The Controversy of Sex Education


Many sorts of protection can be used to prevent STD transmission and pregnancy. Credit: Reproductive Health Supplies Coalition on Unsplash

Kate Stout, Editor In Chief

The role of schools in educating students about sexual health is a source of huge debate. While the Centers for Disease Control recommends comprehensive sex education, some remain unconvinced.

“In school, I was only ever told the science behind sex, reproduction and how it happens. In 7th grade, we were told the sperm reaches the egg and then an organism is impregnated,” Junior Aylea Treston shared. “We were never taught about the correct contraceptives or about safe sex in general.”

Many students – like Treston – learn only the biological aspects of sex. However, according to the Florida Department of Education’s standards, all students should be educated on teen dating violence, the results of teen pregnancies, the benefits of abstinence, and personal health. With these standards in place, there is still a vast gulf between the required teachings and what is taught.

“Even when schools require a sex ed class, they usually focus on the consequences of sex/relationships rather than the objective information that will genuinely help their student’s futures,” Treston said. “I believe that true sex ed is avoided because of its stigmatized nature, religion, or old-fashioned thinking.”

Senior Malikai Smith feels that he did learn everything that Florida standards require in his HOPE – or Health Opportunities through Physical Education – class which is a required class for most high schoolers. Smith does not feel, though, that he has been taught everything he needs to know.

“I really think they should have covered what to do if in the case a teen pregnancy were to occur. That should have been discussed just in case that matters,” Smith explained.

The one legal exception to sex education requirements is private schools, especially religious ones who can claim religious exemptions. Similarly, for certain kinds of sex education parents can request to have their child pulled from the classroom.

“In the sex ed class, I think it would be fair for my parents to decide whether I should be in it or not, instead of the school deciding that because yes, it may be important, but if a student is not prepared for or comfortable around it, they are not going to learn,” Junior Josue Roldan Lopez said.

Another discrepancy exists between the standards in Florida and what the CDC recommends. The CDC’s main points are to keep students safe, regardless of whether they have sex or not. Another key idea is to introduce sex education programs in lower grades, adding more information as it becomes more relevant to students. Sophomore Margaret Potter feels this can be a great way to foster a better environment in a health classroom.

“I think sex (education) is awkward for teenagers now because we were not properly taught at a young age. If we were taught the correct way, I think a lot more people would be comfortable,” Potter said. “A way to be more engaging, I think, would be to make jokes and do not come off as uncomfortable. If you teach in a way that makes it so they will learn the correct way, and be comfortable with it, it should not be awkward.”

Smith definitely agrees with the idea of pushing for safe sexual behavior and how to have sex safely rather than simply discussing the negatives of sexual behaviors. The idea of safe sex contrasts with the Florida standards which push abstinence.

“I personally think that they should be pushing safe sex. Because, really, if everybody knew the risk and the concerns of having unprotected sex, it would help teenagers really understand what it really means to have sex,” Smith said.

One of the biggest divides in sex education is whether schools are overstepping a boundary by talking about something so traditionally private. Some people are uncomfortable with teaching students – who are usually under the age of consent – about sex because they fear it encourages sexual behaviors.

“So, I think it’s basically telling me how to have (sex), how to do it, and how to do it safely. So, by teaching them, you are encouraging (students) to do it in a way,” Lopez stated.

However, Lopez did not necessarily think that it was bad to encourage students to have sex underage. He considered it be a natural thing for students to have and learn about. Potter struggled to find any cons with sex education.

“To be honest I do not really think there can be cons of sex (education). I can see parents maybe getting upset at the schools that teach it for opening up their child’s mind to sex at a young age,” Potter said. “Although I would have to disagree with them, I think it is important to know about sex at a young age.”

One study that the CDC uses to support their argument in favor of sex education found that schools that teach sex education are more likely to have a higher percentage of students that have not engaged in sexual behavior, along with several other more positive sexual health outcomes.

“In addition to providing knowledge and skills to address sexual behavior, quality SHE (sexual health education) programs can be tailored to include information on high-risk substance use, suicide prevention, and how to keep students from committing or being victims of violence-behaviors and experiences that place youth at risk for poor health and academic outcomes,” the CDC states.

Advantages aside, many still harbor concerns about the immorality of teaching about sex education, or whether it undermines the authority of the parent to teach their child about what they want, when they want. Treston very much disagreed.

“I believe it should be the school’s responsibility to teach sex ed. Some families are unhealthy, their children are not comfortable enough with their parents to have a proper discussion about sex,” Treston explained. “Some parents will only educate their children about sex when they are teaching about abstinence. Schools should have a set lesson plan that is inclusive, formal, and respectful.”

Treston and Potter both want a more inclusive sex education class, especially for students that are not having heterosexual sex. Their definition of inclusion involves teaching about different kinds of sex for different sexualities, which the CDC also pushes for.

“For me, specifically, my sex ed class has no LGBT representation. It made me upset because so many young people are struggling identifying themselves and if they wanted to learn more about it, they cannot,” Potter explained. “They have to go to school and learn about sex, but it may not be useful to them. What I think school should start doing is, instead of just teaching about male and female intercourse, they can teach about male and male and female and female.”

Students, including Potter, that do not feel they are being represented in the sexual health curriculum are not receiving the information they need to make informed decisions about sex at the same level their heterosexual peers are.

“It should not be considered a taboo to educate older students about sex that is not between a man and a woman,” Treston said. “Schools can be more inclusive by teaching about hetero and homosexual sex, and they should not teach it in any different tone. They should both be treated normal and natural, because they are.”

Overall, sex education in Florida does not cover everything students may need to know as sexually active adults, but it is an attempt at balancing more conservative viewpoints about sex and sexual health education while bearing in mind the benefits of having some form of a sex education class in schools. University of Southern California, Department of Nursing professor Dr. Theresa Granger discussed the ultimate goals of sex education.

“People developing these curricula, myself included, need to think about the common goal to help youth maintain a positive sense of self-esteem, work toward healthy life goals and make responsible decisions with their bodies,” Granger said. “We all need to do our part. We need to educate teens whenever and wherever they are.”