The other day, as a reward for finishing their state tests, I was letting my students talk quietly in groups and do word games. I sat next to three of my ninth graders (three girls and a boy) and quickly joined in on their discussion.
They were talking about teenage pregnancy, noticing the high number of girls in the school who were currently pregnant. The tone of the conversation started playful, but the students were asking some very serious questions. The sole male student in our group directed the following question to me:
“Yo, Miss– who do you think is more responsible for getting pregnant—the boy or the girl?”
Before I could answer the girls quickly interjected their own opinions. It was the boy’s responsibility, because he was the one who needed to use a condom. It was the girl’s responsibility because she shouldn’t be letting a boy go that far. It was the parents’ responsibility because they should be monitoring their kids.
Reeling the conversation back in, I answered, “First of all, I think it’s everyone’s responsibility because the consequences affect each person. But I think that’s the wrong question. My question is: why are teenagers getting pregnant, in the first place? And I think the honest answer is that you guys just don’t receive a good sex education in school.”
To my surprise, the kids enthusiastically agreed. Many were quick to point out that they had had no sex education in their public schools. And they were even quicker to insist that they needed it.
What followed was a barrage of basic sex-ed questions on topics from prophylactics to periods to pregnancy, some of which astonished me in their naïveté. For example, one of my students asked if using condoms was even “worth it” because “a lot of times they don’t work.” Astonished to find that several of my students were nodding in agreement, it dawned on me that this is a direct consequence of the misinformation spread with abstinence-only sex education.
Why are so many kids clueless about sex? Our society doesn’t embrace sex as a human right or something we are all entitled to experience. I do not understand how something as inherent, necessary, and enjoyable as sex could be so stigmatized and avoided. Regardless of why the taboos that follow sex persist, we must wake to the inevitability of sex. If kids and teens are not taught honest and useful information about sex, birth control, pregnancy, etc, more unwanted children will continue to be conceived and another generation of the sexually repressed will guide our future.