If you were asked to explain your experience with sex education, just what would it look like? Perhaps it would include the awkward “Miracle of Life” film from middle school biology. Or maybe it is a funny story including a banana or some other imagery reminiscent of a teen movie. For many students across the nation, however, there is no tale to recount, no jokes to be made, and worst of all, no lessons learned.
As I began my internship at Planned Parenthood of Western New York this semester I became quickly interested in sex education across the states. Despite the fact that the United States has one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in the industrialized world, there are little to no mandates for sex education at the federal, state, or local levels. For states that do provide sex education, many do not require that it be medically accurate or age appropriate for the student audience. In a strange and backwards methodology, some states mandate education on the science and symptoms of HIV and STDs, but not the means of contraction or prevention. And the pièce de résistance in this picture, Congress poured one-and-a-half billion dollars into abstinence-only-until-marriage education programs from 1996 to the 2009 fiscal year. Here is where the red flag really started to wave.
I believe this is an interesting time to look at sex education in theUnited States; reproductive rights and family planning institutions are under political attack at both the state and national level. Representatives voted in because of their constituents’ disapproval of the economic situation have continued to pursue moral agendas, nearly shutting down the federal government in the process. On the other end, with last year’s landmark healthcare reform Obama has drastically altered U.S. funding of sex education.
I will be looking at the recent changes to this funding scheme, setting the backdrop for the issue environment. However, it is of greater significance to look at the differences in state-mandated curricula, which continue to drive discrepancies in the sex education teens obtain in schools. While teen pregnancy rates have fallen every year but two since their all-time high in 1990, the variance of these rates across the states is alarming and indicative of a greater problem. I will be working to identify this problem. My study will be to prove or disprove the claim that states that use abstinence-only and abstinence-only-until-marriage education programs have higher teen pregnancy rates than those states which provide a comprehensive curriculum. I look forward to working with you all and welcome any feedback or stories you wish to share.