Comprehensive Sex EducationApril 23, 2009
This morning the Today Show ventured into rarely tread territory for morning shows with guests discussing virginity and comprehensive sex education. The verbal spar between Jessica Valenti and Lakita Garth was a quick and dirty primer on the issue of feminine sexuality and purity and how sex education influences both. Both women are recent authors: Valenti’s new book, The Purity Myth, focuses on the pitfalls of our public obsession with virginity, and Garth’s, The Naked Truth, explains her decision to wait to have sex until marriage. You can watch the video from this morning’s show here.
I want to start by putting some facts out there, facts that I think were brought up and completely ignored or misrepresented as opinions in today’s conversation. Abstinence-only sex education does not work. Period. There is no equivocating on this fact, no way to suggest that exclusively teaching adolescents not to have sex outside of marriage is a better plan than teaching them not to have sex in addition to teaching them how to protect themselves when they do.
We know this not because an extreme advocacy group told us, as Garth insinuated by calling the research akin to something produced by the KKK, but rather because a reputable research organization, Mathematica Policy Inc., analyzed several abstinence-only programs out there for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services as ordered by Congress. The results told us what many other studies had already — abstinence-only sex education does not delay the age of the first sexual encounter. In addition, a number of other studies have shown that students in an abstinence-only curriculum were more likely to forgo contraception during sexual activity. That is a frightening reality.
The other fact that was completely understated in today’s conversation is that while so many girls already wait to have sex — a majority of high school students —by age 44, 95 percent of men and women have had premarital sex, and, no surprise here, virtually everyone, married or unmarried, will have sex at some point in their lives.
Comprehensive sex education is about taking advantage of the forum we have in schools to educate everyone about the risks associated with sexual activity and the protections available in an age-appropriate and medically accurate way. Sex education is not just about protecting girls this particular Friday night, when they may indeed be too young or unsure; it’s about protecting girls on a Friday night when they are 25, 35, or 45, and they have to make a difficult decision about sex. One where they have to tell a partner or a husband that they value protecting themselves above everything else, and that they know exactly how to do it. It’s about teaching future mothers and fathers about birth control and family planning that will impact not only their reproductive health, but also their economic stability.
Comprehensive sex education is about empowering women for their futures — the very futures Garth called on us to set goals for and that Valenti so brilliantly pointed out should be lauded and talked about as the alternative to focusing on feminine purity or sexuality. FYI — these futures will, indeed, someday include sex; we should all be well prepared.