Most students who have gone through American sex education are at least vaguely aware of its massive shortcomings. Between potentially uncaring and inattentive instructors, often incomplete—or flat out false—information and scare tactics, almost every student has a story about the incompetency of their local school’s sex education program.
But the largescale reality is often much more horrifying: many American teenagers do not receive a comprehensive sex education. The consequences of this lapse in education—whether the result of religious, moral or societal beliefs—may determine America’s future demographic landscape. Stories about poor sex education become less funny when they determine our nation’s overall health.
While the classic “condom on banana” demonstration is regarded as more of a joke than as a legitimate educational tool, many American students are not lucky enough to even reach that point in their sexual education career.
Only 50 percent of females and 58 percent of males receive formal education on how to properly use a condom, according to the Guttmacher Institute. Since a properly used condom—as in, a condom that is not expired and that is applied correctly—has a 98 percent chance of preventing pregnancy and can be used to avoid contracting STIs, the discrepancy in instruction raises alarms.
STIs are not the only cause for concern. The use of a condom is highly effective in preventing AIDS, according to research by AIDS.gov—but those odds drastically increase in probability with unprotected sex.
If schools do not teach their students how to properly protect themselves during sex with condoms, what methods do they suggest? In 2014, only 72 percent of public and private high schools taught pregnancy prevention as a part of their health courses, according to the Guttmacher Institute. Further research by Guttmacher revealed that of that amount, 76 percent taught abstinence as the most effective method against pregnancy.
While physically true, this ignores the reality that students might explore their sexuality regardless of what their instructors tell them, thus putting them in a situation where they might not be able to protect themselves. After all, if a student is convinced that they will stay chaste, but then change their mind in a moment of sexual interaction, they will most likely not have a condom with them.
Only 61 percent of high schools teach about contraceptive efficiency and only 35 percent require condom instruction, according to Guttmacher Institute research.
Even the most effective of sexual education programs can be undermined by parental interference. Guttmacher estimates that 88 percent of schools that teach sex education allow parents to withdraw their students from the programs.
While the parent’s gesture might be well-meaning in nature, it might withdraw the student from resources that are more reliable or up-to-date than what their parent can give them.
Why does any of this matter to the average college student? The days of standardized sex education are behind us—but it’s important to recognize the gaps that might have been present in our own education. By learning about the shortcomings of the American sex education system at large, we can adjust our own misunderstandings about sex and be sure to properly educate the next generation.