The U.S. has struggled to find the answer to the question ‘When is the best time to start teaching sex ed?’ as well as what sex education should entail in regard to sexuality, reproduction, consent, and safety. Only 24 states and the District of Columbus require sex education in schools, but each state gets to set their guidelines on the type of sex education they provide.
Comprehensive sex education gives students comprehensive knowledge on different topics involved in sex education. It provides knowledge on how to have safe sex, birth control methods, STI prevention as well as symptoms, consent, and reproduction. The CDC has a list of the top 16 recommended essential components that should be taught to students in comprehensive sex education classes. However, according to a survey done by the CDC more teenagers reported receiving abstinence only sex education over comprehensive sex education.
Abstinence only sex education, also known as ‘how to say no to sex’, only teaches how to not have sex and does not discuss birth control options. Many schools opt for the abstinence only method and use scare tactics as a way to prevent students from engaging in sexual activities. Scare tactics can include showing pictures of STI’s to scare students into believing they will get one if they engage in sexual acts as well as showing them videos of women giving birth to show how painful it is. Without discussing birth control options, they teach students that if they engage in a sexual act, they will get an STI and/or pregnant. Similar to the scene in “Mean Girls” that is made fun of for being a ludicrous way to teach sex ed.
In the U.S. if sex education is even provided it is more than likely abstinence only and the first-time students learn about comprehensive sex education is in college, which is not mandatory schooling like K-12 is. The U.S. seems to have a hard time dealing with the fact that teenagers are curious and more than likely will engage in sexual activities and would rather use scare tactics than providing them with information to stay safe, which could lead to STI’s and unplanned pregnancies. When something is seen as wrong and adolescents are only taught not to do it, they are more likely to do it to learn themselves. Without the knowledge of how to use birth control they have higher chances of getting pregnant or receiving an STI.
In the Netherlands they start teaching comprehensive sexuality education at the age of 4. They emphasis the use of the word sexuality instead of sex because it is not all about the act of sex. It is about sexuality and healthy relationships. Starting at the age of 4 they teach children how to form healthy relationships, consent, and respect for all sexual preferences. Teaching these topics at a young age provides them with skills that can protect against sexual coercion and intimidation and prevent abuse.
According to data from the World Health Organization the Netherlands have low STI rates, as well as the lowest teen pregnancy rates in the world. The same cannot be said for the U.S. If the U.S. would be more open about sexuality, sex education, and consent at a young age we would have more informed teenagers who could make safer, more informed decisions about what they decide to do. Shaming adolescents and telling them not to do something just makes them want to do it more, so why not provide them information and help them make safe choices. If the U.S. started sexuality education at the age of 4 like the Netherlands perhaps we wouldn’t have as many adolescents making uninformed decisions that lead to the U.S.’s high rate of teenage pregnancy.