In the movie “Mean Girls,” the physical education teacher tells the students “Don’t have sex, because you will get pregnant … and die.”
It may seem a little far-fetched, but family life education in Virginia—according to the state code—is focused on abstinence education when it comes to sex. That’s a goal we find worthy, but perhaps unrealistic as more than two-thirds of Virginia teens have reported to the Centers for Disease Control that they’ve had their first sexual experience before the age of 18.
If our schools are focusing more on abstinence, are we doing enough to educate and protect teens from sexually transmitted diseases, pregnancy and what consent means prior to sexual activity?
The Virginia Standards of Learning identify that contraception methods are to be analyzed in terms of effectiveness for students but “abstinence is emphasized as the only method that is 100 percent effective in preventing pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections.”
That’s true, but what about when the choice of sexual activity is taken away from one of them? Is it fair not to have explained contraception?
We’d prefer youth get this information from their parents, but it’s a very difficult conversation for some adults to have with their own children.
While there have been sexual assault allegations at William Monroe High School recently, Greene County is not alone. Throughout Virginia, there have been allegations of rapes on school grounds, hazing of student athletes involving sexual assault and sexting scandals.
According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, one in four girls is sexually abused before her 18th birthday (not always at school). One in 10 adolescents in romantic relationships has reported sexual assault, according to the National Institute of Justice. The Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network notes that girls between the ages of 16 and 19 are four times more likely than the general public to experience rape, attempted rape or sexual assault.
It’s not just girls, however. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention notes that nearly 1 percent of boys experience rape or attempted rape by the time they turn 18.
One man was recently charged in Greene County with several counts of forcible sodomy against middle school-aged boys.
Parents are allowed to opt-out of family life education in Virginia schools, but we’d rather see them be part of the conversation.
Before students are permitted to play athletics in Virginia schools, parents and students are required to watch a video and hold a question-and-answer session in relation to concussions. Before sophomores are able to participate in driver’s education, students and parents come together with instructors.
However, when it comes to family life education in Virginia, parents are given only a sheet that glosses over the topics to be studied and then they’re given the chance to withhold their students from the course. We’d love to see a policy change that really offers parents the tools to reinforce with their children the topics of consent, protection and how to avoid dangerous situations.
A sexual education curriculum needs to be current with the world we live in. We concede that abstinence-centered programs are a step-up from the previous abstinence-only sexual education Virginia had until 2007, but there is more that educators and parents can do to create a curriculum with a modern, applicable focus. The majority of the curricula in math and history and English won’t really change but sexual education should.