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The importance of comprehensive sex education

The topic of sex tends to be taboo due to the deep embedment of abstinence over education in society. Although sex education classes can be awkward and uncomfortable, these tough conversations are worth having in order to begin normalizing and destigmatizing discussions about sex. Not only does comprehensive sex education reduce teen pregnancy rates, sexually transmitted infections (STI’s) and assault, but it provides young adults with essential information that promotes the sexual health and well-being of themselves and others. According to KQED, “comprehensive sex education” teaches that not having sex is the best way to prevent STIs and unintended pregnancies, but also offers medically accurate information about STI prevention, reproductive health, healthy relationships, consent, gender identity, LGBTQIA+ issues and more! This method of education not only reduces STI’s and teen pregnancy rates among young adults, but it also delays when teens become sexually active. However, this form of education is not as present as it should be in school curriculums.

The more common form of sex education is called “sexual risk avoidance education” which promotes abstinence and provides little to no information about contraceptives or any other means that puts sexual safety first. While abstinence is one way to reduce STIs and unwanted pregnancies, it is not something everyone is interested in practicing. By providing young adults with education about how to both have safe sex and practice abstinence, individuals have the opportunity to make the best choice for themselves and their sexuality. Talking about sex is not the same as promoting sex, rather, it provides young adults with the tools they need to make a decision around their sexual health instead of it being made for them. A common rebuttal to the advocacy for more sex education involves the belief young adults should learn about sex from their parents instead of school. While parents should be encouraged to have an open conversation about sex with their kids, they should not be the primary source of their education as they are simply not educators on this topic. Specialists in comprehensive sex education can offer an unbiased perspective about sex while providing crucial information that parents simply don’t have access to such as statistics, situation based workshops, etc. Additionally, a lack of comprehensive sex education in high school impacts individuals as they obtain more freedom in college, meaning sex education is extremely important in making sure young adults are provided with the information they need as they become more independent. To promote the health and well–being of all individuals, formal education around sex provides young adults with professional information that equips them with essential knowledge about sexual health.

While information about physical sexual health is essential, integrating ethics into sex education is just as equally important. An article from Harvard’s Graduate school of education discusses consent and stresses the importance of relationships and healthy intimacy. Education around consent should be more than how to ask for it, for young adults need to learn about why it is important and think about it in a variety of contexts to understand human morality. Standard sex education sends the message that you should ask for consent so you don’t get in trouble instead of focusing on the benefits it has in establishing healthy, well rounded relationships with others. Additionally, an emphasis on mutuality in making decisions around consent shows the importance of communication in intimate relationships. Establishing a base understanding of consent will allow young adults to develop healthy intimate relationships with others, thus minimizing instances of sexual assault. 

Comprehensive sex education teaches more than physical health, it emphasizes the essential elements of safety, protection and communication. Providing young adults with information that promotes the health and well-being of all individuals is crucial in combating issues of unwanted pregnancies, sexually transmitted infections and sexual assault. Although abstinence is the best way to prevent things like pregnancy and STI’s, it is not the only solution. A combination of abstinence-based education with comprehensive sex education will not only minimize these issues but treat young adults as dignified decision makers that are aware of their bodily integrity.

Grace Sullivan is a first-year at Notre Dame studying global affairs with a minor in gender studies. In her column I.M.P.A.C.T (Intersectionality Makes Political Activist Change Transpire), she is passionate about looking at global social justice issues through an intersectional feminist lens. Outside of The Observer, she enjoys hiking, painting and being a plant mom. She can be reached at @gsulli22@nd.edu.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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