The type of sex education that should be taught in the U.S. 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 initiating sexual activity early and having numerous partners. Thus, there has been considerable funding support for abstinence-only education from federal and state governments.
However, the data suggest 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, and yet Texas is first in the nation for repeat teen pregnancies, fifth for teen pregnancies, and third for HIV rates. Clearly, if abstinence-only education was the best program, we would be doing better.
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.”
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 to those who remained virgins until marriage.
We are not saying that lack of comprehensive sex education is “the” only cause either. Clearly high teen pregnancy rates also correlate with socioeconomic status, minority status, and religiosity. 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, largely due to improved contraceptive use. 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 and disease prevention 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 we are hoping the basics were covered in biology class. If not, www.innerbody.com provides basic terminology and explanations, as well as two-dimensional interactive diagrams and some three-dimensional 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. We recommend any of Dr. Ruth Westheimer’s books, including Sex for Dummies.
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.
Other important topics not covered here are consent and communication. Gone are the days when consent was not legally required after marriage. It is. Don’t assume that you have consent just because you are married. Ask. Of course, that assumes you can communicate, and often that is problematic. 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 three forms of birth control.
- Consider abstinence-plus–marital education and help reduce teen pregnancy and STI rates in your state.