Sex education – does it help?
Sex education is the teaching of safe sexual practices, reproduction and anatomy and health risks associated with risky sexual behavior. Sex education occurs through parents as the primary social gateway in a family. Other than family teaching, minors get informal sex education from their peers and media and formal education from their school curriculum. School curriculum places sex education in higher grades above middle school whose students have a higher comprehension rate of sex education compared to lower grade students. Studies reviewed in this paper evaluate the reach of sex education among teenagers and the efficacy of the education. Such research has touched on the topics of community based sex education programs, perception of sex education among teenagers, teachers and parents, sources of sex education and importance of sex education. This essay examines the effectiveness of sex education in social welfare programs and further highlights other sources of sex education. It also gives recommendations on the best way to incorporate sexual education.
Importance and Overview
The knowledge of the efficacy of sex education is important for school administrators and their faculty who desire to have the best teaching methods (Somers & Surmann, 2004). Additionally, parents are interested in having their children go through teen-years without engaging in risky sexual behavior that jeopardizes their futures as adults (Fahs, 2010). According to Weiss et.al., (2010) community leaders also wish that none of their members gets involved in undesirable habits and it is their interest to minimize and even eliminate incidents associated with a lack of or an inadequate sex education; such incidents include rape, teenage pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases (Weiss et.al. 2010).
Studies report that 50 per cent of U.S. teens have sexual intercourse by the age of 15 (Somers & Surmann, 2004). Levels of teen pregnancy and abortions are highest in the U.S. when compared with other developed countries. In 1995, 83 adolescents got pregnant for every adolescent population of 1000. In comparison, England had 42 while Canada had 20.2. The age group of 15-24 accounts for 25 per cent of the sexually active population in the U.S. and half the new sexually transmitted infections. Effects of risky sexual behavior vary among race. African-American adolescents aged 15-19 years reported 14 times more cases of gonorrhea than their white counterparts did in a 2005 study (Kohler, Manhart and Laffety, 2007).
Social Welfare programs
There are two widely adopted programs of sex education: those advocating for abstinence only and those that use a comprehensive sex education message (Kohler, Manhart and Laffety, 2007). Weiss et.al. (2010) indicate in their study that community based participatory learning have been carried out in the United States to build on the achievements that exist in the community. Such programs facilitate collaborations, equitable partnerships through a power sharing process. The community action research integrates sex education and social action to improve health disparities within the community. Weiss et.al. (2010) further note that the community based participatory programs integrate social workers because of their important community role. In most cases, the social workers lead the program since they are responsible for a number of social issues in their communities (Weiss et.al. 2010). Schools’ curriculums incorporate social welfare programs on sex education to ensure that the majority of U.S. teenagers access the basic knowledge of sexuality (Weiss et.al. 2010).
Weiss et.al. (2010) reviewed results of an initiative where concerned citizens made up of community social workers, health educators and community leaders of South Florida initiated community-based participatory action (CBPA) project to address the high rate of HIV/AIDS and teenage pregnancy in their county. The authors note that the studied project incorporated the findings of a survey involving 1000 residents of South Florida on the desire for a change in the state of HIV/AIDS prevalence and teenage pregnancies in the county. The authors report that project members created and used a DVD media program to teach the county residents on the need to test for HIV and addressed the importance of prevention through use of safe sexual practices. In addition to targeting local residents with the DVD, the project members identified public school education ability to reach all youths and therefore channeled their sex education programs through the South Florida County’s public school. The program advocated for abstinence and provided facts on sexual behavior; intercourse, contraception and methods of preventing diseases. Study findings of Weiss et.al. (2010) indicate that the CBPA project of South Florida County encountered a number of restrictions from concerned residents on the strategy of reinforcing abstinence. In order to proceed, the project’s sex education program had to change its curriculum to teach about health and not sex and review on the curriculum terminology ensured that it was the most appropriate for the intended outcome (Weiss et.al. 2010). In addition, the sex education program had to consider the community view about sex education for its acceptance in the schools’ curriculum (Weiss et.al. 2010).
In another study related to teenage sex education, Fahs (2010) identifies a purity ball as a public declaration of abstinence and sexuality program that encourages girls to stay chaste until marriage. Moreover, Fahs (2010) notes that purity balls encourage girls to make chastity pledges to their fathers. The programs emphasize that fathers have a duty to protect their daughters. Fahs (2010) finds out that the balls receive criticism for inferring that women are properties of their fathers because they depict women as a property tradable among men. The author notes that events held by purity balls concentrate on the subjects of sexuality but never explicitly mention sexuality. Instead, purity is the term used, besides, purity balls leave out the essence of mothers in assisting their daughters to abstain. As a result, they cause patriarchal implications of the responsibility conferred on the father (Fahs, 2010).
After evaluating their effectiveness Fahs (2010) reports that purity balls and other chastity programs promote a highly gendered social space that makes it normal for women’s bodies and sexuality to be controllable through various means. These means include family, school, religion and media. Participants of chastity programs have reported increased cases of unprotected anal and oral sex and a reduced possibility of using contraceptives. Chastity programs have also made it less appropriate to have parent-child discussions on sexuality and have led to a discursive damage on women’s construction of their sexuality (Fahs, 2010).
In addressing the impacts of formal sex education Kohler, Manhart and Laffety (2007) report that abstinence only programs do not significantly delay the initiation of sexual activity. In addition, these programs do not reduce the risk of adolescent pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. On the contrary, the scholars found out that comprehensive sexual education had significant effects in reducing teen pregnancy when compared to abstinence-only education or the absence of sex education (Kohler, Manhart & Laffety, 2007).
Apart from sexual education programs, parents and peers act as socialization agents in delivering sex education (Somers & Surmann, 2004). As the first reference point for adolescent, parents are seen to be the best sex education teachers however; parents avoid the topic of sex education because of their concerns that such education will encourage their children to engage in sex (Somers & Surmann, 2004). Secondly, they fear that they may not possess accurate knowledge on the matter and as a result, parents fail to provide the most important education necessary for adolescents to avoid risky sexual behavior (Somers & Surmann, 2004). An increased desire to learn about sexuality characterizes the adolescent period where a majority of middle school and high school students experience profound biological, cognitive and social changes; without parental guidance, they become vulnerable to the next preferred source of information (Somers & Surmann, 2004).
Peers form the first reference point for adolescents who have questions about their sexuality. They represent the main source of sexual education for adolescents. Study findings by Sprecher, Harris and Meyers, (2008) on the favorable sources of sexuality information by teenagers have shown that there is an increased reliance on peers, professionals and the internet as a form of media. However, the increase has not resulted in a decline on the preference of parents and independent reading (Sprecher, Harris & Meyers, 2008).
The study findings of Fahs (2010) have highlighted the social need for women and girls to belong to a group that has demonstrates a shared value. Repression and silence in addition to distorted information affect adolescents negatively as they become adults. It is important for sexual education to cover the overall health without depicting a bias on sex (Weiss et.al. 2010). In addition, sex education programs should stop depicting marriage as the safest way to avoid sexually transmitted diseases. Moreover, they should not depict women as unable to control their sexual desire and at the mercy of their husbands and fathers (Fahs, 2010).
Social programs should consider teen preferences for sexuality education sources and develop appropriate literature. This will ensure that all teenagers are able to access relevant material from their preferred sources. Parent education needs an extra emphasis to avoid incidents where teenagers have to rely on their peers for sex education (Somers & Surmann, 2004). Finally, while current social programs cover school curriculums, they need to provide a wholesome education on health other than focusing on sexual intercourse.
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