This week, New York State officials decided not to reapply for Title V funding, which has funded abstinence-only sex education throughout the state since 1998. Joining at least eleven other states, New York will instead allocate state funding to safe-sex education programs. All programs will be medically accurate and will teach public school students to make healthy choices by offering accessible options.
Kudos to the New York State legislature! I am in full support of this decision and am proud to live in one of the few states that refuses to continue a failing endeavor. Teen pregnancy rates are on the rise. In 2005, roughly 40,000 girls between the ages of 15 and 19 became pregnant in this state. Occurrences of sexually transmitted infections in teens are becoming more rampant. Every day, children are subjected to a culture that glorifies sex in the movies, on TV, in magazines and even in their own interactions with family and friends. Then they go to school, and are shown pictures of the effects of chlamydia and herpes, and they are told that sex is bad and will ruin their lives. It's no wonder teenagers are confused.
Some private and religiously affiliated schools are upset about the loss of their funding. But, so many teens in this country have decided on their own that at the age of 13 or 15 they are responsible enough to have sex. It is much safer to accept that, whether they are ready or not, they have decided they are responsible, and that we must then trust them with the responsibility of completely accessible birth control options. You will have little success trying to change their minds or scare them away from it, and it is much better to have them making informed decisions than to continue treating them like small children - otherwise, they could be having small children of their own.
My school district taught safe-sex education. The most important thing to remember is that such programs are not encouraging teens to be sexually active. Abstinence is still taught as the ideal choice, but educators recognize that the culture has changed and teenage sexual activity is inevitably going to happen. They teach about condoms and birth control not to make it easier to have sex, but to at least make sure that if it is happening, it is happening safely. I saw the mentally scarring pictures and watched the cheesy videos about peer pressure to have sex just like everyone else, but I was also informed about birth control and counseling services. Teaching both ends of the spectrum gives teenagers all the information, thus ensuring that their decisions will at least be well-advised, even if they are not the decisions their parents and their religion-biased government would support.
Of course, in such awkward and unsteady territory, there is always room for change. If I could make one suggestion to safe-sex education, it would be this: During my senior year, I took a course about sociology of the family, and I had to spend 24 hours with a mechanical baby. It cried all night, screamed if you held it improperly, and commanded my full attention for the entire time I had it. I'm wiling to bet that if they gave those contraptions to 8th grade girls and boys, some of them would definitely think twice before having sex.