Sex or Education: Which is the Biggest Factor in Sex Ed Curriculum? (by Guest Student Blogger Bryan O’Connell)

Note: This post references a recent article in the Huffington Post titled “Mississippi Sex Education: Majority of School Districts Choose Abstinence Only Curriculum” and was written by guest student blogger Bryan O’Connell.

According to a 2000-2009 survey by the United Nations Statistics Division, the U.S. has one of the highest rates of live births among teenagers out of all industrial U.N. nations (40-50 per 1,000 women aged 15 to 19). Of our states, Mississippi has the highest rate of teenage pregnancy.

“Mississippi Sex Education: Majority Of School Districts Choose Abstinence-Only Curriculum,” posted on huffingtonpost.com, is a recently-posted article describing the adoption of abstinence-focused sex education curriculums by most Mississippi public school districts.

Due to in-class analysis of the factors influencing educational policy, I felt compelled to further contextualize Mississippi’s decision to now mandate sex education, which apparently had been more absent prior to the current date. The lack of sex education and new limited curriculum strike me as being representative of an attitude conducive to teenage pregnancy; an attitude of approaching the well-established problem by ignoring it. The question this raises for me is “why would Mississippi limit providing comprehensive sexual education to a population in which teenage pregnancy runs rampant”?

An investigation of the demographics of Missisissippi will reveal that, aside from being the state with the highest teen pregnancy rates in the industrial nation with the most teen pregnancy, Mississippi is also our most religious, and most impoverished, state (Newport, Handley). I do not see these as mere coincidences. Mississippi’s religious population likely objects to promotion of education regarding pre-marital sexual relations. More importantly, does Mississippi have the budget for it? Is the U.S.’s teen pregnancy rate a result of attitudes towards sex, or attitudes towards education?

 — Bryan O’Connell

Works Cited

Handley, Meg. “The 10 Poorest States in the Union.” Usnews.com. U.S.News & World Report LP, 23 Sept. 2011. Web. 31 July 2012. <http://money.usnews.com/money/personal-finance/slideshows/the-10-poorest-states-in-the-union/3&gt;.

Newport, Frank. “Mississippi Is Most Religious U.S. State.” Mississippi Is Most Religious U.S. State. Gallup, Inc., 27 Mar. 2012. Web. 31 July 2012. <http://www.gallup.com/poll/153479/mississippi-religious-state.aspx&gt;.

“United Nations Statistics Division – Demographic and Social Statistics.” United Nations Statistics Division – Demographic and Social Statistics. United Nations, n.d. Web. 31 July 2012. <http://unstats.un.org/unsd/demographic/products/dyb/dyb2009-2010.htm&gt;.

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8 thoughts on “Sex or Education: Which is the Biggest Factor in Sex Ed Curriculum? (by Guest Student Blogger Bryan O’Connell)

  1. Bryan, I think you make some valid (yet scary) points. Although we live in a society that unfortunately children are becoming sexually active at a much younger age, it only provides more reason as to why sex education should be a priority in the education systems. I do find it interesting that Mississippi holds the highest rates, one including the most religious. I think it would be interesting to see how many of these young parents are following their religious paths and getting married once they find out they are having a baby.

    To answer your question, “Is the U.S.’s teen pregnancy rate a result of attitudes towards sex, or attitudes towards education?” I think it is a little of both. Attitudes towards sex have definitely changed, and although it’s still taboo, it’s a widely talked about subject, but maybe not in the manner it should be talked about. The media (I know, I know, “Blame the media for all our problems,) portrays sex as something “everyone” is doing, which creates a possible spiral implanting this thought in young children’s brains that if everyone is doing it, “I probably should too.” I think attitudes towards education have also changed. People feel entitled to learn and except information, only if they want to. Parents have problems with schools teaching their children about sex, because “what if it isn’t how I want to teach them?” Yet, pregnancy rates are skyrocketing; who’s really teaching who?

    I apologize if this is all jumbled. I think you make some great points, and it would be interesting to one day find out if sex education in school would actually benefit and possibly intervene before it’s too late.

    –Kaitlynn Calhoun

    • Bryan,
      The statistics that you have shared are very disappointing. The answer to why Mississippi has limited sexual education to their population when they have the largest rate of teen pregnancy is in your post, they are also the most religious state. Those that are religious do not want their children being taught about sexual education by anyone other than themselves. I agree with this, as I would want to be the one teaching my child about sex ed when I feel that they are ready, not when another feels it should be taught. All children mature at different ages and I do not feel that they should all be taught sex ed at a set age. On the other hand, the statistics are showing that these parents are not educating their children. Mississippi obviously values the freedom of educating their children the way they feel is best, but it does not seem that are follwoing through. Kaitlynn brings up an interesting point about the percentage of those young teens that are getting pregnant and follow through with their religious values by getting married. I would also be interested in learning how many of these young pregnant teens are the children of teen parents themselves. Teenagers are still children themselves and are, for the most part, not mature enough to properly educate their children on sexual education. Maybe these parents would feel like a hypocrite if they stressed the importance of waiting to have children when they did not. On the other hand, they should take this opportunity to show them how hard it is to be a teen parent and give their children the awareness that they wish they would have had for themselves. As to your second question, is teen pregnancy rates a result of attitudes toward education or an attitude towards sex, I believe it is an attitude towards sex. As Kaitlynn stated, the media portrays sex as something that is accepted by everyone. Think about the songs that are popular these days (I don’t listen to much music but when I do it is about having sex, and lots of it with it multiple partners), the reality tv shows that young children try to emmulate (Jersey Shore), as well as music videos, which give a visual about these songs. Sex is now something that is an open topic for conversation when it used to be a private and personal, and when virginity, as well as the sanctity of marriage, was something to be valued. Being that Mississippi is also the most impoverished state, this also contributes to the lack of parental sex ed. Being that low income parents do not have the time to help their children with basic school work, it seems that it would make sense that they would not have the time to teach their children about sex and safe sex. To answer for this, maybe sex ed should be something that is offerd in the public schools, but should also be optional so that those who do not wish to have their children educated by another can do so themselves. Do you believe that sex ed should be mandated, optional, or left to the parents?

      Kristin

    • Kaitly: you are absolutely right. I agree that it is very scary knowing that we are just reproducing left and right not thinking of the consequences that it brings to our children, economy, and environment. Society has taught us that having sex is fine. I don’t see anything wrong in blaming the media. To corporate media, its all about selling and making a profit. Many don’t even worry about what information or message they are transmitting to our youth’s minds. Yes, teen pregnancy results do have to do with attitudes towards sex and education. We are definately lacking education on sex. There is more than just teen pregnancy that society should be worrying for example sexually transmitted diseases and rape.
      When learning about sex, youth today tend to just listen to what they want to hear and not pay attention to the outcomes of their actions. I wonder how much more of a difference would limited sex education than a comprehensive sex education could have on the number of teen pregnancy?

  2. Hi Bryan-
    Great post, I think you have brought into light one of the most important debates in our country. I did a little research and found this quote,
    “There is no evidence to date that abstinence-only-until-marriage education delays teen sexual activity. Moreover, research shows that abstinence-only strategies may deter contraceptive use among sexually active teens, increasing their risk of unintended pregnancy and STIs.[23]”(http://www.guttmacher.org/pubs/FB-Teen-Sex-Ed.html)
    So abstinence-only programs do not delay the debut of sexual activity, but without comprehensive information on contraceptives, these programs decrease the liklihood contraceptives will be used, leading to teen pregnancies, and STDs. I think you are right about it being a mixture of our attitudes about sex, but also education. Like the other Kaitlynn said our media really is saturated with sex (not in a healthy way either), but because the program is provided in public schools, some of these parents feel the need to “shelter” their child. It isn’t only parents though, their is a pretty big political agenda against comprehensive sex education programs, birth control, and entities that provide birth control (i.e.Planned Parenthood.) However, there is a light at the end of the tunnel, the current administration has been working to reform this problem, and even Texas is getting on board
    -Kaitlyn S.

  3. Bryan, the levels of US teen pregnancy stem from the lack of sex education and the negative attitudes toward programs geared at sexual awareness. Religious institutions argue against this type of education in public schools, yet put forward no real plan of action themselves to curb the growing trend of teen pregnancy. Fearing a “perversion” of their children, their leaders choose to close the door on education and consequently their choice leaves thousands of young teens in a dire situation with no real hope. Furthermore, where a comprehensive education may aid the young in making more responsible decisions, the failure of certain states and religious institutions to participate and aid in these efforts have left the youth in the dark.

  4. For years I have been a purveyor of sex education. One of the main reasons I feel so strongly about sex education (whether from schools or parents) is because up until my sophomore year of high school I went to a religious private school where sex was never, EVER discussed at school or at home. Yet, I encountered more kids who were sexually active than I did in my last two years at public school. I could hypothesize many reasons for this – one being my own initial thought – is that when you tell someone regardless of age that they can’t do something, what do you think the first reaction is? The religious portion says no sex before marriage and at least in my area, I found that when things were difficult to talk about because they could stir debate on teachings that we were just not to discuss them and leave them to be the elephant in the room. Hmm… seems like that worked out well? It plays into your questions:

    The question this raises for me is “why would Mississippi limit providing comprehensive sexual education to a population in which teenage pregnancy runs rampant”?

    Regardless if the religious trend is fading in our country or not, some of the ideas stay with people because they personally feel it is a moral obligation. No sex before marriage has long been the standard moral surrounding sexuality in the country I feel despite the “new attitude” toward sex.

    Is the U.S.’s teen pregnancy rate a result of attitudes towards sex, or attitudes towards education?

    There is certainly a taboo regarding sex, so much so that parents, the main educators for children, are not talking about it with their children. So where do they learn it from? Their peers who may not know anything about safe sex, emotional aspects, or anything other than what our society’s media (yes media, including the very accessible porn industry) tells them. We can’t solely blame the kids for the pregnancy rate and shortcomings if we as their educators fail to give them the proper tools. How many people would try to figure it out for themselves especially at a younger age? (There are people that do though, but also many that don’t). I agree with Kristin that the least we can do is offer comprehensive sex education classes and list them as optional. We have to start somewhere!

    The movie (currently available on Netflix) “Lets Talk About Sex” covers some aspects we talked about here. It is very interesting if you have some time.

  5. Thanks for the thoughtful responses everyone! I agree that the saturation of our media with images and sounds glamorizing sexual promiscuity without frequent inclusion of potential consequences is a major factor in this issue. If schools aren’t educating kids about sexual responsibility and their parents aren’t either, then who other than other uninformed peers and the misleading media is left? I feel that comprehensive sex education should be offered to all children once they hit puberty, but that parents should have the option to opt out if the curriculum contradicts their personal beliefs. Since churches are separate from the state, I feel that schools have a responsibility to offer education on this important topic to children who may not be receiving guidance from church or time-taxed family members. I see the poverty-pregnancy stats as a sort of vicious cycle, and, especially considering the link Kaitlyn introduced, I don’t think that abstinence-only is the best option to change that.

  6. With the education in Mississippi, I think there is a lack of how sex education – or other forms of education – is being taught within the schools. I feel like teaching “Abstinence-Only” curriculum is rather lazy. I think that the students need to be informed about a large portion of possibilities, because, naturally, they will become curious. Around the nation, they teach about safe sex, advertise about not drinking and driving (and not just drinking), and avoid using drugs and its negative effects. If they teach about abstinence-only in Mississippi, you are practically teaching the students that, “you can look, but you can’t touch” – which it doesn’t works well with a kid in a candy store.

    It’s not just Mississippi though – I believe all around the United State’s education system is becoming rather lazy. The students need to be informed about a large portion of issues that they are surfacing, because it is starting to hurt them. For example, the United States is becoming one of the “largest” (obese) countries in the world, and it is due to a large number of things. One place that should be taking action is our schools, because of the “junk” food that they tend to serve, but also not properly educating them about avoiding healthy foods. I remember going to school and hearing about the nutritional pyramid, for about a week – if that. The schools really need to step forward and properly educate, or have others educate for them, the major conflicts that the students tend to face on a day-to-day basis (whether it is about drugs, puberty, alcohol, sex, and etc.). Also, I believe that schools should educate them early on, instead of having to wait until High School to teach them about these things.

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