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The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.

Let’s talk about sex, baby! Specifically, let’s talk about the state of sex education in the United States. In the U.S., there is no federally mandated law concerning sexual education, meaning that matters are within the jurisdiction of state and local governments. Only 29 of the 50 states require schools to give students some form of sexual education. Of those 29, only 15 require the information given to be medically accurate. Mention of the LGBTQ+ community is only required in nine states. Only half of high schools cover the information that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention consider essential for young people to know. Why are we withholding information from our students? Not to mention that virtually every teenager these days has access to the internet, where they can find any information they want from any unchecked source. Why don’t we want to make sure that information is correct?

While only 29 states require sex education, 37 require that if any sex education is given, it has to include abstinence education. Abstinence-only education teaches students to wait until marriage to partake in any sexual activity while usually leaving out information about contraceptive methods. Several states actually ban educators from even mentioning contraceptives. The United States government does not have any federal laws concerning sex education, and it gives millions of dollars a year to abstinence-only education programs. 

Abstinence-only education shames anyone for having sex outside of marriage, but it places extra shame on women. Girls are expected to be the ones “protecting” themselves from boys as if it does not take two people to have sex. Female purity has a much higher emphasis than male purity. But why is that? It’s common for girls to be compared to objects as a metaphor for their purity. Young women are told their purity is a “stick of gum” and once a woman has sex, she’s been “chewed”—and who wants a used piece of gum? Or a piece of tape, where the more times that tape is “used,” the less it works. None of these metaphors make the men the ones who are being devalued, only the women. 

In addition to women, members of the LGBTQ+ community are also harmed by abstinence-only education. In the south, there are seven states that either prohibit educators from mentioning the LGBTQ+ community or mandate that LGBTQ+ identities are portrayed negatively in the classroom. If the LGBTQ+ community is mentioned, chances are they’re mentioned in reference to HIV or AIDS. Young adults who identify as part of the LGBTQ+ community have a significantly higher rate of suicide than young adults who identify as straight. This information isn’t just wrong, it’s life-threatening. 

Not only does abstinence-only education promote shame, it also doesn’t work. Studies have shown that abstinence-only education does not delay sex among teenagers nor does it prevent the transmission of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Most importantly, it does not result in lower teen pregnancy rates. In fact, the opposite occurs. States with abstinence-only education see higher rates of both teen pregnancy and STDs. Abstinence-only education does not cause abstinent behavior. Plus, if—not when—these education programs mention contraceptives, they focus on the failure rates over the effectiveness rates. Once again, not all states require information to be medically accurate, meaning that the statistics given do not have to be correct. It is completely legal to just lie.

The alternative to abstinence-only education is comprehensive sex education, where information is freely given about contraceptives, birth control and STDs. The information given is not only medically accurate, but displayed in an honest and shame-free way. Comprehensive sex education does result in lower rates of teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. Funnily enough, telling the truth works. 

Whatever you choose to do, or not do, with your body is completely up to you. No one should ever make you feel inferior for that decision. If you want to be abstinent, that’s great, but you do not get to shame another person for making a different choice. If you want to have sex, fantastic, but you also do not get to ridicule anyone for making a different decision. 

Studying International Relations and Political Science at Saint Louis University. Avid feminist, reader, and Taylor Swift enthusiast "Fight for the things that you care about, but do it in a way that will lead others to join you"-Ruth Bader Ginsberg
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