There are a few lessons we can take away from Rep. Todd Akin’s (R-MO) recent outrageous remarks, the first being that you can lack total empathy and be mind-numbingly dense, yet still somehow be an elected official crafting legislation in Congress in 2012. Another is that many Americans truly don’t understand how and where babies come from. Millions of Americans are parents to multiple children, they have been pregnant themselves and given birth. How many of us though, could explain how human reproduction works, beyond saying that a lady and a guy have sexual intercourse?
I reckon that if put up to the task, a random American on the street could not explain step-by-step ovulation, production of sperm, fertilization, and implantation of the zygote in the uterus and the subsequent stages of pregnancy and childbirth. Isn’t it odd that we can put people on the moon, yet we can’t accurately describe how we reproduce ourselves?
Americans can no longer be in the dark about how our own bodies function. It’s too dangerous. We continue to have important policy discussion about health care, which rightly includes sexual health. Americans–including our elected officials–are making critical decisions that affect us all, based on urban legends, half truths, and pseudo-science. Sadly and hilariously, Rush Limbaugh insinuated during one of his harangues about Sandra Fluke in March that each time a woman has sex, she has to take a contraceptive pill. Unfortunately, too many Americans are getting their sex education on the playground during recess from people like Limbaugh.
Education, health, and sexuality are linked. American children have a right to a free public education which includes health education; sex education is a vital part of health curriculum. Comprehensive sex education is important for everyone, including groups particularly at risk, such as teens exposed to domestic violence. Additionally, the threats of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and HIV/AIDS are often left behind in the debate about sex education in America because there is a tendency to focus solely on intercourse and pregnancy prevention. While a focus on unwanted pregnancy is necessary it takes away from other discussion including those around oral sex and STD prevention. According to a recent analysis from the Center for Disease Control (CDC), “Although there has never been data to support it, there has been the perception that many teens engage in oral sex as a ‘risk-free’ alternative to intercourse. But the CDC analysis shows that sexually active young people are likely to engage in both activities.”
Americans should expect more. Whether we admit it or not, we are keeping scientific facts from our children and providing information that is at best, half of the story or just downright inaccurate.
According to the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS) “for over twenty years the federal government has sunk millions of taxpayer dollars into abstinence- only- until- marriage programs. These programs often replace more comprehensive sexuality education courses and rarely provide information on even the most basic topics in human sexuality such as puberty, reproductive anatomy, and sexual health, and they have never been proven effective.”
The SIECUS convened a task force which brought together experts in the field; they identified six key concept areas for inclusion in sex education programs: human development, personal skills, sexual behavior, sexual health, and society and culture.
Here are some scary stats on what is being taught in our classrooms now: 86 percent of all high schools taught abstinence as the most effective way to avoid pregnancy and STDs; 82 percent taught about risks associated with multiple partners; 77 percent taught about human development topics (such as reproductive anatomy and puberty); 79 percent taught about dating and relationships; 65 percent taught about condom efficacy; 69 percent taught about marriage and commitment; 48 percent taught about sexual identity and sexual orientation; and 39 percent taught students how to correctly use a condom.
This is not acceptable and we can do better.
We have a road map for a successful, evidence-based, inclusive, age appropriate, and accurate sex education curriculum. Now, we have to have the courage to get our politics out of our science. If we don’t, we run the risk of another generation of Americans living in the dark, unable to be an expert on their own bodies. And unfortunately, the willfully misinformed and undereducated will continue attempting to force their own incompetence and misunderstanding on your body.