’: “an evidence based curriculum that talks about teen pregnancy prevention, STDs and HIV” (Clurczak). While this is a select group of students who have been given parental permission for such instruction, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Adolescent Health backs these efforts (Clurczak).

Unfortunately, while this is a renowned abstinence-only sex education program, it obviously lacks an important component: contraception. Julie Norman, the outreach coordinator for this Teen Pregnancy Prevention program shares: “Our focus is helping young people see that abstinence is the best choice for themselves… First we get into talking about [the girls’] goals and what they want to accomplish in life and then we do some brainstorming on how having sexual intercourse can affect the goals and dreams that they have” (Clurczak).

I strongly believe that there should be more options for sex education in areas such as these. In this case, there is too much pressure for teens to conform to pressured decisions made by those who consider themselves mentors and sex educators; however, this pressure is clearly biased and what they don’t realize is that they must make their own choices because they will ultimately dictate the rest of their life. Most importantly, in my opnion, sex will always be personal decision – whether to partake or not. That is not for your sex educator to decide. What do you think?

NOTE: While reading this article, keep in mind that Mississippi has the highest teen birth rate in the US as of 9 days ago (Reuters). Does this change your opinion?

 

 

Works Cited:

Burdette, Whitney. “Business, Government Legal News from throughout WVWV Ed Dept Policy Forbids Abstinece-only Sex Education.” WV Ed Dept Policy Forbids Abstinece-only Sex Education. 11 Apr. 2012. Web. 19 Apr. 2012.

Clurczak, Ellen. “Sex Education: Schools to Decide If Abstinence Enough.” Hattiesburg American. 16 Apr. 2012. Web. 19 Apr. 2012.

Reuters. “Teen Pregnancy: Mississippi Has Highest Teen Birth Rate In The U.S.” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 04 Oct. 2012. Web. 19 Apr. 2012.

Dan Savage, gay rights activist – and sex educator? Indeed.

In the Washington City Paper, Dan Savage has his own column entitled “Savage Love” in which he responds to posts from the DC community. In this specific installment of Savage Love, Dan is contacted by a gay, high school boy with concerns regarding sex and sex education. In the article, the boy writes:

“[My boyfriend and I], we had sex education in our schools, but they didn’t cover gay sex” (Savage).

This aspect of neglect in the field of sex education angers me too, so I kept on reading.

I tried to talk to my mom about gay sex, and all she said was ‘please use condoms.’ We tried and we used condoms, but I think we must be doing something wrong because we can’t do it. We are ready to start having real gay sex – and we are frustrated and feel like failures as gay men. Any advice?” (Savage).

From this excerpt of the boy’s letter to Dan, I gather that there is not nearly enough emphasis on homosexual intercourse in schools and at home. While this is still a taboo conversation, it is a necessity to start including some resources for those who are involved in gay relations to be safe during intercourse. Especially at home, parents should be a helpful resource for their children, not a rut.

Dan Savage, a gay rights activist and sex educator in his own way, shines light on the subject to help this young boy and provide him the resources he needs. Dan shares that there are many ways as a gay couple that he and his boyfriend can get off together – mutual masturbation, oral sex, frottage, etc (Savage). Overall, Dan’s column must serve as a great tool to educate about sexuality in a simple manner: through the city paper.

In the future, I hope that this boy finds more easily accessible resources to get the answer to his question, as I’m sure there were millions of boys who wrote and didn’t get any response from Dan Savage in this column. The future of sex education will hopefully include gay relations and safe sex for all types of relationships. In addition, the means to obtain such information will hopefully be more widespread and Dan Savage will pave the way for sex educators alike to share their knowledge with those who know less.

 

 

Works Cited:

Savage, Dan. “Are “Desensitizing Anal Wipes” Dangerous?” Washington City Paper. Web. 19 Apr. 2012.

Having “The Talk” with your kids… awkward? Not for long, thanks to Mr. Vernacchio!

TED Talks welcomes a familiar face to my blog, Professor Al Vernacchio from Pennsylvania. In this segment, Vernacchio discusses sexuality and intends to “reframe” the ways his audience talks about sex (“Let’s Talk”).  Using the same baseball reference that I quoted in my previous entry, he reminds us of our constant comfort in using the baseball metaphor do describe whether are “pitchers or catchers” during sex, whether we “strike out” with someone, and those who “play for the other team” (“Let’s Talk”).

Already, I notice that Mr. Vernacchio can relate to students through this lecture. With his use of baseball and other metaphors such as pizza, he makes it seem effortless to draw in a group of uncomfortable teens. In addition to easing the crowd, his metaphors make it easy to breakdown awkward and complicated conversations. Mr. Vernacchio compares triggers for sexual activity, what happens during, and the outcome of sexual activity. While these are concepts that may seem simple to most, depending on the age they are introduced, these simple metaphors do just the trick to simplify them and make them less intimidating for all parties involved.

I also stumbled upon a great youtube video posted by the College of the Atlantic, who held a lecture from Mr. Al Vernacchio where he spoke about how parents should approach “the talk” with their kids. Once again, he simplified an awkward conversation and allowed parents to ask questions about the approach. I will admit that I sat through 1.5 hours of his lecture and time flew. Mr. Vernacchio engages his audience and introduces many suggestions that I would never think to use when discussing sex with my kids. I strongly recommend this video for all who are/hope-to-be parents.  I can guarantee his tips will really get the ball rolling for the inevitable conversation and I bet both you and your child will gain a lot from it.

 

 

Works Cited:

“Al Vernacchio – Having “The Talk”: How to Talk to Kids – At Any Age – About Healthy Sexuality.” YouTube. 02 Apr. 2010. Web. 14 Apr. 2012.

“TED Blog.” TED Blog. Web. 13 Apr. 2012. <http://blog.ted.com/2012/03/02/lets-talk-about-sex-and-pizza-al-vernacchio-at-ted2012/&gt;.

Do sex education policies vary by state?

This whole discussion of NYC mandatory sex education got me thinking. What are the state policies on sex education in all states? As it turns out, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures website, all states are “somehow involved in sex education for public schoolchildren” (“State Policies“).

As of February 2011, NCSL states:

  • 21 states and the District of Columbia require public schools to teach sex education (including HIV education);
  • 35 states and the District of Columbia require students receive instruction about STIs and HIV/AIDS;
  • 17 states require sex education curricula to be medically accurate and/or age appropriate. State policies vary in their determination of “medically accurate;” some require that state health departments review curricula, while others require that the facts taught come from “published authorities upon which medical professionals rely.”
Also, “many of these states define parents’ rights concerning sexual education” (“State Policies”):
  • 37 states require school districts to allow parental involvement in sexual education programs;
  • Three states require parental consent before a child can receive instruction;
  • 35 states and the District of Columbia allow parents to opt-out on behalf of their children.
These are fascinating statistics. I am glad to read that all states require sex education because that proves that parents and educational professionals value the sexual health of their children. Also, with the growing HIV/AIDS epidemic, it is imperative that means of contraception is incorporated into this sex ed as well. Most importantly, however, we must be wary of how we define “age-appropriate” sex education because there is a lot of controversy over what students should be taught at what point in their lives. This is important to keep in mind as I explore the debate the correlation between age and knowledge of sexuality. Lastly, I find it fascinating that some parents (35%) choose to opt out of their child’s sex education, as they are depriving their child of critical knowledge to make safe, responsible decisions in their future. From this, I hope to learn what educational professionals strive to change to accommodate for this large lack of participation in sex education at their schools. This goes back to the question of what kind of sex education is appropriate. What would you suggest? How can they lower that 35% and keep those children in class?

 

 

Works Cited:

“State Policies on Sex Education in Schools.” NCSL Home. Dec. 2011. Web. 24 Mar. 2012.

Why can’t we take biology a step further to discuss sex?

According to Roland Martin in his article “Sex Education Should Be Mandatory in All Schools” on CNN.com, too many parents are living in denial about their children having sex (Martin).  I have been exposed to this denial firsthand, as I was raised with avoidance of the word sex or anything that could relate to sexual activity, until I asked at the age of 12.

This article reminds the reader that both safe sex and abstinence should be dealt with in an educational setting. New York City, an example city school system, should be commended for confronting the sex reality, since they cover both important topics (Martin). On the same token, the New York City Parents’ Choice Coalition is upset with videos that demonstrate to students how to put on a condom (Martin). Just like the common theme of most of these articles, it is important for parents to accept reality and understand that if they want their child to receive a well-rounded sexuality education, they must allow education professionals to step in and supplement their upbringing.

Much controversy arose over the mandatory sex education in New York City schools, as well as many questions that were difficult for the public to answer. On ABC Local in New York, a news segment explored the discussion about these mandatory classes. Many concerns were voiced, including what is the appropriate age for kids having sex and who should be teaching kids how to use a condom, to name a few (“Controversy Rises“). Although this class is mandatory in the NYC school system, parents may object to specific field trips (such as sending their kids to buy condoms and report back on what they bought/learned) and parents may also withdraw their children from class if they so choose (“Controversy Rises”).

In terms of the type of sex education provided, while abstinence is the only way to be 100% safe, we must acknowledge that a significant amount of teens are having sex. “[W]e can’t stick our heads in the sand” and ignore that it happens (“Controversy Rises”). In other words, we cannot ignore that especially in this generation, our children are sexually active and we have to provide them with the necessary resources to make smart decisions about their sexual behavior.

 

 

Works Cited:

“Controversy Rises over Mandatory Sex Education in NYC Schools: 7online.” Moved Permanently. Web. 21 Mar. 2012.

Martin, Roland. “Sex Education Should Be Mandatory in All Schools – CNN.com.” CNN. Cable News Network, 29 Oct. 2011. Web. 21 Mar. 2012. 

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