Sexual Education in the U.S.
Abstinence-only (until marriage) education teaches that sexual expression outside of marriage will have harmful consequences that can have social, psychological, and physical consequences. Abstinence only programs often omit topics on abortion, sexual orientation, and sometimes contraception. The part of the curricula that focuses on condoms and other forms of contraception are often backed by no information instead they are discussed in terms of failure rates.
When President Clinton signed the Welfare Reform Act of 1996, people didn’t know it would require an abstinence only based sexual health education. This provided a clear and defined line of what public schools could teach. The curricula stressed the benefits of waiting until marriage to have sex, but it also emphasized the effects of premarital sex.
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This kind of sex ed places abstinence as the golden standard for acceptable behavior and provided tips and strategies to teenagers for rejecting sexual advances. According to Wegmann, “”Teenage girls, subsequently, began filling the gaps left by abstinence only education by turning to other sources…]. Although the article talks about girls turning to magazines to learn about sex, you can also think of other ways we learn about sex when we can’t talk to others about it. Wegmann analyzed every issue of Seventeen magazine from 1996-1998.
She discovered dominant views on sexuality. She noted that the magazine editors used an “”affirmative approach”” to sex and never used a negative tone when answering questions describing sexual matters. Wegmann’s findings were that magazines like Seventeen, serve as a reference for young girls curious about sex. Regardless of the dominant philosophy concerning sex ed, seventeen sent the message that young girls were having sex (Wegmann p. 497) The author states that the reason teens turned to magazines were because they were willing to provide the information for them. In a 1998 editorial, Seventeen acknowledged that teens were curious about sex, and they provided.
Some of the topics covered in Seventeen magazines which were analyzed were teenage pregnancy, including abortion, contraception, STDs, and the psychological affects, which are all valid sexual health education topics. Contraceptive based sexual education has been effective in teaching that the proper use of contraceptive methods can reduce the chance of reducing STDs and unwanted pregnancy. It teaches that a woman faced with an unwanted pregnancy has options: carrying baby to term and raising it, carrying the baby to term and putting baby for adoption, or ending the pregnancy with an abortion.
Americans have put their faith in education as a remedy of society’s problems, and the question of how young people should manage their sexuality is no exception. (Mauldon & Luker 1996.) The AIDS epidemic was an important influence in state and local education policies that sometimes called for the curricula to include contraceptive methods if mandated by that state.
According to data from the 1988 National Survey of Family Growth, the exposure to a formal contraceptive education program increases the likelihood that teenager women will use a contraceptive method at first intercourse. Mauldon & Luker’s research suggest that contraceptive sex education leads to an increase in the proportion of teenager that use condoms by 52-59%, while those who use no method decrease by 41%.
Their findings state that a school may offer contraceptive education in an early grade because many of its students become pregnant young. Finding show that having a contraceptive education class in the same year as initiating intercourse leads to an even higher likelihood of a method use, respectively, learning about birth control immediately before first intercourse increases the chances of using a method of contraception.