An excellent post on Daily Kos points to alarming misconceptions (and the Chlamydia rate) to argue for the need for comprehensive sex education.
The post, from The Opportunity Agenda, cites comments from the Director of the Teen Health Initiative of the New York Civil Liberties Union, from 2007:
In our work… we hear countless tales from students who are not receiving the basic knowledge necessary to understand, much less protect, their health. The questions we field from teens reveal the sad state of sexuality education in New York City public schools. We’ve heard sexually active teens ask what penetration is, if emergency contraception is abortion, and whether douching with Coke prevents pregnancy.
I’m not surprised that sexually active teens don’t know what penetration is because there is no penetration in abstinence-only curricula. Something that exists in their lives is absent from their dialogues with teachers, and often, parents. They’re doing something with no name. Indeed, in some cities and towns, your “education” consists of being asked to take a virginity pledge. What is penetration, you ask? Don’t do it.
As to the second question, there are groups of vocal, educated adults who are committed to preventing young people (and any people) from using emergency contraception. One of their tactics is to claim that emergency contraception causes abortion. Many young people haven’t yet learned that there are groups in our society, entire organizations, whose goal is to sow misinformation. If they don’t hear the truth from their teachers—that emergency contraception is, in fact, a contraceptive, that abortion doesn’t cause suicide or sterility, that condoms are overwhelmingly effective—they’ll have no way of knowing that what they’re hearing from others is not the truth.
Finally, I think we can forgive our youth their creativity re: Coke douching when more effective forms of contraception are demonized and discredited. When condoms are said to mostly slip off and break, when hormonal birth control is said to cause obesity and cancer, and when EC is said to be dangerous for minors (see Wendy Wright’s comments), what remains for young people? Coke, apparently.
The Opportunity Agenda also contrasts the silence around sexual health to the flood of information we receive about far less common threats, like the H1N1 virus. And it points to data on the median age of sexual debut and the median age of marriage to make an obvious, though still fiercely debated point: that Americans have sex before marriage.
In our health-conscious, and sometimes health-crazed (see “Swine Flu”) society, we’re ignoring a major component of health. If we don’t tell our children how to use condoms, someone else will, and their instructions will be: Don’t use them.