This essay, by Norah Rami, age 17, from Clements High School in Sugar Land, Texas, is one of the Top 10 winners of The Learning Network’s Eighth Annual Student Editorial Contest, for which we received 11,202 entries.
You can find the work of all the winners and runners-up here.
Teach Us What We Need
My one year of sex education involved learning to spell abstinence (100 percent effective) and watching videos of teenagers regretting premarital S-E-X (I just felt so dirty!). For a class called sex education, sex was hardly mentioned without the word “never.” Rather than give me the tools to make safe decisions about my body, I, like many teenagers, was left in the dark by our inadequate sex education curriculum.
In my home state of Texas, sex education is optional, and, if offered, the course must be “abstinence-centered.” However, in the fall of 2020, Texas announced it would update its sex education curriculum for the first time in 23 years. My friends and I wrote to our representatives asking them to include consent, contraception, L.G.B.T.Q. identities and sexual harassment in the curriculum, but our calls fell on deaf ears. Teaching consent was out of the question as it would give “yes to sex as an option on the table for teenagers”; the mere phrase L.G.B.T.Q. was ignored; and sexual harassment was reduced to sexual bullying with the definition of “you’ll know it when you see it.”
The blunt truth is teenagers will have sex. Rather than ignore the given, our education system has the responsibility to give them the tools to be safe. When it comes to conversations about our bodies, teenagers don’t need shame or fear — we need guidance. In today’s world, where teenagers are exposed to sex through television and the internet with skewed perceptions of consent and contraception, it’s more important than ever to address these topics often thought of as “taboo.”
By working toward comprehensive sex education, we invest in the future, combating poverty and mitigating inequality. Our current sex education system has been costly. Abstinence-focused education has been shown to increase rates of teen pregnancy, a key factor in a heightened likelihood of poverty and maternal mortality. Texas, with its abstinence-centric education, has one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in the United States. Our deficient sex education curriculum is condemning our children. This is compounded in cases concerning L.G.B.T.Q. education, where students often lack further guidance from parents and peers; inclusion can protect the health of L.G.B.T.Q. students by increasing awareness of protection and sexually transmitted diseases, and even promote tolerance through simple acknowledgment. Furthermore, by including consent in our curriculum, students learn to value individual boundaries and create a safer world of respect and autonomy.
While most teenagers won’t be using calculus anytime soon, sex education is pertinent both for their today and their tomorrow. It’s time to improve our outdated and inadequate system into one that doesn’t fail our students but rather empowers them to make educated decisions about their bodies.
Stanger-Hall, Kathrin F, and David W Hall. “Abstinence-Only Education and Teen Pregnancy Rates: Why We Need Comprehensive Sex Education in the U.S.” National Center for Biotechnology Information, 14 Oct. 2011.
Swaby, Aliyya. “Texas Education Board Approves New Sex Ed Policy That Does Not Cover LGBTQ Students or Consent.” Texas Tribune, 18 Nov. 2020.
Waller, Allyson. “Texas Board Revises Sex Education Standards to Include More Birth Control.” The New York Times, 20 Nov. 2020.