Earlier this month, a much-shared article on Slate.com brought attention to the latest effort to keep unscientific sex-ed courses in public schools. The article told how school districts in Mississippi are adding questionable “purity preservation exercises” to the state-mandated sex-ed curriculum. One such exercise instructed students to “unwrap a piece of chocolate, pass it around class and observe how dirty it became.”
This sort of body-shaming curricula isn’t just occurring in Mississippi, however. In Texas, where school districts are just now beginning to teach sex-ed courses that go beyond abstinence, last year, one school district told instructors to teach students that “people want to marry a virgin, just like they want a virgin toothbrush or a stick of gum.”
Making this lack of proper sex education even more disturbing, both Mississippi and Texas boasted the dubious distinction of having the second- and third-highest teen pregnancy rates in the U.S., respectively. With this ranking, it should be obvious to policymakers and educators that denial isn’t effective sex ed.
This lack of quality sex education, luckily, doesn’t carry over to the UT campus. UT’s University Health Services does its best to ensure that UT students can make more informed decisions about sex.
According to UHS Health Promotion Coordinator Gulielma Fager, UT’s rates of contraceptive use, condom use and self-reported STI diagnosis are statistically not different from other institutions.
But this hasn’t stopped UT students such as Allison Heinrich, president of the Texas Freedom Network Student Chapter, from working hard to advocate for issues such as medically accurate sex ed in Texas.
“Abstinence-only policies completely fail teens in Texas,” Heinrich, a journalism senior, said.
“This becomes even more evident when they leave for college and have heightened amounts of freedom and autonomy, some of them for the first time. These programs do not teach teens about their bodies, about STIs and prevention, about birth control, about how to discuss and engage in healthy relationships and be comfortable with their sexuality, and how to assert their autonomy. Instead, abstinence-only programs perpetuate a climate of fear and stigma, which leads to shaming people who do engage in sexual relations, and people in general being too embarrassed to talk honestly and openly about sex.”
UHS does a great job of keeping students informed about sexual wellness and filling any gaps in knowledge that Texas grade schools may be leaving for students entering UT.
According to Fager, from 2012-2013, 1,004 students attended a workshop facilitated by the Healthy Sexuality Peer Educators; 102 students attended Methods of Contraception Classes taught by Health Sexuality Peer Educators in UHS; 30 students met with her individually to discuss sexual-health concerns; and approximately 50,000 condoms were distributed to UT students through UHS clinics, the Health Promotion Resource Center, the Gender and Sexuality Center, Voices Against Violence performances, residence halls, student organizations and other on-campus channels.
But, while we can applaud UT for its transparency about sex-ed and its facilitation of easy access to sexual wellness resources, we should question why this quality of information is coming so late in the game.
Misinformed decisions about sex in high school and middle school can have long-lasting effects on future education and career prospects. According to a study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2010, while 94 percent of women who do not give birth as a teen attain a diploma or GED by age 22, only 66 percent of women who have a teen birth attain a diploma or GED by the same age.
There is something to be said about the environmental factors that increase a student’s likelihood of finishing high school or going to college. Inadequate sex-ed should not be yet another barrier to opportunity. On a policy level, it should be our duty as beneficiaries of an unequal system not just to address these gaps in knowledge but to address a widening gap in opportunity. UHS and student organizations do a great job at spreading awareness on campus about safe sexual practices, but that level of activism should extend beyond UT. Perhaps, if Texas students were more informed in high school and middle school, UHS wouldn’t have to work so hard to teach students should what they should have learned as teens.
Almeda is a marketing senior from Seattle.