What sex education in high school really looks like
Texas, where I grew up and went to school, is one of the many states it doesn’t require a sex education course to graduate. Individual school districts across the state can decide for themselves if they want to require it, but mine wasn’t one of them – so that means I graduated from high school without ever having a class. sex education.
But even if I had taken a health class (optional, in the same way you might choose to take art classes or join the soccer team), I wouldn’t have learned much about how to have safe sex. Really, I wouldn’t have learned anything about sex at all. Texas emphasizes abstinence as the only method that prevents STIs or unwanted pregnancies – there is no mention of condoms or birth control in any of the textbooks Texas uses in its health classes. Cosmopolitan.com purchased the four textbooks that were approved for use in health classes in Texas when I was in school (2007-2011) and were still in use until last spring. (After the Texas Board of Education performed a routine reassessment of textbooks approved in 2015, only one of the four textbooks is still in use. It will expire in 2019.)
The four manuals include: Health; Glencoe Health; Lifelong health; and The essentials of health and well-being. The essentials of health and well-being is now the only approved textbook in Texas. But in 2004, when those four books were approved, they hardly got approved – the committee that approves the textbooks said they “didn’t meet” Texas education standards. because he didn’t insist enough on abstinence. Out of the four textbooks I have read, Essential is the only one that lacks a section specifically on abstinence.
To see what kind of information I would have about sex if I had taken a sex education class in high school, I read the four textbooks that students in Texas were using until the spring of 2016. You will find below- below everything I know about sex. , if only I had my high school textbook to teach me.
1. Sex will make you feel bad about yourself. Lifelong health says that sex will make you “lose self-esteem and self-respect”.
2. Sex will cause you “emotional trauma”. Two of the four textbooks (Glencoe Health and Health) say that sex can cause “emotional trauma”. Health says it’s because worrying about having an STI, getting pregnant and “feeling used up” causes stress and anxiety. And of Glencoe Health: “Sexual abstinence is the only 100% effective method of preventing the emotional trauma associated with adolescent sexual activity. “
3. Having sex will give you a bad reputation. Lifelong health cites “a better reputation among peers” as a “social benefit” of staying clean. Glencoe Health says you will be tagged as “easy” if you have sex.
4. Having sex will give your friends a bad name. Because you associate closely with your friends, says Health, if you have sex, they will look bad too.
5. Your parents won’t like you if you have sex. Health says staying clean is the best way to “avoid having conflicts with your parents or guardians.”
6. Having consensual sex is illegal if you are under 18. Of Glencoe Health: “If the age of consent in a state is 18, two seventeen-year-olds who engage in sexual activity are breaking the law.”
7. Birth control does not exist. The term “birth control” is not mentioned once in any of the four manuals.
8. Orgasms don’t exist. “Orgasm” doesn’t appear once in any of the books.
9. Women have what is called a “clitoris”, but it has no apparent function. Only The essentials of health and well-being includes the clitoris in its diagram of the female pelvis, but the book does not say what the clitoris is. Health is the only book that includes it in the text (but not in its diagram), but it is only defined as “a small structure located above the opening of the urethra”. No function is given.
10. The penis is an “external organ” that only men have. The essentials of health and well-being says that “there may not be any other part of the anatomy that so identifies a man’s ‘masculinity’ as the penis.”
11. Not having sex is the only way to avoid ending up with HIV or an STI. HIV and STIs are covered in a separate section in each book. Of Health: “No form of contraception or barrier protection [Editor’s note: This is the closest any book gets to mentioning the word “condom”] is 100 percent effective in preventing the spread of STDs. ”
12. Sexual relations only take place between people of the opposite sex / gender. Nothing about being attracted to or having an interest in someone who is not of the opposite sex (and there are only two genders in these books) is mentioned. Of Glencoe Health: “Some teens choose not to date them because they are shy around people of the opposite sex.”
13. Abstinence does not count if you do other sexual things besides sex. Lifelong health says participating in “other forms of sexual activity” is not abstinence. The book calls this a “misconception” which can put you in “very dangerous situations”.
14. You will “regret later” if you have premarital sex. Lifelong health says staying clean until marriage helps you avoid “regretting”. This is because, as the book says, married people don’t have to worry about STIs.
15. If you have sex without “emotional intimacy” you will experience “negative feelings” with your partner. Lifelong health does not provide an explanation as to why you will experience these negative feelings, it just says it will happen.
The most disturbing thing about the information in Texas health textbooks is that some of it is technically true. Abstinence is the only 100% foolproof way to prevent STIs and pregnancy. Sex can certainly cause emotional trauma. The books are filled with these terrifying scary tactics, but they offer no solutions – sex is described as a scary, high-risk activity, and instead of learning how to do it in a safe way, teens are just told not to. So if – and when – they decide to have sex, they have no information on how to avoid all of the frightening consequences that Texas textbooks present. It doesn’t make it safe for anyone.
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