A Quick Look at Contemporary Sex Education (or Lack Thereof)

I would like to start this blog in the same way that I first took notice of the issue of sexual education. Sure, I’ve been aware of public sex ed, having suffered through several “health classes” in high school, but I did not consider the amount of problems until I came across this video:

She sums it up pretty well, right? However, there is a lot of information presented in this video, and it’s easy to get lost in all the details. For me, there are two key points to take away from it.  First, when looking at all the maps, it is easy to see just how few states offer comprehensive sex ed education, and which important aspects of it (for example, using contraception) the schools are allowed to exclude. Second, there is a lot of variety in what each state is required and/or allowed to cover.

This variety seems strange when you consider the current movement of homogenizing public education across the states, as illustrated by Common Core and various standardized tests. So shouldn’t all kids have the same access to something that will, arguably, play a larger role in their lives than math and English grammar—something like information about sex?

There is some strong evidence that suggests that sex plays an important role in many teenagers’ lives, regardless of what their educators might want to believe about their students. As reported by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about half of high school students have been sexually active, and about 15% have had more than 4 sexual partners. That’s a lot of students having sex, and many more becoming sexually active later on in life. Are they doing so in a smart and safe way? Doesn’t seem like it.

Again, according to CDC, half of the new sexually transmitted diseases are acquired by people aged 15 to 24, only a small fraction of the sexually active population. There is simply no doubt that there are safer and healthier ways for young adults to practice sex.

Another alarming statistic is the number of teenage pregnancies in the U.S. Roughly one in four girls has had at least one pregnancy before the age of 20. Of course, not all of those pregnancies might have been unwanted, but overall it is a very high number. Unsurprisingly, the United States has the highest teen birth rate in the industrialized world. Looking at all of these numbers, it becomes clear that American teens need a more comprehensive sexual education.

When I started researching for this topic, I also recalled some of my own experiences with public sex ed, and realized that they were hardly beneficial. Back in eleventh grade, we spent several weeks on this unit in my required “health” class. The majority of the time was spent on pregnancy-conception, what happens to the woman’s body during each semester, and so on-which concluded with watching a very long and graphic video of a woman giving birth.

We also spent some time on male and female physiology, memorizing the anatomical structures of the reproductive organs. And while that knowledge might be interesting and useful to some, like those students who are planning on attending medical school, I can’t say it has ever been practical in my life so far. The topics that I actually wanted to learn about (sexually transmitted diseases and how to protect yourself from them, different types of contraceptives, safe and consensual sex) were never covered in that class.

It was because public sex ed provided me with little information that I decided to turn to the internet, where I found many great resources, such as the sexplanations channel that was featured earlier. But should we be expecting kids to seek out that information on their own? Should public schooling contribute to educating them? Their parents? How can we foster conversations about sex, even when they are uncomfortable and scary? These are the kinds of questions that this blog will tackle, exploring the contemporary sex ed system in the U.S. and seeking better ways to educate people about healthy and safe sexual relations.


“State Policies on Sex Education in Schools.” NCSL. National Conference of State Legislatures, 16 Feb. 2016. Web. 05 Feb. 2017.

“Adolescents and Young Adults.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, 04 Aug. 2016. Web. 05 Feb. 2017.

3 thoughts on “A Quick Look at Contemporary Sex Education (or Lack Thereof)

  1. As someone who was never taught Sex Ed by either my parents or my high school, I cannot stress the importance of this enough! My knowledge of sex was limited to what I had seen on TV or Googled. After 9 years of bashing on it, I recently started watching “The Secret Life of the American Teenager.” And I am HOOKED. In this show, sex isn’t treated as something that’s taboo, gross, or uncomfortable. Kids openly talk to their parents about relationships and sex, which harvests an immense amount of trust and an overall healthier relationship. Granted, this is a TV show, but it would be nice if it was reflected in real life.

    I’m excited to see how you’ll develop your blog and raise awareness for implementing a stronger sex ed system!

    1. Thank you so much for sharing your own experience with sex ed – it seems to align with most of the research and with my personal observations. Also, it is interesting that you bring up TV as a source for learning about sex and relationships—I am actually planning on doing a post on how the entertainment industry can both educate and contribute to misconceptions about sex ed. So thanks for mentioning “The Secret Life of the American Teenager,” and giving me another show to talk about!

  2. I went to a small Catholic school where the concept of contraception was forbidden. Although we did discuss STDs and such in our “marriage and sexuality” seminar each year, I know that I would have gotten much more out of sex ed class if we went more into practical discussions about contraception. It will be interesting to learn the effects of the subpar sex education that is currently in place and if there is anything to be done at the state and federal level to provide more realistic material for students.

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