There’s nothing like living in Texas to inspire great fear of abstinence-only sex education and great anger toward its proponents. I understand that essentially no one on the face of this planet wants to think about their immediate relatives and sex in the same sentence. Despite certain evidence to the contrary,* I still operate under the belief that my parents have never ever ever had sex, and that I am a miracle and/or test tube baby.** The fact is, though, that letting kids grow up without basic information on where babies come from is a kind of awful way of showing them that we like them.
I arrived at college with a pretty solid understanding of how things worked thanks to a video that my mom checked out from the library when I was in fifth grade. I don’t remember much about it except that she gave me a bowl of apples with caramel sauce (an edible “I’m sorry” in advance), promised me that my sisters would stay out of the room, and then left me alone to be terrified by the speed and enthusiasm with which the cartoon figures were growing hair in their nether regions. I have since recovered.
A Texas native college friend, however, wasn’t so lucky. She got to college with absolutely no idea of the mechanics of sex, and while she got the basics of how pregnancy happened in an A+B=C kind of way, birth control methods were completely foreign to her. We sat her down, had a belated birds-and-bees conversation and all was well, but I remember being insulted on her behalf that the great state of Texas had failed her on so great a level.
Thing is, Texas isn’t alone. It turns out that a lot of states don’t require sex ed at all. While the Lone Star State’s legal emphasis on teaching abstinence until marriage*** is pretty awful in my opinion, it has good company: a number of states have a no-required-sex-ed-but-if-sex-ed-then-abstinence policy, and a good chunk of those don’t even have to include info on HIV/AIDS or STIs in their lesson plans. Surprisingly kickass states sex ed-wise include Georgia, the Carolinas, Tennessee, Vermont, West Virginia, and pretty much the whole northeast. There are more, but I got tired of copying from the list.
The word limit is here looming, and while I have a lot left to say, I’ll leave it here with these two facts: first, a research project at the University of Washington (Seattle) recently found that teens who got some type of comprehensive sex ed were 60 percent less likely to get pregnant or get someone else pregnant. Sixty percent. And second, Mississippi, a state with no sex ed at all required and an abstinence-only standard when it is taught, continues to have the highest teen birth rate per state in the entire US (55 births per 1000 girls). Seriously, people, it’s science.
Most effective way to reduce abortion rates, state legislators? Teach everyone how to avoid getting pregnant until they actually want a baby. Just a thought.
*One example being, you know, my sisters.
**All evidence points to the former.
***But only for straight kids!