The type of sex education that should be taught in the US has been a major topic of debate and will probably continue to be contentious for years to come.
Some people believe that teaching young people about contraceptives encourages both early sexual activity and numerous partners. Thus, there has been considerable funding support for abstinence-only education from both the Federal government and at the State level.
However, the data suggests that abstinence-only is not the best type of sex-ed, and Texas provides a good example. As noted at the beginning, 83% of Texas schools teach either no sex-ed or abstinence-only education,60 and yet Texas is 5th in the nation for teen pregnancies and 3rd for HIV rates.61 Clearly, we would be doing better if abstinence-only education was the best program.
Texas is just one state though, and we should look at the nation overall and see if the same trend holds true for all 50 states.
In a peer reviewed 2011 paper by Drs. Stanger-Hall and Hall, they concluded that even after accounting for other factors, “The more strongly abstinence is emphasized in state laws and policies, the higher the average teenage pregnancy and birth rate. States that taught comprehensive sex and/or HIV education and covered abstinence along with contraception and condom use (level 1 sex education; also referred to as “abstinence-plus”), tended to have the lowest teen pregnancy rates, while states with abstinence-only sex education laws that stress abstinence until marriage (level 3) were significantly less successful in preventing teen pregnancies.”62
This doesn’t mean it’s wrong to emphasize abstinence—just that it alone is not enough to protect young people. Sooner or later young people will become sexually active, and in this case ignorance can be fatal, even for those who remained virgins until marriage.63
We are not saying that lack of comprehensive sex education is “the” only cause either. Clearly high teen pregnancy rates also correlate with socioeconomic status64, minority status65, and religiosity66. But these things are less easily addressed by changes in policy, whereas we can change what we teach in schools.
Nor are we saying that gains have not been made. In fact, teen pregnancy is at a historic low, and the rates have fallen in all 50 states,67 largely due to improved contraceptive use.68 It remains true, however, that states like Texas, New Mexico, Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Kentucky and West Virginia are way behind everyone else and still lead the nation and the developed world in teen pregnancy rates.
Our main goal here has been to provide education on the various contraceptive options that are available, and we hope we have at least started that discussion between you and your partner. However, there are many additional topics that can be covered in a marital education class.
As one example, we did not cover the human reproductive system, but are hoping the basics were covered in biology class. If not, www.innerbody.com provides basic terminology and explanations, as well as 2D interactive diagrams and some 3D diagrams that allow you to rotate and zoom on the various organs in the reproductive system. These are pretty cool and provide excellent anatomical education.
We also didn’t cover sex, and if you are from a school wholly lacking sex-ed, that could be a significant oversight. Assuming you get past that hurdle, we didn’t cover pregnancy, childbirth, or parenting either, and sooner or later these are life-changing issues that many couples will face.
Another important topic not covered here is communication. How can one even get to using a condom for protection if one is too embarrassed to discuss the topic with a partner? Actually, how can a couple resolve any problems if they are not good communicators? Communication is vital to your relationship and to your health and safety.
However, such topics are beyond the scope of this little book, which seeks to leave you with only two messages:
- Treble-Up: use 3 forms of birth control.
- Vote for Abstinence-plus-Marital Education and help reduce teen pregnancy and STD rates in your state.