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Sex: The Education Of Our Future
Human beings as a species are sexual in nature. Reproduction is the basis of natural selection and evolution, so in order to increase reproductive success a species tries to impregnate as many females as possible. This increase in pregnancies leads to an increase in birth rates, which in turn leads to an increase in future reproductive opportunities. These practices are unacceptable in present day society and have caused many problems. Teenagers have the highest rates of contracting sexually transmitted diseases and over forty percent of teenage girls have unplanned pregnancies (Mitchell 305). The center for Population Options reported that the United States spends over twenty billion dollars each year on the consequences of unplanned pregnancies. This apparent conflict of interests has led to different methods of intervention. The interventions at times have been extreme, ranging from female circumcision, to chastity belts, and even death.
The most common form of intervention today is knowledge. Sex education is a non-violent intervention that at present is being widely used to control adolescent sexual behaviors (Mitchell 307). The controversy is in what method to use in education to influence adolescent sexual behavior. Contemporary sex education programs focus on either exclusively stressing abstinence or comprehensive school based sex education.
Abstinence is defined as not having sexual intercourse prior to marriage nor engaging in those sexual behaviors that are precursors to or substitutes for sexual intercourse (DeGaston 266). The abstinence programs state that sexual activity in the context of marriage is to be the standard and that children are to be warned about the harmful psychological and physical effects of sex outside of marriage (Olsen 632). These advocates believe that sex outside of marriage is morally wrong. Their values say that sex, when performed outside of marriage, is a mortal sin. W.J. Bennett believes that there are certain guidelines that should be followed in abstinence only sex education programs (Olsen 633). The first is to teach sexual restraint (Olsen 633). In teaching self-control they are trying to delay the onset of intercourse until entering into the institution of marriage. Next is to educate students about the emotional consequences involved with sexual activities (Olsen 633). Students need to understand that it is more than just a physical act; there are complicated feelings and emotions also involved (Olsen 633). Bennett also promotes the family unit and stresses that sex education should begin in the home (Olsen 634). He encourages parents to instill fidelity, commitment, and morality in their youths by being models of mature successful marriages (Olsen 634). In addition Bennett mandates using teachers that provide good role models for the students (Olsen 634). Peer counseling and support groups are quite effective. Adolescents take on the task of abstaining from sex together and draw on each other to overcome increased sexual drives and emotions that intensify during this time due to peer-pressure and changes in hormone levels. These organizations work in conjunction with the abstinence only programs. Both advocates of abstinence and safe sex education agree that groups of peers discussing the topics that they teach help their side.
Many people believe that abstinence only programs are not effective because they leave students with only one option. The students are then uninformed about safe sex and contraception. They accept the fact that some adolescents today are promiscuous, and feel that it is better to inform than allow them to continue in ignorance. A common view based on the education theory is that such instruction increases knowledge and improves attitudes, which in turn promote the practice of safer behaviors. In a study by Ku and Sonenstein it was found that programs that incorporated acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) in the education were associated with decreases in the number of sexual partners and the frequency of intercourse (105). Resistance skills and birth control topics are also found to decrease the number of sexual partners and the frequency of intercourse (Ku 106). These three topics have also been found to increase the use of condoms. Programs that emphasize a delay in the initiation of intercourse, reduce the frequency of intercourse, reduce the number of partners, and increase the use of contraceptives have shown the greatest success in reducing high-risk sexual behaviors. These programs have also shown growth in adolescents positive self-esteem; they feel better informed and are able to talk more openly to their partner about safe sex and condom use.
There are always two sides to an argument. The issue of sex education is unique in many was due to the fact that it is more a dispute of method than of principle. Both parties want to stop unsafe premarital sex. Abstinence only advocates will accept nothing short of not having sex at all. Proponents of the education model are willing to accept that they cannot stop adolescents from engaging in premarital sex so their focus is directed toward increasing knowledge and the proper practice of safe sex.
DeGaston, Jacqueline F. Teacher Philosophy and Program Implementation and the
Impact On Sex Education Outcomes. Journal of Research and Development in
Education 27 (1994): 265-270.
Ku, L. C. & Sonstein, F. L. The Association of AIDS Education With Sexual Education
Sexual Behavior and Condom Use Among Teenage Men. Family Planning
Perspectives 24 (1992): 100-107.
Mitchell-Di Censo, A. & Thomas, H. B. Sex Instruction; Teenagers-Sexual Behavior;
Birth Control; Teenage Pregnancy-Prevention. Health Education & Behavior
24 (1997): 300-313.
Olsen, J. A. The Effects Of Three Abstinence Sex Education Programs On Student
Attitudes Toward Sexual Activity. Adolescence 27 (1991): 631-642.
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