I wish my parents had given me The Talk. I wish they’d told me about the birds and the bees and how complicated everything would be at first. I wish they talked to me about protection and told me about consent.
Instead, they relied on the American public school sexual education class to teach me all things sex. Approximately 78.9% of the time was spent talking about abstinence, 18.7% was spent on the horrors of STIs, and 135% was devoted to slut-shaming and ignoring non-heterosexual people altogether.
My high school sexual education class ignored LGBTQ+ issues and left me more confused about sex than when the class started. The federal government allocates about $50 million a year to abstinence-only education. Taking into account Title V (a law that provides funding to school districts wishing to teach abstinence-only or “abstinence-plus” sex ed), the grand total is much closer to $100 million.
Abstinence-only education doesn’t change the average age at which teens begin having sex. However, states that promote abstinence-only education have higher incidences of STIs and teenage pregnancy. This is likely because abstinence-only programs prevent educators from mentioning any form of birth control unless they’re talking about how it fails. They must also teach that anything but abstinence will negatively impact students’ psychological, social, and physical health.
How can we expect teenagers (and the adults they become) to have healthy sexual relationships if they aren’t taught about the many facets of sex? When protection, consent, STIs, pregnancy, birth control options, sexuality, and gender identity are left off the table, students end up armed with minimal knowledge. The less they know, the riskier their decisions.
How can we expect teenagers to develop healthy sexual relationships if they aren't taught about sex?
In the meantime, I urge all parents to talk to their children about sex. As uncomfortable as the conversations are likely to be, it is necessary that you fill the gaps in your child’s sexual education. Sex educators have found that kids overwhelmingly want to get at least some sexual education from their parents. Teenagers who report having good conversations with their parents about sex are more likely to delay sex, use protection, and have fewer partners.
Information about sexual health is readily available online, but some of that information can be misguiding or wrong. Your children should be able to come to you with questions and concerns. There are great resources online for parents/guardians such as Planned Parenthood’s “Talking to Kids about Sex and Sexuality” and Mayo Clinic’s sexual health guide. For the more social media-oriented folks, Dr. Kim Baker (@DrKimJay), Dr. Annie Hoopes (@anniehoopz), and Dr. Logan Levkoff (@LoganLevkoff) are active and responsive doctors who know all about sexual health.
Parents, do not allow this country’s poor sexual education to limit your child’s potential. Be open about all things sex. Sexual health issues can be complicated and unclear, even if you as an adult “know everything.” But by initiating the conversation, you’ll be building a bridge that will improve the relationship between you and your child. They’ll end up making better decisions, and, most likely, be extremely grateful that you overcame a few minutes of discomfort to make sure they stayed safe and healthy.