A Virginia teen blogs on the importance of comprehensive sex ed and the culture of consent
Growing up as a teenager in Arlington, Virginia (a suburb five minutes outside of Washington, D.C.), I was exposed to both ends of the cultural spectrum. In D.C., and in most areas in northern Virginia, the majority of people are socially and politically liberal. But just several miles south, it is a whole other world of rural conservatism; which made it a very interesting place to grow up and to be educated about sex and sexuality.
In my opinion, sex education in the Arlington Public School system is exceptional. It began in middle school with basic anatomy classes and age-appropriate education about sexually transmitted infections (STIs). An anonymous “question and answer day” gave us the opportunity to ask our teachers any questions we had about sex, STIs, contraceptives and relationships. If it hadn’t been anonymous, we might not have asked them, for fear of feeling embarrassed.
The idea of healthy relationships was introduced to the mix in our high school sex education course. Hearing how one teenager in the United States acquires HIV every hour, I realize how lucky I am to have received this valuable information.
I remember going to school dances with a girl from a middle school in the same general geographic region as mine. She was popular and beautiful; I did not know her well. Years later, while I was going through my Facebook feed, she popped up on my screen. She had moved to Florida, had a boyfriend—and was a few months pregnant at 16-years-old.
I couldn’t believe it! Someone I actually had been in the same room with in middle school and shared similar social groups with was actually going to have a baby. And she did. More recently, I discovered she became pregnant with another, only a few months after she gave birth to her first.
Although this was shocking to me, it is a normal occurrence in some areas of the United States. The teen birth rate has been decreasing continuously since its peak in the 1990s, but the U.S. is still the home of one of the highest teen birth rates of any fully industrialized country. This is directly due to the lack of quality, comprehensive sex education in many U.S. public schools.
Of our nation’s 50 states, only 20 require sex and HIV education and only 19 of them mandate that the information taught to kids about sexual intercourse, STIs and HIV/AIDS be medically accurate. The fact that there are 31 states without this provision is concerning to say the least. Not surprisingly, the rates of pregnancy and HIV infection are high in these states. The data are definitive: young people who do not receive complete and comprehensive information on sex and related health topics are more likely to be younger when they first have sex. They also face an increased likelihood of pregnancy (including unplanned) and/or acquiring an STI.