Every year, high schoolers in public schools across the world take some kind of health or sex-education class. Unfortunately, not all of these classes are created equal.
According to a 2005 clinical report by Jonathan D. Klein, M.D., of the American Academy of Pediatrics, along with the rest of the Committee on Adolescence, more than 45 percent of high school females and 48 percent of high school males have had sexual intercourse. The average age of intercourse is 17 for girls and 16 for boys.
The report states that although the number of teenagers who do use contraceptives when they engage in intercourse for the first time is growing, 50 percent of pregnancies occur within the first six months of a teenager’s first sexual experience. The United States also has a higher birth rate among teenagers than a lot of first world countries, particularly countries in Europe.
“The reasons for this contrast are unclear, but European teenagers may have greater access to and acceptance of contraception,” Klein said in the report. “The contrast also may be related to universal sexuality education that exists in some European countries.”
The “universal sexuality education” Klein refers to is not dissimilar to the term “comprehensive sexuality education.”
In the Netherlands, sexuality education begins at age four and continues throughout a child’s education. According to an article by Saskia de Melker of PBS Newshour, all primary school students are required to have some form of sexuality education.
Sexuality education covers more than just sex, which is why it’s not called sex education; instead, the subject covers all aspects of relationships. There is flexibility in how the subject is taught but all programs must address certain core principles, including sexual diversity and assertiveness. Students learn about different aspects of their sexuality as they go through school.
The four-year-olds learn about crushes and intimacy. By age seven, students are expected to be able to name every body part including genitals. At age eight, students discuss self-image and gender stereotypes. And at age 11, students discuss sexual orientation and contraception.
One constant message throughout all primary school grades is that a student should strive to be comfortable with everything they do sexually. The schools do not shy away from topics such as sexual abuse and what it takes to sustain a happy sexual relationship.
Countless studies have shown that the Netherlands’ program is effective. On average, teenagers in the Netherlands have sex later than those in other countries. They are also more likely to enjoy their first sexual experience. More Dutch teenagers will use some form of contraception during their first sexual experience and the teen pregnancy rate in the Netherlands is five times lower than the United States.
In America, sex education programs vary state-by-state due to varying political views on what schools should be teaching students.
For instance, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures’ website, only 24 states require public schools to teach sex education. Twenty-one of those mandate that students be taught sex education and HIV education.
“Twenty states require that if provided, sex and/or HIV education must be medically, factually, or technically accurate,” the National Conference of State Legislatures said. “State definitions of ‘medically accurate’ vary, from requiring that the department of health review curriculum for accuracy, to mandating that curriculum be based on information from ‘published authorities upon which medical professionals rely.’”
However, in February of this year, Obama removed all funding for abstinence only education in his proposed 2017 budget. The cut removed the $10 million per year grant from the Department of Health and Human Services that supports abstinence only education. President Obama’s proposed budget also gave a $4 million raise in much needed funding for the Teen Pregnancy Protection Program.
“I think that teaching abstinence is not necessarily the most effective method,” senior Megan Kirwan said. “Not all teens value sex and intimacy the same way, and the choice to be abstinent or not is a personal decision. The best way to teach sex education is to inform students how to have safe sex and prevent diseases.”
At Bear Creek, the health class (which is no longer required for graduation) is taught over a quarter and covers six main topics to give students a comprehensive health education. These topics are physical activity and nutrition, mental and emotional health, social health, information about the risks and effects of things like drugs, communicable diseases, and personal safety and first aid.
“Health is 9-10 weeks long; therefore, I do not cover the entire textbook,” Health teacher Cynthia Phipps said in an email. “If I had more time, I would spend more time on the topics [listed above] and perhaps put more lessons together for personal care, body systems, and growth and development.”