Now that I have your attention, let’s get the facts straight. According to The Kaiser Family Foundation, 47 percent of high school students in grades 9-12 are sexually active, and the percentage of students who have sex increases by grade. Thirty-three percent of freshmen and 62 percent of seniors are sexually active.
Those figures may shock some, while drawing a shrug or a yawn from others. The subject of sex education for young people prompts equally wide-ranging reactions. The long-debated questions include: When should sex education be taught? Who should do the teaching – parents or the school? How much information should be included?
Gregory Ramey, Ph.D., a child psychologist at Children’s Medical Center in Dayton, recently wrote in his Dayton Daily News column that he believes our society “talks too little and too late about sex.” He pointed out that, according to a study published in the November issue of Pediatrics, 40 percent of teens have sexual relations before they have had any discussion about sexuality, pregnancy and health.
In the Kettering School District, ninth-graders receive “the talk” in the required Health class. However, the process of learning about the body starts in sixth grade, says David DeLon, director of Secondary Curriculum for the Kettering School District. “In sixth grade, the focus is on the bodies going through puberty,” he said. “In seventh and eighth grade, the focus in on the reproductive system, and then in ninth grade is sex education.”
A week or two before the sex education lessons begin at Fairmont, parents get a flier that explains what will be taught. “This way, parents are welcome to add whatever additional information that they feel is appropriate,” said DeLon. “Also, if parents do not want their child to partake in that class, they have the option of pulling their child out to do an alternative assignment.”
Health teachers don’t actually teach the sex education classes because The Montgomery County Combined Health District comes in to discuss everything from sexually transmitted diseases to dating communication and from rumors to consequences.
“Sex education is a three-day engagement that is a great time for students to see the full spectrum of consequences and learn how to deal with real-life situations,” said Health teacher Andy Aracri. “It’s good because students can make connections and learn through asking questions, performing skits and watching slideshows. I think it can be a real eye-opener.”
Aracri agrees with bringing in guest speakers to teach sex education. “By having someone else teach the facts, it eliminates any biased opinions,” he said. “Also, the format is clear-cut and sticks to supporting abstinence and abstaining from sexual activity.”
Kettering teaches abstinence only
DeLon knows sex education – especially how much information students receive – is a controversial subject. “Our sex education course of study is focused on abstinence,” said DeLon. “Kettering has a history of being conservative, and teaching abstinence reflects the values of the community.”
Some, however, feel the focus on abstinence only is not enough. Fairmont junior Candace Baird feels that approach is a little outdated and safe-sex practices should also be taught. “I think they should teach both because people are having sex, so you have to do what you can to keep people from getting sick or pregnant,” she said.
In fact, a 2007 congressionally authorized study showed that students who took abstinence-only classes were just as likely to have premarital sex as those who weren’t in the classes.
Although some people want the sex education curriculum in Kettering’s schools to include information about safe sex-practices, DeLon said he gets more phone calls from hesitant parents concerned that their son or daughter is going to learn about sex. “I rarely ever get a phone call saying that we are not teaching enough about sex,” he said. “But I do get phone calls questioning if we should teach sex education at all.”
The “Kettering City Schools’ Family Life and Sex Education Philosophy” flier that gets sent home to parents states: “The schools serve in a supportive capacity to help children maintain the essential values that promote wholesome family life.”
Fairmont sophomore Alex Fantaci agrees with what the Kettering School District is teaching. “I think that abstinence is the right thing to teach, because if you don’t save sex for marriage, it can result in pregnancy or an STD.”
Fantaci also thinks the district should offer an elective called Sex Education that goes more in depth, in addition to teaching sex education in Health. “I think more students would listen if they took this elective,” said Fantaci. “The class could have volunteers who come in and tell what happens if you don’t save sex for marriage.”
Teen pregnancies on the rise
One of the things that can happen to sexually active teens is pregnancy, and a new study indicates the teen pregnancy rate across the country has grown by 3 percent, the first increase in 15 years. The Guttmacher Institute study was based on 2006 numbers, the latest available.
Fairmont Childhood Development teacher Shelley Heaps puts the blame for this increase on many factors in today’s society. “Music, TV shows, and people like Tiger Woods and John Edwards, who have affairs, all show kids this image that it is OK and even cool to have sex,” said Heaps. “All these things are encouraging people to make poor choices because there seem to be few consequences.”
Poor choices that lead to accidental pregnancy are one thing, but some teen girls are becoming pregnant on purpose. Many people have heard about the 17 girls at a Massachusetts high school who were all pregnant at the same time a couple of years ago; nearly half of the girls admitted to being involved in a pact to get pregnant and raise their babies together.
Heaps, who counsels pregnant teens at Fairmont, wants students to understand that it just takes a little choice to have sex, but it can turn into huge consequences. “I don’t agree with the term ‘safe sex’ because there is nothing safe about having sex,” she said. “You are always taking a chance, and the only way to be 100 percent safe is abstinence. Knowing the consequences, someone who cares about you and your future wouldn’t ask you to do anything that could hurt you or change your future.”
Heaps believes sex education starts at a young age with the family. “Parents need to teach their children that they are special and important, and their body is not to be shared with everyone who shows an interest in you,” she said. “Children need to know that they are loved and think highly enough about themselves to not let people use them.”
But if teens make poor decisions, Heaps also wants them to be aware that the consequences are real and someone can’t come to their rescue every time. “They have to face these consequences, even if they don’t like them.”