No mandatory sex ed course? No high school diploma
The argument for making sex education courses a graduation requirement
I could see my alma mater’s president’s eyes glossing over as I talked. I noticed the president’s assistant was growing antsy. She thought I was coming to talk to the president about the alumni association and my book signings. Nope, I walked in to the president’s office to talk about sex. If the students couldn’t get into her office, I’d be the mouthpiece for them.
I’ve written two novels, one of which was a compilation of mildly fictional journal entries. And while both books were based on life at a historically black college, one of the bigger points I was trying to make was based on HIV/AIDS testing and the complexity of a college virgin. At a local church book signing, I was asked to not bring up sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and sexually transmitted infections (STIs) because there would be “Christians who don’t understand” and “kids too young to understand what’s going on.” I could talk about virginity all day long though. Although I abided by their rules, I raised an eyebrow when someone gushed that the church should also have Zane come by to talk about her books. So it’s OK to discuss erotic fiction in a church, but STDs and STIs were too much? Yeah a’ight.
I added anecdotes here and there about my own experiences — including a sex ed course I took in which blind-folded students had to put a condom on a banana.
I thought going to college campuses would be an easier time, especially my own. I was elated that one of the librarians requested that I speak to several classes about my own educational background there and then have the flexibility to talk about what STD/STI testing is like. I can say with certainty that minus one girl who inexplicably raced out of the room, everybody else perked up a little more when I started discussing sex and testing. I added anecdotes here and there about my own experiences — including a sex ed course I took in which blind-folded students had to put a condom on a banana. My discussion wasn’t graphic, but it didn’t pull any punches either. It was the basics of what one would need to know about condom usage, accidental pregnancies and asking about one’s HIV/AIDS status beforehand.
Although I hoped that students would take the information I was sharing with them seriously — and the written material I brought and passed around — there was one student who stood out to me more than the rest. He ran up to me afterward and thanked me for telling him my experience with getting tested for the first time and laughed about my banana story. But I was wow’d by his next statement: “This is the first time I’ve ever seen anybody give a talk like you. Right now my major only requires me to take a General Health course and learn stuff about diabetes.”
Plus, five of the nine states with no sex ed or HIV education rank among the top 12 states with the highest teenage birth rates.
I pondered on what he’d just said and did a quick rundown of my own high school courses and my college courses before graduating. Although I did indeed have “sex ed” sections in my high school and college courses, that wasn’t the entire class. It was just a week or two, and we moved on to the next subject. Meanwhile, when you’re in college, “diabetes” is not exactly the first health issue on your mind — unless you’re already diabetic.
While 24 states and Washington D.C. require public schools to teach sex education (21 mandate sex ed and HIV education), 35 states plus D.C. also allow parents to opt-out on behalf of their children.
I told him I would meet with the college president later that day, and I would bring up his concerns. He had a point. I kept my word. And as uncomfortable as I made her and her (annoying) assistant while talking about making sex ed a mandatory requirement for graduation, I regret nothing. While there are more than 30.3 million diabetics in the U.S., there are more than 330 million people here, too. (And if we count worldwide, that’s 7.6 billion and counting.) While potentially 20 percent of college students graduate without having sex, that still leaves 80 percent who are. And the average age that people lose their virginity is the latter part of their high school age years — 16 for boys and 17 for girls.
Of course some parents may feel they’re entitled to have the Birds and the Bees talk with their children, as opposed to an unbiased, safe, well-educated source that will make no judgment on the kinds of questions and answers that students may be too bashful to ask their parents. (Personally my parents were TMIers, so I knew everything but the banana trick by college.)
But the kind of mandatory courses I took in high school and college in order to receive a diploma and a degree were often classes I have minimal if not no use for now. I don’t believe I’ve used trigonometry or geometry in the past decade. I still couldn’t care less about William Shakespeare, even with a bachelor’s degree in English. And I damn sure could’ve gone without scraping unborn tadpoles out of a dead frog. I do however appreciate and remember everything I learned from sex ed in high school — and I have used it wisely, thank you.
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For some students, that’s not an option. While 24 states and Washington D.C. require public schools to teach sex education (21 mandate sex ed and HIV education), 35 states plus D.C. also allow parents to opt-out on behalf of their children. The idea of a parent — or a state — opting out in helping a young, curious teenager in learning how to make more responsible and well-educated decisions is frustrating. This is even more aggravating coming from parents who don’t want to talk about anything but abstinence or ignore the topic altogether. Plus, five of the nine states with no sex ed or HIV education rank among the top 12 states with the highest teenage birth rates.
Research has repeatedly found that accurate, complete sex education regarding human sexuality (such as risk-reduction strategies and contraception) helps youth protect their health. Just knowing the highs and lows may be a better way to make them delay having sex altogether until they’re ready, use condoms and other forms of contraception, and/or be monogamous. I see no downside in that. Make sex ed mandatory in all 50 states.
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