The State of Our Unions: A Sexual Health Panel

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On Thursday, Oct. 26, I attended “The State of Our Unions,” a panel on sexual health awareness put together by VICE, Planned Parenthood, and the Columbia Daily Spectator. There were five speakers with varying degrees of involvement in sexual health awareness. They had their own panel discussion and then took questions from the audience.

The event provided an in-depth look at the pathetic state of sex ed and sexual health in the United States. Here are a few things I learned from both the panel and the program I was handed upon entering, aptly titled “Unscrewing Ourselves.”

 

1. The US doesn’t start sex education early enough.

While other countries start sex ed in kindergarten and continue to teach it throughout the entire education system, many schools in the US give students a one-off, one-hour lecture in junior year of high school and try to squish everything you need to know into that short amount of time. The repercussions of this are obvious: there’s no way to make sure students fully understand the importance  of the concepts they need to know, from consent (which isn’t taught at all in most schools) to regular STI testing within an hour. This leads to the current rate of STIs across the country, which is at an unprecedented high. If schools devoted more time and thought into the lesson plans surrounding sex ed, we could be preventing teen pregnancies, STIs, and the general taboo that exists around discussion of sex and sexual health.

 

2. Only 13 states require sex ed to be medically accurate.

Yep. That’s a direct quote from the program. It’s ridiculous that many states don’t require schools teach, you know, facts in their classes. This can affect so many kids without their control, since it essentially means that their sexual health awareness as a child (which affects their view of sex as an adult) depends on where they live and what school they attend.

Also unsettling is the fact that so many schools still preach abstinence-first, especially schools in Southern states. While this may appear innocuous to some, it can contribute to higher teen pregnancy rates. This makes sense; teenagers are rebellious. If they’re taught not to have sex rather than to have safe sex, they’re going to have sex anyway, just without the necessary safety precautions because schools didn’t prioritize teaching those aspects of sex ed.

 

3. Many Americans are underestimating the benefits of using protection.

VICE conducted a survey about sexual health habits and the results show that over 70% of the respondents don’t use a condom every time they have sex. Broken down into categories, that’s 77% of the men surveyed and 80% of the women surveyed.

Again, one of the causes for this is the lack of emphasis on protection in abstinence-only schools. People aren’t being properly educated about the importance of condoms and other forms of protection, so they’re less likely to use them.

Many people who don’t wear condoms claim that they make the experience less fun, but think about the payoff of wearing one - the same survey found that 84% of people who do regularly wear a condom have never had an STI. I would argue that dealing with an STI is way worse than dealing with a condom, wouldn’t you?

 

So here’s the big picture: more and more young people are getting STIs these days, from Chlamydia and gonorrhea to syphilis. And while we should do our part to get tested and use protection so we stay vigilant of our own and our partners’ health, a lot of the problem stems from the way sex ed is taught in American schools. If we’re not getting the right information early enough in life, we’re… well, screwed.

About The Author

Erica is studying English and creative writing at Barnard, and hopes to write a few novels of her own someday. She's still figuring out life in New York City, but so far she's just glad that the pizza is better here than in her home of Orange County, CA.

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