My mama taught me about sex before I learned to write in cursive. She is a devout Christian, but she is also a registered nurse who helps take care of new mothers. That includes the numerous “babies having babies” lamented about throughout the 1990s. With work on the brain, she opted not to play coy about the subject of sex.
Not so miraculously, after the carefully kid-tailored explanation about sex I did not suddenly start waving my miniature “pee-pee” around trying to do the then-impossible: get someone pregnant. That’s one reason why I’m not at all mad about the Chicago Board of Education passing a new policy that mandates a set amount of time be spent on sex education in every grade, starting with kindergarten students. In a statement, Barbara Byrd-Bennett, the CEO of the Chicago Board of Education said, “It is important that we provide students of all ages with accurate and appropriate information so they can make healthy choices in regards to their social interactions, behaviors and relationships.”
Byrd-Bennett added: “By implementing a new sexual health education policy, we will be helping them to build a foundation of knowledge that can guide them not just in the preadolescent and adolescent years, but throughout their lives.”
Kindergartners will reportedly “learn the basics about anatomy, reproduction, healthy relationships and personal safety.” Up until third grade, the focus will be on the family, feelings and appropriate and inappropriate touching. A year later will see lessons on puberty and HIV – particularly myths about how the disease is transmitted. And for every year after until 12th grade, students will learn more about the transmission of HIV/AIDS, other STDs, reproduction, bullying and methods of contraception, including abstinence.
Of course, there are people lamenting about how this proves that “kids can’t be kids anymore” and some other mind-numbing drivel that makes me want to pound my head into my desk until I wake up from the nightmare that is Puritanism.
If anything, these children learning about sex, health, and their bodies gradually and thoughtfully will see that they don’t enter their adult lives thinking of sexuality in the most simplistic of ways. That is to say, that any suggestion of sex will lead to an orgy or amateur porn video, rob a person of their innocence, yadda, yadda.
Sex education matters, especially as it relates to stopping teen pregnancy. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, teen pregnancy rates have reached an historic low: 31.3 births per 1,000 girls and women aged 15 to 19. Greater access to contraception has fueled it, but there is a direct correlation between teen pregnancy rates and sex ed.
The Guttmacher Institute took a look at teen pregnancy data by state and noted how the decline is uneven across the country. Their findings show that New Mexico had the highest teen pregnancy rate in the nation in 2008 (the latest available data), followed by Mississippi, Texas, Nevada, Arkansas, and Arizona. As Think Progress notes, it just so happens those states offer poor sex education in their schools, subsequently leading to lower contraception use.
Yet, Republicans in Congress continue to push the abstinence-only form of sex ed. This week, Rep. Randy Hultgren (R-Ill.) on called for the creation of a new federal grant program that would spend more than half a billion dollars to educate teenagers on why they should not have sex before marriage.
Hultgren along with Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-Ill) introduced the Abstinence Education Reallocation Act, H.R. 718, would reward grant money to programs that teach "the skills and benefits of sexual abstinence as the optimal sexual health behavior for youth." Moreover, they most also push "holistic health, economic, and societal benefits that can be gained by refraining from non-marital sexual activity," and the "clear advantage of reserving human sexual activity for marriage."
Basically: One hand in the air praying to Jesus for marriage and using the other to masturbate until that happens?
In equally boneheaded policy, Texas lawmakers passed a two-year budget cutting $73 million from family planning programs. It’s supposedly intended to “defund the abortion industry,” though the Health and Human Services Commissions has projected that, because of funding cuts, unplanned pregnancies in Texas will add $273 million in costs to taxpayers. It’s also estimated to 284,000 women losing family planning services – which will prompt 20,000 additional unplanned births at a cost upward of $200 million.
So that settles it. If you want to restrict abortion, teen pregnancy, disease, and lower health care costs overall, follow the Chicago model. Teach our children about sex, their bodies, the varying forms of contraception, and provide them the sort of sexual maturity conservative lawmakers could only dream of. Or remain reductive, which has repeatedly proven to be a costly mistake.
Michael Arceneaux is a Houston-bred, Howard-educated writer and blogger. You can read more