American sex education is a public health issue – Johns Hopkins News-Letter | Team Cansler

High school should prepare students for the next exciting and challenging phase of their lives, which is college. At a minimum, students should be taught important information before they are thrust into a new and hectic environment where they often do not have time to learn basic life skills except through trial and error.

It wasn’t until one of my health classes at Hopkins that I realized how badly our high schools are failing us in this regard.

One of my professors brought a guest lecturer from the Student Health and Wellness Center to talk about contraception. The lecturer explained how the various contraceptive methods work, as well as their effectiveness and side effects.

As I listened to the lecture with great interest, I realized that I was 20 years old when I first received a truly comprehensive education on safe sex practices. I had sex education in high school through an online course. Looking back, however, I realized how ineffective and flawed it was.

The online course emphasized abstinence as the best practice to prevent unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections. When the course discussed birth control methods, it often described them in unflattering terms, emphasizing their negative side effects and downplaying their effectiveness.

Even if I had instead taken a physical, face-to-face class at my Ohio high school, my luck wouldn’t have been better. Ohio law states that sex education should emphasize abstinence, and they do not require comprehensive contraceptive courses.

When I look across the country, the picture becomes even bleaker. In 30 states, sex education programs emphasize abstinence, while only 14 states require comprehensive contraceptive instruction. This lack of education about birth control does not even begin to close the many other gaps in our country’s sex education, such as the frequent lack of material on consent, sexual orientation, and gender identity.

The situation becomes almost ridiculous when I consider that the only time I learned of the effectiveness of the birth control pill was in my AP European History when we were discussing the importance of the pill in the rise of modern feminism. Also, I only learned about condoms from my parents, but that conversation doesn’t even happen in every household; In a 2014 survey, only 60% of parents said they had spoken to their children about birth control.

Considering that the average American loses their virginity around the age of 17, it seems imperative to at least teach teenagers how to have safe sex. This minimizes associated consequences such as teenage pregnancy and the spread of sexually transmitted infections. However, due to the lack of thorough sex education across the country, our society as a whole is suffering the consequences of this political failure.

Case in point, the US has the unfortunate distinction of having the highest teenage pregnancy rate of any developed country, although it has declined significantly in recent years. Teenage pregnancy is associated with significantly poorer educational and economic outcomes, and these pressures tend to disproportionately affect marginalized communities.

Additionally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that there were a staggering 26 million new cases of sexually transmitted infections in the United States in 2018, with about half of those cases occurring in Americans ages 15 to 24. Once again, the consequences of these infections hit minority communities to a greater extent.

As a public health student, I consider myself very fortunate that one of my required courses covered the different types of contraceptives in detail. However, I am still very frustrated. Not all Hopkins students take this course, and many of us may have limited knowledge of safe sex practices.

Early on in my public health coursework, I learned that the primary goals of the field are to improve the health of our populations and reduce health inequalities. The state of sex education in the US is a major obstacle to these goals. Schools need to take a more fact-based, comprehensive approach that includes contraceptive education.

Min-Seo Kim is a junior from Cincinnati, Ohio, majoring in Public Health Studies.

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