Students need comprehensive sexual education

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Sex is more than a science. It’s an intimate and fun activity. However, under the guise of abstinence-only sex ed, sex is not taught to be celebrated unless with one’s marital spouse.

By Derek Bos, Columnist

How do you know if you have full consent? Is it an STD or an STI? Could you really tell if you’re in a toxic relationship? If you graduated from a public school system, there’s a good chance you learned these answers outside of class. 

Public schools are notorious for teaching abstinence-only sexual education. I got it, you probably got it, your parents probably got it and your parents’ parents probably got it. This type of sex ed program takes a scientific approach to the subject, with the curriculum centered around the reproductive systems and their functionality, and how to avoid both STIs and teen pregnancy. 

This is all good and well, definitely important, but did we really need to relearn it every school year? My answer is no way. Sex is more than a science. It’s an intimate and fun activity. However, under the guise of abstinence-only sex ed,  sex is not taught to be celebrated unless with one’s marital spouse. This kind of conservative education, though not inherently right or wrong, severely limits the scope of sex ed taught to students. 

Public schools should instead switch to teaching comprehensive sexual education. This type of sex ed program encompasses far more than just the reproductive systems. It discusses relationship health, personal safety, sexual orientation, gender, etc. — basically everything I learned by trial and error, heartache and headache, according to Guttmacher Institute.

Comprehensive sex ed is designed to be inclusive, taking into account the LGBTQ+ community (unlike most abstinence-only programs). I can’t for the life of me recall ever hearing in school more about same-sex couples other than that they exist, and I definitely didn’t catch even a whisper about trans people. Truthfully, I learned more about gender and sexual orientation from HBO’s “Euphoria” than in my 14 years of standardized education. The ultimate goal of comprehensive sex ed is to educate young people with facts so that they make better decisions, rather than gatekeeping information in hopes that they’ll be too afraid to try anything. 

Marcia Berke, an NIU health instructor and former high school health teacher, adamantly praises comprehensive sex ed.

“Sexuality is your whole human being, from the womb to the tomb. Comprehensive sex ed teaches that sex isn’t bad, you shouldn’t be ashamed. Benefits include peace of mind, and improved sexual health. Realizing what’s involved in your sexual being makes a student comfortable. Abstinence is a responsible choice — but it’s not the only choice,” Berke said.

Legally speaking, Illinois public schools aren’t even required to teach their students sex ed. Thanks to Gov. Pritzker, if sex ed is taught, it must be a comprehensive program. 

“Senate Bill 818 brings Illinois’ sexual health education into the 21st century by adding new personal health and safety education standards in kindergarten through 5th grade, and making comprehensive health education more inclusive in grades 6 through 12.  School districts do not have to adopt the voluntary standards unless they are teaching comprehensive sexual health education, and parents can choose to opt out” said in an August 2021 press release.

However, Illinois’ program isn’t truly comprehensive, nor particularly progressive, according to Sex Ed for Social Change. Our state’s curriculum stresses abstinence, is discriminatory toward the LGBTQ+ community, presents a negative bias against abortion and provides only limited education on contraceptives. Somehow, Illinois’s quality of sex ed is far from being the worst (looking at you, South Dakota, whose sex ed program covers solely the topic of abstinence and nothing else, if taught at all since sex ed isn’t required in their curriculum) 

The consequences of not teaching comprehensive sex ed in school are very real. Alex Hoppe, NIU junior and sports management major can attest to this.

“I remember learning how to put on a condom because they made it sound like if you had unprotected sex then you’re guaranteed to catch STDs,” Hoppe said. “They talked so much about the reproductive system, but during my first time having sex I didn’t actually know what to do. Nobody taught us how to have sex. They definitely didn’t talk about precum or vaginal pH levels. These things are important. Overall, I’d rate my sex ed experience a 6/10.”

These concerns are absolutely important, and the fact that these topics aren’t covered is archaic, a textbook public health concern. How many of us even know what precum is? Or worse, that it can cause pregnancy? This is why schools need to teach comprehensive sex ed. 

Berke’s recommendation for students wanting to learn more about sex, sexuality and gender is to stop by NIU’s Gender and Sexuality Resource Center.

Young people are likely going to have sex before marriage anyway, so why keep them in the dark?