Sex Education in the United States is harmful, according to the Society for Adolescent Health and Medicine. There are many reasons for this conclusion, including the fact that much of our sex education is not science-based or factual. In fact, according to the Guttmacher Institute, only 17 states require sex education content to be medically accurate. This means that we can tell youth value-based lies. This is analogous to telling students that 5 + 5 is equal to 12, because you have some kind of moral objection to the number 10.
In my time lecturing to college students across the country, I've heard some whoppers that students have been told during sex education. The most extreme is a student who was taught that if she had intercourse before she got married, her future husband would never be satisfied since her vagina would have molded to the first person she had sex with and no one else would ever fit right. While this may sound like an obvious tall tale to you, please consider that the young woman heard it from an authority figure (i.e., the teacher), and thus believed it. Certainly, the point of this falsehood was to prevent this young woman from having intercourse before marriage. While it did do this, it had other consequences. It terrified her about sex in general.
She’s not alone. I've had countless clients internalize the idea sex is dangerous and wrong. Then, when they get married and sex is now "allowable," they just can't turn off this message. The result is a quite a lot of bad sex.
In short, it is very common for teachers spin harmful falsehoods in sex education. In fact, so many lies are perpetuated that one blog post cannot cover them all. Thus, this will be the first in a series of blogs about both value-based lies taught in Sex Ed and important information that is omitted -- and the damage these omissions and lies cause.
The falsehood that this blog will focus on is the idea is that "sex" before marriage is dangerous (if you wonder why “sex” is in quotes, check out this blog). Teaching this notion is wholly consistent with the mandates of many states. According to the Guttmacher Institute, nineteen states require instruction on the importance of engaging in sexual activity only within marriage and 29 require that abstinence be the focus of the message.
Here are a some additional lies that real students have been told about how important it is to not have sex before marriage:
One student told me that a teacher had all the students write if they were virgins on a slip of paper (thankfully, without names). The teacher then told the class that "all the girls who were not virgins likely had STDs and wouldn't finish school."
Another student reported watching a movie that likened a sexually active female to an old shoe that no one would want to wear.
Another said she was told in Sex Ed that if she had sex before marriage, she would catch a sexually transmitted infection, get pregnant, have an ectopic pregnancy, and die.
The message is clearly that sex before marriage will have terribly dangerous and harmful consequences. Yet, premarital sex is NOT harmful. As stated by the position paper by the Society of Adolescent Health and Medicine, "While proponents for Abstinence Until Marriage (AUM) programs suggest that sexual activity outside of marriage is likely to have harmful psychological and physical effects, we find no evidence that consensual sex between adolescents is psychologically harmful."
Add to that studies finding AUM programs don't work in preventing teen sex. Teens have sex anyway, but they just do so unsafely. I have had more than one student say something along the lines of, "I was told contraception was wrong, so I did not use it." Unfortunately, for many the result has been an unplanned pregnancy or an STI. On the other hand, sex education that includes information on both abstinence and contraception (“comprehensive sex education”) does work to reduce STI and pregnancy rates among teens.
Let's stop lying to our youth. Let's cut the bullshit and just teach our youth the truth about the bird and the bees.