Safe sex education that seemed an oddity just a few decades ago may soon become the reality of many US schools. With teenage pregnancies a serious problem and AIDS spreading all over the country, telling teenagers early on about the possibility of safe sex and its advantages is a serious endeavor that can help save and improve many young lives. There are reasons to believe that sexual education in schools can have a great impact on the rates of teenage pregnancies. Given the fact that these pregnancies are typically unwanted, this can make a big difference in adolescent lives.
Teen pregnancy is named one of the top issues that America has to grapple today. As of present, the US is a country with one of the highest rates of teenage pregnancies in the world, and “about 4 out of 10 girls in the United States will get pregnant by age 20 – about 1-million of them each year” (Rip n Roll). Britain is following closely with the highest rate in Europe. The costs to society are significant, as in nation where education often defines a person’s future and income outlook, dropping out of school due to pregnancy can have disastrous consequences.
Together with health and social risks to teenage mothers and their children, that is why US, UK and other countries have turned to sex education as a powerful tool in reducing teenage pregnancies. 1. Sex Education in Schools Sex education in schools can serve a variety of purposes. In the first place, its function is to inform and educate the adolescents about their body and various processes that happen in puberty, letting them have a better understanding of their physical lives.
In addition, it can prepare them for a fulfilling and enjoyable sex life, by revealing its difficulties and pitfalls early on. Sex education can teach them about feelings involved in this process, preparing them to regard their partners with respect, as emotional individuals with their aspirations and wants. It can help them to reduce the rate of transmission of sexual diseases, teaching them to use condoms and take necessary measures against it. Equally important is the ability of sex education implemented in schools to reduce teenage pregnancy rates (Halstead, Reiss 2003: 135-145).
Sex education has a variety of ways to influence teenage pregnancies. A popular one is abstinence education that aims to reduce general rates of sexual intercourse in teenage populations. The program of abstinence education was approved by US Congress in 1996. although teaching teenagers to abstain from sex and to delay the first sexual experience till a later age has its merits, opponents have claimed that it is “fear-based, failing to take into account student diversity and divisive” (Halstead, Reiss 2003:145).
That is why it seems preferable to start with a program that will teach teenagers to have safe sex instead of total abstention that is in any case unrealistic. Giving teenagers the necessary knowledge, sex education can promote reduction in teenage pregnancies in a variety of ways. 2. Reducing Pregnancies Through Knowledge about Safe Sex What makes teenage pregnancies happen? And what makes teenagers and adults to engage in sexual intercourse? Understanding this is the key to reducing teenage pregnancies and finding better solutions in sex education.
Sexual behavior is “socially negotiated, heavily affectladen, motivated by individual arousal, and subject to moral and sociocultural standards that vary across religion and in relation to age and gender” (Abraham et al 2004). There are many complex issues involved in sex, and a host of intellectual issues as well, such as knowing how to deal with a partner on the physical and emotional level. Like other sexual issues, effective usage of condoms and other methods of contraception is the result of both technical and cultural knowledge.
A teenager has to know where to get condoms, how to choose them, how to apply, and how to negotiate their use with the partner. Safe sex education can provide if not all, then at least the most basic of this knowledge. Knowing how to use things makes a person more prone to really test it in life even if the previous experience excludes it. Thus, equipping teenagers with knowledge about condoms makes them a well-known phenomenon which can lead to reduction in pregnancy rates.
Those who shunned condoms as a relatively little known subject will be more likely to use them. Girls in particular, gaining the knowledge, for instance, about the wide use of condoms all over the world, will be more likely to demand their use them in communities that typically give women little bargaining power due to traditionally submissive gender roles. Knowledge is indeed power and can be decisive in making teenagers use condoms. To this many may retort that teenagers these days are so knowledgeable about sex that they exceed their adult relatives on the matter.
This, first of all, is typically a generalization made from teachers’ horror stories and a few individual examples. Reality may be more checkered, with teenage knowledge varying from one community to another. There is also an opinion that while teenagers focus on various aspects of sex “techniques” and pick up the buzz words such as G-spot, orgasm and others, they may be unaware of risks (Kon, Ridley 1998). An effective safe sex education program can correct this distortion of facts in the minds of teenagers and alert them to the danger of unwanted pregnancy.
One should also take into account the fact that adolescents engaging in sexual intercourse today are much younger than many people would suspect. Margaret Gascoigne who did a study of teen sexual behavior in Hertfordshire, UK, for the Institute of Education discovered that “boys as young as nine were worried about knowing how to use condoms properly; 10-year-olds wanted to know how old they are “expected” to be when they first have sex; and 12 and 13-year-olds needed reassurance about the size of their penis” (Kon, Ridley 1998).
This makes 68% of parents believe that adolescents should really be taught about sex long before they start their first intercourse. An earlier age when intercourse starts also means that obtaining knowledge about safe sex becomes more relevant because what is known to a teenager of 16 or 17 may be a revelation to a girl who is 12 and faces pressure to enter intercourse from her older boyfriend. Some may also claim that knowledge will not reduce pregnancies because teenagers have sex based on spontaneous impulses that ignore knowledge and theories.
However, scholars have long doubted the usefulness of such perceptions about teenage sex. They proved that sex is driven by the application of the same cognitive processes that are evident in all other aspects of adolescent lives, such as studies, relations with parents etc. (Abraham et al 2004). This means that knowledge has an important role to play in teenage behavior, and thus teens may find it useful in determining their conduct. 3. Overcoming the Stereotypes Many girls engage in sexual intercourse without the thought of pregnancy.
Although they are aware that sex leads to childbirth, this notion may not be impressed enough on their young minds. Instead, their behavior is governed by stereotypes that circulate in teenage environments. Thus, using condoms may not be considered “cool” enough. Alternatively, they may follow the idea that “planning for sex takes away the romance” (HindustanLink). Adolescents usually know bits and pieces of preventing pregnancy, so they may circulate the knowledge that girls are unlikely to get pregnant at certain dates of the month, but fail to recognize the limitations of this “natural” method.
There are also popular beliefs that are totally untrue, for instance that during the first sexual intercourse the girl will never get pregnant. Alternatively, there may be a belief that “the guy will take care of everything” (HindustanLink). The most powerful is perhaps the stereotypical way of thinking that says “”It can’t happen to me. ” (HindustanLink). Learning about sex from a scholarly perspective will remove the biases. A girl who has been through a well-prepared course will realize that her very first time exposes her to as much danger of getting pregnant as all the others, and the boys will realize this fact, too.
4. Teaching about Relationships The importance of incorporating the relationship element into sex education programs has already been recognized by educators. Thus, the UK switched from ‘sex education’ to ‘sex and relationship’ education in 2000 with corrections of the National Curriculum (Halstead, Reiss 2003:142). Teaching about relationships is of great value to reducing teenage pregnancies because it teaches them to engage in sex not unthinkingly, as a pastime, but as in meaningful way to build relations with another person.
Learning to treat this other person with respect and care, a teenager will be more prone to behave with responsibility, striving to prevent unwanted outcomes such as pregnancy. The change to teaching about relationships and in particular about sexual intercourse as relevant to marriage represents an important shift in sex education. Through turning sex into an integral part of human relations, sex education places teenagers’ sexual experience in context. An adolescent who has realized the value of relationships is less likely to treat sex as a brief moment or simply way of relaxation.
Learning to see sex as a complex phenomenon related directly to child bearing, a young person will most probably treat decision to pursue safe sex practices with more acceptance, seeing in it a sign of responsibility and maturity in relationships. For girls, in particular, this knowledge about relationships can help them to resist ‘relentless pressure from boys” (Kon, Ridley 1998). Due to the trend of teenage girls to date much older boys, the pressure from the male to enter sexual relationships can be enormous.
Amanda Brodala, sex education consultant, shared with journalists the story of the 12-year-old girl who is dating an 18-year-old boy who insists on having intercourse. The young woman faces a serious challenge in resisting this intercourse. Sex education can also incorporate strategies to deal with these pressures that will enable teenagers with possibility to realize psychological issues. Another issue with which teenagers can be helped is resistance to peer pressure.
Quite often, adolescents who realize that all or almost all their friends have already had sex feel obligated to go through this experience which many view as a rite of passage. Amanda states that “the getting and keeping of a boy-friend is incredibly important for young women” (Kon, Ridley 1998). The same is true for boys who fear that lack or inadequacy of sexual experience may be interpreted as a sign of their gay orientation. This puts both under pressure from their environments and forces them to have sex if they do not want to themselves and do not feel ready emotionally.
This can be another area in which sex education can help girls and boys to adjust to the adult world and pressures present in it. Teaching them an alternative model of sex, safe sex that involves responsible behavior, educators involved in safe sex programs can succeed in teaching teenagers to counteract peer pressure. Teenagers can be shown that the model of sex interaction in their communities is not the only possible one, andthat peer pressure is just another issue to deal with.
5. Learning to Overcome Abuse Pregnancy unfortunately can be often the outcome of abusive actions including coercion of children to engage in sex. Educating children to recognize and counteract abuse becomes relevant already in the early school age when children can be abused by strangers with pedophilic urges. Sex education is an important tool in fostering awareness about the prevalence of abusive practices in society and the need to respond adequately to those practices.
Thus, a study by Isobel Allen (1987) has revealed that “82 per cent of teenagers and 61 per cent of their parents reported ‘Not going with strangers’ as having been covered more than any other topic when they (or their children) were in primary school” (Halstead, Reiss 2003: 139). This shows how sex education can help children to recognize the dangers of abusive strangers. Overcoming abuse can be even more relevant in teenage years when becoming victim to rape may result in the girl’s unintended pregnancy.
It is necessary to teach girls starting from a very early age the symptoms of pregnancy, the nature of sexual intercourse, incorporating in these teachings the notions of safe sex and its advantages. Girls who have passed through such a program, delivered by skilful teachers, will be more aware about what their abusers are doing, what legal responsibility they might face, and what dangerous consequences their violation may entail for the physical health of the girl, including pregnancy. This knowledge will leave the girl with a better realization of the situation and actions she might take to counteract it.
Conclusion Teenage pregnancies are highly undesirable both to individuals and society, and so sage sex education should be used to prevent them as it is a powerful tool in promoting responsible behavior in modern teenagers. Contemporary teenagers who start sexual life much earlier than even their older siblings may lack adequate knowledge about condoms and lack the power to negotiate their usage. An effective education will alert them to the need to use condoms and take other precautions, exposing them to the information about the negative consequences of pregnancy.
To make educational programs even more effective, they need to be supplied with information about personal relationships which will teach teenagers to counteract pressure from their peer environments and potential partners. An effective safe sex education will help adolescents to overcome stereotypes that misrepresent the connection between pregnancy and sex or hamper the use of condoms. In these ways, making teenagers more knowledgeable and with more bargaining power, sex education will help to prevent unwanted teenage pregnancies.
Abraham, Charles et al. “Sex Education as Health Promotion: What Does It Take?” Archives of Sexual Behavior 33. 3 (2004): 259+. Halstead, Mark J. and Michael J. Reiss. Values in Sex Education: From Principles to Practice. New York: RoutledgeFalmer, 2003 Hindustanlink. A Teen Pregnancy. 1 March 2006. <http://www. hindustanlink. com/sex/teenpreg. htm>. Kon, Andrea and Mike Ridley. “Teenage Sex; TODAY’S CHILDREN KNOW MORE ABOUT SEX THAN ANY OTHER GENERATION. BUT FEW KNOW ALL THE RISKS. SO HOW SHOULD PARENTS REACT? ANDREA KON AND MIKE RIDLEY FIND OUT. ” Sunday Mirror (London, England) 25 October 1998: 28. Rip n Roll. Babies Having Babies! 1 March 2006. <http://www. ripnroll. com/teenpregnancy. htm>.