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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Column: Arizona needs comprehensive sex education

    Most K-12 students have memorable anecdotes to tell from their sex education classes — or they didn’t take one. If they attended public school in Arizona, that anecdote might be similar to that of environmental science senior Nancy Freitas, who attended Tucson High Magnet School.

    “My most vivid memory of sexual education in high school is a woman who spoke to my freshman physics class,” Freitas said. “She wrapped a piece of tape around her arm, removed it and tried to restick it. When it didn’t restick, she told us, ‘This is what happens when you have sex with more than one person — you don’t develop a bond with anyone.’ It was her way of telling us not to have sex until marriage.”

    Or perhaps it’s more like biomedical engineering sophomore Suhitha Veeravelli’s.

    “During one week every spring semester, we spent an hour each day scrolling through slides of graphic images — everything from Syphilis to Chlamydia to genital warts,” Veeravelli said. “The sessions were good for one thing: effectively scaring 12-year-old children into believing that if they had sex, they would contract one of these infections.”

    Veeravelli’s and Freitas’ experiences are reflective of Arizona’s inadequate policies regarding sex education. According to the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States, Arizona does not require public schools to administer sexuality education in any form. Individual school districts decide whether to implement such a program, and the district’s governing board has the sole discretion to determine the program’s curriculum. Some of the State Board of Education’s requirements are that the program must emphasize abstinence as the only 100 percent effective way to avoid pregnancy, stress the importance of abstaining from sex until adulthood and discuss the severe consequences of sexually transmitted diseases.

    Therefore, explained Kate Thomas, community sexuality educator for Planned Parenthood Arizona, school districts can decide “whether or not to provide students with information about preventative methods like contraceptives or condoms.”

    Furthermore, Arizona has an opt-in requirement for sex education — parents must sign a permission slip for their children to receive any sexual health program their school district offers. According to Thomas, “There are a number of things that could go wrong in this scenario: the kid forgets to return the signed permission slip to the school, the parent forgets to sign the permission slip, et cetera.” The opt-in requirement effectively prevents a large number of students from receiving any sex education at all, or as Planned Parenthood calls it, sexuality education.

    Sexual health comprises far more than abstinence and STDs. It involves understanding healthy relationships, human anatomy and safe sexual practices. Rather than allow school districts to pick and choose which aspects of sexual health to teach, Arizona should mandate comprehensive sexuality education programs for all students — programs that acknowledge the complexity and importance of human sexuality. Such programs would promote abstinence as the only surefire way to avoid pregnancy, but they would simultaneously teach contraceptive techniques to keep young people safe should they choose to have sex. They clearly are making that choice: Arizona has the sixth-highest teen pregnancy rate in the nation.

    In order to enact such a change, Arizona’s opt-in laws must become opt-out laws, “where every child in Arizona schools is guaranteed to receive comprehensive sexuality education, unless their parent or guardian signs a form saying they do not want their child to receive that programming,” said Thomas, who has worked with Planned Parenthood since her teenage years. “We can’t opt out of math, reading or science, and we at Planned Parenthood believe that comprehensive sexuality education is just as important.”

    Opponents of comprehensive sexuality education claim that exposing children to “too much information” simply promotes casual sex. In fact, in a 2007 study, sexual health researcher Douglas Kirby showed that “education about sexuality can help teens delay intercourse, reduce the frequency of intercourse and have fewer partners,” contrary to critics’ claims.

    “Today’s young people are bombarded by sexual images from TV, movies, music, and the internet,” Thomas said. “Sexuality education provides young people with the tools to understand and interpret the sexual messages they receive every day.”

    Because Arizona requires schools to emphasize abstinence, there exists a misconception that Arizona is an “abstinence-only” state. In reality, it is completely legal for schools to implement comprehensive sexuality programs, as long as they also comply with Arizona’s current policy. Yet at present, “only Creighton School District in Phoenix is currently implementing a comprehensive sexuality education curriculum to its students,” Thomas said.

    We need to prepare Arizona’s children for healthy adulthood by making sexuality education a priority. That starts with local school boards, which should decide to implement comprehensive sexuality education within the confines of the current laws, and it ends with the state legislature, which needs to revise the current laws that effectively discourage schools from providing the most effective curriculum.

    Most of us who grew up in Arizona have a story about used tape or graphic depictions of STDs. Arizonans need to work to change those stories, so that kids in this state become adults who feel capable of making empowered, informed decisions about their bodies and relationships.

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    Elizabeth Hannah is a neuroscience & cognitive science sophomore. Follow her on Twitter.

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