While the sex education debate may be over in terms of its existence in schools, there is still more to be laid out on the table in regards to what is taught or not taught. After we participated in a conference call with America’s most renowned sex advice columnist, Dan Savage, whose new show Savage U premiered this past Tuesday on MTV, it became apparent that sex education in America is still an issue.
What did we really learn from sex education in high school, and how did this affect the way we view sex and relationships?
When we talked to students, it became apparent that sex education caused students to feel embarrassed about their sexuality and fear its possible negative consequences, such as pregnancy and Sexually Transmitted Diseases.
“High schoolers are afraid to talk about it [sex]. It’s looked down upon. In high school, you have to be more secretive because you don’t want your parents to know,” said junior communication major Kelsey Tonkovitz.
This embarrassment leads to poor communication with not only your partner, but with your parents as well. Sexuality becomes a cycle of fear and dishonesty.
“It’s better for households to have it be a common conversation rather than a one-time ‘birds and the bees’ talk,” Tonkovitz said.
A typical sex education classroom scene would go something like this: a teacher holding a glitter canister proceeds to simulate how quickly STDs spread by having one student hold glitter in their hands and shake everyone else’s. Now everyone has an STD. End of class.
The only revelation that the students took from that experience was that their hands are now covered in glitter and that it’s almost time for lunch.
The majority of the students we talked to remember only learning about the anatomy of the bodies and the consequences of STDs. They didn’t remember learning about honest communication and how this is necessary in building positive and open relationships.
“If we taught Drivers Ed like we taught sex education, people would die on their first trip in their car,” Savage said.
While it’s easier to talk about the risks involved with sex, it’s more important to start a cycle of positive, honest and open communication regarding all sexuality. This approach to education creates the illusion that sex is simple.
“When it comes to sex, everyone wants to seem like they know everything … People are afraid to admit that they need advice,” Savage said.
Another subject that is often disregarded in sex education in America is same-sex relationships.
“Teachers can’t only teach about Bobby and Susie who may be dating; it may Bobby and Billie. When you separate, you alienate,” said Tim Wright, a health education professor at the University of Wisconsin – Stevens Point.
Abstinence-only education is still an existing form of sex education. In Wisconsin alone, laws have been moving back and forth the past few years.
“One of the last laws passed by Jim Doyle was a law that prevented abstinence-only education in the classrooms,” Wright said.
In March, however, this law was repealed, making abstinence-only education once again legal.
“Sex education in America should be standardized and uniform all across the board,” Wright said.
Savage sees himself as playing a role in changing sex education in this country.
“They know that I can undo the damage done by abstinence education in two hours,” Savage said.