Guest Written by Helena, a South African sex-positive writer who loves swimming in the ocean under the full moon, and cheesy 90's pop. She's currently living her best life in Porto, Portugal after scouring different continents to find her happy place. Today, she's dreaming with her eyes open, happily spreading her sexual wellness knowledge far and wide.
Let’s start off by asking you the question: did you receive sex education when you were at school? Do you remember what it entailed? And did it have an influence on your (sexual) behavior, beliefs, morals and sexuality?
Well, for many of us, we still believe that the content taught during sex education in schools has the power to either make or break the youth of today. We may think that, if done effectively, there would be a reduction in the spread of STIs and (unwanted) teenage pregnancies'. But is this really the case? Studies show, it’s not!
Interestingly, studies have shown that open conversations about sexuality between parents and their children are more effective than sex education in school (more on that later!).
- What Do We Gain from Sex Education?
- What is Missing from Sex Education Curriculums?
- How Can We Improve Sex Education?
It’s somewhat surprising to learn that comprehensive and seemingly successful sex education in school has a near-zero (and sometimes an adverse) impact on sexual behavior.
For example, an analysis published in the American Journal of Public Health found that an abstinence-only curriculum did not reduce the rate of teenage pregnancy at all. In actuality, it increased adolescent birth rates in conservative U.S. states.
And even though many children walk away with a greater sense of knowledge when it comes to sex and sexual behavior after sex education, it still had little or no influence over when they first decided to have sex, teenage pregnancy, or the spread of STIs.
In fact, it hardly leaves a dent in comparison to the education a parent/parents gives their child regarding sexual health. In this regard, it’s the parents of adolescents who are the most effective sex educators. At this point, you’re probably remembering the time that you either gave “the talk” to your children, or the time your parents gave you “the talk”, if it even happened at all. Perhaps the memories of blushing participants come to mind.
For many, talking about the birds and the bees can be an uncomfortable encounter, but putting your embarrassment aside, it appears to be one of the most important things you can do for your children’s sexual health.
This could be because adolescents put far greater weight on what their parents teach them at home about sexuality than what they learn during sex education. When a child learns that their parents are healthy sexual beings, they’re more likely to adopt a safer and healthier approach towards sex. To solidify the effectiveness of parent discussions with their adolescents regarding sex and sexuality, let’s take a look at the following statistics:
- In 2016, North Carolina State University conducted an extensive analysis over the course of 32 years which looked at more than 25,000 teenagers and their sexual habits. Their findings indicated a significant link between parent-adolescent sexual communication and safe sex behavior. For example, when these teens had intercourse, they were more likely to use condoms than those who did not have open channels of communication with their parents.
- A 1998 study on condom usage among adolescents showed that those who spoke to their mother about condoms before their first sexual encounter were more likely to use them during their first sexual encounter. It was also found that those who used a condom during their first sexual experience were significantly more prone to continue to use condoms.
Because we’ve made the case that parents play the biggest role when it comes to sexual education and practices during adolescence- many may be led to wonder what about sex education in schools is missing the mark.
Let’s start with the fact that sex education often teaches adolescents about all of the things they shouldn’t do, instead of safe, healthy, and consensual things that they can do.
What would your teenage years look like if you had more information about and the freedom to explore your own pleasure? Sexual pleasure, such as the sensual and erotic euphoria that can be experienced during masturbation, can lead to a healthy sex life and a better relationship with one’s body.
In an odd turn of events, instead of placing all of the focus on adolescents during sex education in schools, there is a strong case pointing to sex education for parents instead. Rather than using precious resources and funds to tweak sex education curricula in schools, adopting initiatives such as evening classes and home visits for parents could prove to be way more effective.
Evidently, this is the most promising way to change the narrative surrounding sexuality. Past research suggests that it can not only decrease the numbers associated with teenage pregnancies and the spread of STIs, but also appeal to the more human and emotional side of adolescents.
It could provide them with tools for navigating consent and, engaging in sexual activity safely, when they feel ready, without coercion or peer pressure. We all want what is best for the youth of today, and essentially, it all begins with healthy, open, and honest communication that’s realistic and humanistic.
Sex Education Laws by State: The Guttmacher Organization
A History of Sex Education in the US Since the 1990's: Esteem Journey
America's Sex Education is Failing Our Students: University of South Carolina