Sex education in schools was meant to curb unwanted pregnancies and address public health concerns, such as teen pregnancy and STDs. Even so, the idea of teaching young people about sex in schools caused a backlash among those who believed it was best left to the parents, or who disagreed with the various sex ed programs implemented in public schools.
State laws tried to address these concerns by allowing parents to exempt their children from sex education courses or by including abstinence methods within their curriculum.
Still, some critics argue that state laws don’t always solve the tension between the interests of the state and the interests of parents in what sex education programs are taught in public schools. Some have even argued that teaching about the use of contraceptives (including instruction on the proper use of a condom) may contribute to a minor’s delinquency.
Pros and Cons of Teaching Sex Education in the Schools
There are several arguments for and against the teaching of sex education in schools. Supporters claim that exposure to such information, including STDs and the proper use of contraceptives, lowers teen pregnancy and STD infection rates. They would also argue that most teenagers are, or will be, sexually active and that public schools are a proper venue for sex education particularly for those children who don’t have any other exposure to the topic. As such, supporters typically favor a more comprehensive approach to sex education.
Opponents of certain sex education programs in public schools, on the other hand, argue that the parents should have a say in what is taught to their children, particularly when it comes to such sensitive topics that could contradict a family’s own moral or religious values. Opponents of certain sex education programs in schools typically favor a focus on teaching abstinence (waiting to have sex until marriage or a committed relationship) as the best way to protect children from the physical and psychological effects of having sex at a young age.
Abstinence-Only Sex Education
Much of the debate today is centered on whether schools should teach abstinence-only or comprehensive sex education. Those favoring an abstinence-only approach correctly point out that abstinence is the only way to prevent pregnancy and STDs with 100 percent certainty and cite to studies showing the benefits of abstinence education. They also point out the emotional complexities that often accompany an active sex life.
However, critics argue that abstinence-only programs fail to prepare those kids who do have sex and point to studies showing that inaccurate or incomplete information about pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases leads to higher rates of unintended pregnancies and STDs.
Recent polls by various media, health, and social organizations have concluded that most families support the idea of teaching sex education in schools to some extent, but that there is disagreement among the topics that should be covered. Although there are still pockets of parents who adamantly reject the idea that schools teach their children anything about sex, there’s generally little debate that some form of sex education should be taught.